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Transparent, Empathetic, and Positive Leadership is an Undeniable Essential for Every Organization: MD, IPM India
In a recent conversation with BW People, Alexander Reisch, Managing Director, IPM India Wholesale Trading Private Limited (a country affiliate of Philip Morris International) discussed and shared his valuable insights about the changing dynamics of leadership; impact on the workplaces in the new normal; scenario for business revival, and personal experience and learnings in detail.
How do you think the crisis has impacted the leadership style? Will there be any new form of leadership that will emerge post this pandemic?
It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that a true leader is a product of multiple crises. Most leaders have faced enough challenges in their careers, ranging from brief glitches in the road to even long-term issues. This exceptional pandemic is not only changing the way businesses operate but also evolving the leadership styles to ensure business continuity. The style that we have chosen as our way forward has been compassionate and heartfelt leadership. We are first and foremost responsible for our people and then the business. Our first step during this crisis was to make them comfortable, feel safe and secure the jobs.
Today, talent is the most formidable asset of a company to win the battle against this crisis. Transparent, empathetic and positive leadership in a continued crisis like this is undeniably essential for every organization, which not only requires quick decision making for business, but also psychological and emotional strength.
As they say, the top person is the loneliest, what do you do to keep yourself sane and upbeat?
It is a popular theory I am aware, but as a leader, I don’t quite agree to this – it is really all about how you choose to be!
I am a people’s person, I have always kept myself most hands-on, involved, connected and engaged - more so at times such as these. Constant communication with my teams not only on business but also friendly non-agenda virtual catch-ups has kept me going. We know that we are isolated at home, do not have the liberty currently to go out and meet people, hence, there are high chances that we may face some emotional impediments. It is important to be a bouncing board for your teams, mentally and emotionally, and staying connected throughout this period.
As a leader, I have the responsibility to ensure that we are all in it together and none of us is left behind.
How are you keeping your workforce going? Are there any special initiatives that you have undertaken taken?
We all can agree that employees are the most essential part of an organisation. It is the organization and the leaders’ responsibility to nurture them to reach their optimum potential.
At IPM India, we ensure 360-degree development - physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing for employees, so that they feel supported and remain productive even through unprecedented times. We are communicating consistently and transparently, to ensure that no employee in the organisation feels isolated. Core teams in the organisation are engaged deeply, via regular team discussions, coffee catchups, and counselling at personal and professional levels, despite a virtual environment. We are also holding activities for employee engagement - to keep them excited with fun@work. Some examples rest in our partnership with fitness companies and mindfulness coaches for all-round wellness of our employees. We frequently share tips, short videos, articles and practical guidance on how to manage physical, mental & emotional health and social wellbeing. Technology is our backbone today, and hence we have humanised the technology to connect with our employees via chatbots for regular check-ins.
Leadership has undergone a major change. How have things changed for you as a leader?
This pandemic has undoubtedly evolved me, professionally as a leader. Heartfelt leadership, collaboration, leveraging technology, in a humane manner to always stay connected are some key elements. Business conditions have drastically changed during this time leading to a situation where yesterday’s practices are no longer valid in an organisation. To lead in these times require a charge, the need to be flexible, and nimble in order to adjust to the fast-changing business climate and at the same time, keep the people motivated, safe and productive. We have all learnt different lessons and newer things while we all are gripped with this pandemic, however, we need to remain bullish and take this crisis as an opportunity to find ways to learn the better survival tactics. Here I am reminded of a few lines from one of my favourite books perfume by Patrick Süskind, “...talent means nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything.”...experiences, especially in challenging times, hone us in a way that nothing does, so we will come out of this stronger and together - when we look back and reflect, it is going to be a time of many lessons and learnings.
As the unlocking across the country has begun in phases, what are your plans to open your offices? Will there be any modifications in the company’s infrastructure?
Safety and security of our employees will remain our number one priority, in line, we are currently continuing to work remotely till the situation around us normalises to a larger extent. We will introduce small yet effective changes, adapt to our renewed office spaces to ensure hygiene and prescribed social distancing at all times, from holding scattered to more virtual meetings, organised entry and exit, health scanning and adequate PPE at all times.
There has been a spate of ‘new normals’ in our lives over the past few months. From isolating ourselves at home to making online doctor appointments to celebrating birthdays over screens! the pandemic has impacted not only the way we work but also the way we live. I would hence not call it just ‘Work from home’, but ‘work from anywhere’'. Simply put, I believe that working from home can be made productive by organizing your day towards work deliverables, household responsibilities, mastering technology and communicating with teams frequently.
For this to fructify its full potential, steady enabling technology infrastructure is crucial, and every organisation needs to invest, build and maintain a strong technology ecosystem to support operations and employees.
What new changes will the organization bring to their policies once the situation normalizes?
Broadly our company policies will reflect the new normal which comprise of:
· Employee & office space protection & safety
· Smart work – flexible work or from home or anywhere
· A strong Business Continuity & Recovery Plan mapping various scenarios & requirements
What are some of the major lessons that you have learnt during this pandemic?
The last five months have been a great learning experience for me as a professional as well as an individual. Some of the top lessons include:
· Heartfelt leadership is important while working in difficult conditions, with empathy and compassion towards all stakeholders – it’s ‘we, not me’
· Adoption of technology and its mobilisation has been oxygen - to business operations & continuity. Besides enabling the entire ecosystem – it has also helped in increasing efficiencies, productivity and better time management across levels
· #SmartWork, which promotes not only working from home but working from anywhere, wherever is your comfort
· Learn on the go – keep abreast with the fast-changing environment, adapt swiftly and think what will bring you/ your organization success in the longer term. Too often Executives think short term and while returns may look attractive it’s really about adding long term value. And this crisis definitely presents many opportunities for those that care to succeed
· Last, but the most critical piece of the puzzle is to have a fleshed-out business continuity plan in place, mapping multiple scenarios and innovative solutions to ensure business continuity through the crisis
What do you foresee in the future about the Indian Economy and business revival?
The COVID-19 pandemic has given a major jolt to economies and businesses all around the world. Even the major economies including the USA have been adversely affected, with unemployment jumping to 25% and a deep cut in economic growth after a stimulus of USD3 trillion. On the other hand, India's growth in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year 2020 went down to 3.1% according to the Ministry of Statistics. The Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India mentioned that this downward growth curve is largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic effect on the Indian economy. To overcome this situation, there is a pressing need to restructure the budgeted expenditures in favour of the ailing industries. In fact, new manufacturing capacity needs to be attracted to India, especially as many big companies are winding up their manufacturing hubs from China. The Indian government’s ‘vocal for local’ initiative is a step in the right direction, aimed at furthering the Indian economy towards recovery. The key aspect about this initiative will be for India to become self-reliant in the times to come. We look at India rebuilding its economy through increased manufacturing activity and revival of consumer demand by festive season. We have faith that the Indian economy will witness the green shoots of recovery with policy support from the government and enterprising spirit of the country.
What is the definition of New Normal as per you?
I would break the definition of the ‘New Normal’ into two parts: 1. Discovering/creating the new 2. Advancing the future to the present
Be it supersonic technology enablement & implementing emerging automation technologies such as robotics and AI vision systems - to remote working & living - to taking responsibility of securing ourselves and our environment. Almost half a year into the pandemic, we’ve adopted to these changes, in order to preserve our health and the world around us. Until a vaccine is developed - the pandemic will drive procedures to reduce risk, decrease human-to-human interactions, upgraded ventilation systems and technology adoption across all spheres.