Management lessons from the COVID 19 Pandemic

The industrial revolution sparked great debates about management theories. Taylor propounded the ‘Principles of Scientific Management which emphasised on simplifications of jobs and the need for coordination between managers and workers

We are experiencing the most unprecedented and unforgettable times of our lives. It is said that dreams should be lived and life is meant to be explored. Each moment has something to learn from. And this unique time of pandemic will leave us with many lessons in life and management.

Post Industrialization, many management theories evolved, each of them from the experiences of their times. The industrial revolution sparked great debates about management theories. Taylor propounded the ‘Principles of Scientific Management which emphasised on simplifications of jobs and the need for coordination between managers and workers. Fayol, after him, emphasised on efficient company’s structure in his ‘Administrative Management Theory. A chain of command and the need for Standardisation was felt by Weber’s Bureaucratic Theory. Elton Mayo’s theory brought out the importance of people in the workplace and as a result the Hawthorne theory became a landmark in management.  Douglas McGregor’s X and Y theory talked about the results of positive motivation in the workplace. Each of these theories still has some relevance in the modern management.  

 COVID-19, the Pandemic is also giving us some learnings for life and I have extracted 7 management lessons that we can learn from the pandemic. People have evolved different ways to handle the crisis like social distancing and contact tracing.  In 2008, around the time of big recession, we discovered social media. Social Media and email took over the conventional letter writing around the time of Globalisation. Today we cannot imagine a life without social applications like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube. In the month of March, Just before Corona became a global concern and pandemic, life was going in a very different direction. We had our dreams and goals. Young people were writing Board examinations and were looking for their new career and jobs. Many young and budding entrepreneurs were looking at setting up their businesses. If we look as a nation, the country was on a different trajectory.  We had issues like unrest, political differences, economic slowdown etc. But things changed drastically even before we could realise. Things that mattered have taken a backseat and our priorities changed completely and that brings us to our first lesson from this pandemic. 

1. First thing first

Whenever there are big concerns the lesser concerns take a back seat. So the lessons that we are learning from Corona can be divided into seven lessons in management.  Almost 2 million people are affected worldwide with 1 lakh 90 thousand deaths and still counting.  We are clueless as to when will this end and there uncertainty is prevalent everywhere. 

But, if we look at the success stories from the past we know that every threat has an opportunity to learn. The first lesson we have learnt from it is that one needs to prioritize. We learnt that Germany handled the problem by communicating about the threats of the disease from the first week. Soon as they were faced with their first Covid case they started communicating to the general public about how it could affect 70% of the German population.  Different countries used different approaches and we know that some of the most advanced countries that could not assess the threat had to bear the greater brunt. Even with the best Healthcare, the lack of proactive actions resulted in total disaster. In India, about 30% people are below the poverty line, and then there are people who are not educated. So stricter guidelines and a complete lockdown, with very meticulous assigned roles across the states, helped us curtail the effect of the pandemic to a vast extent. The lesson is relevant even in the business world. You need to prioritize the different actions while you move forward and take the most pressing decisions. So during the times of crisis businesses have to put things in order of priority. 

2..Lessons from the past

History teaches us a lot. We had something to learn from each of the past calamities whether it was the world wars, depressions, or the Spanish Flu. Similarly, a new entrepreneur needs to understand and learn from how businesses fail and how some novel idea becomes a thundering success. Here, the example of South Korea would be relevant. Since they had the experience from the past of a different strain of Corona Virus they were extremely proactive this time around and were already prepared with a map of contact tracing through an application with which they could contact the affected people. So past experiences can teach entrepreneurs how what failed in the past should be guarded against and what worked can be incorporated. 

India’s digital platform through Digital India became a boon during these times. We learnt from the past that unless we have a wider digital network we won’t be able to connect and that worked wonder for us during the crisis. The digital business and finance portals along with mobile network provided us the connectivity through which we are able to sustain. 

3. Change is constant

We constantly hear that Change is Constant. Change is not just constant but also transformational and needs to be accepted. About a month back nobody had imagined the drastic change we would be facing in such a short time, that our fast lives would come to a standstill and yet we will accept it, without a word of resentment, for our own safety.  Organisations have a lot to learn from this.  An organisation’s research and development and the task force have to constantly be working on ‘what if’ which refers to the unseen eventualities.  Those who resented even the smallest change have accepted this drastic change staring at us. People are accepting their new roles at home. People are adapting new ways to work. Our computer screens are the new auditoriums and our living rooms the new board rooms. We are changing the ways of functioning, operating and marketing and that’s the greatest lesson this pandemic has given us. The super powers are pleading for help from the developing countries.  Nobody thought that this virus would create a war type of situation but the world will become one.

So the biggest lesson for everyone here is that life is full of uncertainties and one needs to be prepared to deal with them. We need to fortify ourselves with new technologies, keep ourselves updated and identify different goals. And that takes us to our fourth learning.

4.Innovation and Adaptability

During this time of Corona, we hear interesting stories, each day, about our new Corona Warriors. A swiggy delivery boy is now a hero and we see our security guards with respect. Suddenly how we look at people and things have changed. People have adapted to the situation. If we look at Education, large universities including Amity University, found a new way to interact with their hundreds and thousands of students.  Without any disruption in their studies a robust platform was created, overnight, for online interactions, classes, simulated lectures, practical session, viva and quizzing. ICT enabled and Blended learning, which was already a standard practice and covered about 20% of our curriculum became our main source of learning and interactions. Today every faculty member has been trained to work on an online system and they are comfortably delivering lectures and interacting with students through this medium.  Role of a teacher became bigger from a Guru to also a healer who is able to dispel anxiety and stress faced by students and their families. The police, who people earlier feared, are now the caregivers. Companies have also started innovative ways to do their business. Whether it is Amazon, Flipkart or Zomato, their operational systems are changing.  A lot of innovation and technology is being used to reach out to people.  People are looking towards areas of education, corporate coaching, consulting, and psychology with interest. People are seeking healthcare guidelines.  Doctors and nurses have replaced the soldiers in uniform and are our new warriors, giving us promise of a life. The scientists have adapted to the times through fast paced research. They know that waiting idly for a vaccination to come after six months will prove costly. They had to find instant answers so they explored the possibilities of using already existing medicines like hydrochloroquinine, and BCG vaccination to cure and prevent Corona. 

Even Government organizations are working as a cohesive team. Right from the honourable prime minister to people down below including the chief ministers of different states and different political affiliations, are all engaged in consistent communication, irrespective of their interpersonal differences. They are all working towards one goal, to create hope and to see light at the end of the tunnel. 

5.Leaders make a difference

From the time immemorial, those who have created history are the leaders.  The name of Buddha, the immortal soul, comes to mind. Even after 2500 years his followers are still following the Eight-Fold path preached by him. Similar is the case with the teachings of Vivekananda. In more recent times we have the examples of leaders like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who have created a niche for themselves. What matters is the leadership that leads you from the front and shows you the way in the midst of a storm. We have new emerging leaders in the times of pandemic. There are examples of emerging scientists, the caregivers, who are helping the society. Some young lads are becoming Robin Hoods. There’s the example of a group in Kolkata which is helping aged and elderly by running their errands.  Leadership can be at different levels. Those who are planning to start new enterprises should know clearly who they are choosing as their leader. Leaders need to inculcate in them the ability to handle a crisis and ability to make decisions. If in India we are able to handle the crisis fairly well, it’s due to not just the top leadership but also leaders at different levels. We saw different enterprises and organizations playing their leadership roles. Media with its young journalists and correspondents played a very critical role.  Communicating the genuine news and yet keeping the environment optimistic and positive is what they are doing best at this time.  A true leader should also have empathy. A leader should be a die-hard optimist. So you need to level up and inculcate in you the optimism in nature. Those who aspire to be leaders may have heard about the big barrier effect of management where you empower your workforce. No university, government organization or corporate can operate with a single CEO in the company. What you need to have is leadership that can empower people. Leaders who make a difference are empathetic, knowledgeable, resilient and have behavioural competence. If we see at the world around, we will find many examples of good leadership. People who are making new inventions are leaders; those who are taking instant decisions are all leaders in their own ways. A pilot who has to crash land without thinking how many lives he would be able to save is the greatest example of leadership. So it’s the quick decision making, with the ability to empower others that make a true leader.  

6. Wellbeing is paramount

The whole world awakened to the need for well-being after Corona’s invasion. People want to know how to ward off depression, what would be a better health care system and what would be a better working environment. The past history of management also has examples like Hawthorne experimentation that dealt with working environment. People are more consciously thinking about caregiving and a good healthcare system. Insurance sector has boomed because people realise that there’s could be larger problems. That brings us to the lesson that needs to be at the core of our business strategy.  Organisations have to look at the wellbeing of their people, community, country, global community and even Earth as well. The Facebook posts these days depict the beautiful nature, flora and fauna, blooming with joy and the low pollution levels. We have always talked about climate change but with the novel Corona Virus havoc it became a subject of paramount importance. People would understand that for impact and profitability they cannot ignore well-being, not just at the level of the organisation but for whole community and the world. We now know that is critical to have a sustainable world.

7. A connected interdependent world 

And the final teaching of pandemic is that this is a large beautiful interdependent and connected world. We lived a self-centred, disconnected life where the major concerns were sharing on social media about our lives, our holidays, what we like and what coffee we drink.  But suddenly, we are seeing a different world.The Virus from Wuhan travelled the whole world, reaching every nook and corner, not discriminating between poor and rich, powerful and not so powerful, developed and underdeveloped. The world stood agog and came to a standstill. Businesses realised that they can’t function due to want of imports of some small part, equipment or material from Korea, China or Japan. That revealed our interdependence on one another.  We are facing huge business losses because we can’t get our required materials from other countries. We realised that we would be reduced to nothing without the help from others. There’s a positive lesson in it too. People have realised that although it is important to acquire wealth but it is more important to create an overall sustainable world.  

In the end, one must believe that there will always be sunrise; there will always be a tomorrow and there will always be a happier world.

We have to begin by changing ourselves before we attempt to change our township, community or the world. We need to look at our ideologies and our values. We need to be committed and take an oath to become a person who would contribute to the organization keeping in mind the human values and the overall big global truths and not just personal interests.   My book “The Power of Positivity Optimism and the 7th sense” describes the concept of optimistic intelligence which keeps you going in your moment of crisis. Optimistic intelligence can be built and enhanced. As an entrepreneur it would help to inculcate 7th Sense and the spirit of optimism within you to overcome challenges in life.

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