Leadership Lessons to Manage Through Covid-19
Leadership Lessons of Past and Current Crises for Management During Covid-19
Any crisis undergoes a lifecycle – it unfolds over time with pre-crisis, the crisis event and post-crisis. The current coronavirus pandemic is not spared. As this course continues to unravel in the fashion industry, some businesses will be resilient while for others, the future could be catastrophic. The fate of businesses lies in the deliberate actions of their leaders and teams at the time of the crisis event.
We have organised lessons learnt from seasoned executives about the experiences of leadership in times of disruption, now and in past crises. These findings present key learnings on prioritising immediate action and communication, while keeping the long-term purpose and direction in mind.
Crystal Clear Responsibilities and Accountability
During a crisis, businesses are fragile. Therefore clear roles and responsibilities become even more critical, and decision-making must be clearer and more succinct than in other situations.
Elaine Low, our director of retail strategy at Omnilytics, former divisional brand manager of Gap and Banana Republic during the global financial crisis in 2008, emphasised the need for accountability. “Inputs and questions over decisions from multiple departments and different people will be counter-productive at a time which calls for agility and flexibility. There needs to be accountability deriving from a single decision-maker”.
“Inputs and questions over decisions from multiple departments and different people will be counter-productive at a time which calls for agility and flexibility. There needs to be accountability deriving from a single decision-maker.”
Former chief human resources officer at Nike during two major economic crises, Jeff Cava shared his experience as quoted in an interview with McKinsey, “It sounds obvious, but many leaders don’t understand that when people are under extreme pressure, they revert to interpersonal styles that tend toward preservation over collaboration. If your team dynamics aren’t in a decent shape, crises will amplify the dysfunction.”
To avoid compounding issues at a time of crisis, crystal clear responsibilities and accountability set the foundation for agility in fluid situations.
A Conscious Approach
Effective communication is key. But how do leaders maintain a balance that is neither too negative nor overly optimistic? Leaders are still human and can make mistakes. Therefore, employing honesty in addition to raising levels of consciousness, will avoid giving false belief and false confidence which can lead to catastrophic outcomes.
When Elaine made the collective management decision on cost-cutting during the 2008 global financial crisis, she wasn’t acutely aware of how the management team would be perceived. “Besides freezing hires, we imposed salary reduction only for the senior management and managerial levels. The decision was communicated to the wider company. We were pleasantly surprised because the ground staff was appreciative that we kept their jobs intact and were driven to meet targets for the business.”
In the current Covid-19 crisis, Andrew Keith, president of Lane Crawford and Joyce with operations in China and Hong Kong, shared with The Business of Fashion that one of the most important things the business has done is to maintain constant communication with its customers. “It is not driven by a need to sell, but rather the need to stay connected, to make sure everyone is safe and to know we are all pulling through this together.”
Andrew has successfully planted the seed for a rebound with this approach, as the China business is already starting to see customers returning. He is currently looking at how to accelerate business in China and create new customer experiences.
Focus on Strategic Growth Levers
In moments of crisis, it is easy for business leaders to get sucked into the daily operational actions, as fast-changing situations create uncertainty for managers inexperienced and unskilled to make the right decisions.
Nonetheless, leaders need to intentionally take a broad, holistic view of both challenges and opportunities. An effective leader not only manages the present, but also anticipates what comes next month, in 3 months and even next year in order to prepare the business for the changes ahead.
“When retailers halted new store opening projects during the global financial crisis, we assessed our reforecasted revenue projection and decided to renegotiate with the landlords for key locations to be retained, but delay on opening timings”, explained Elaine on her then company’s strategic focus.
Besides business expansion, one of the key growth levers in fashion is newness. While many brands are scrambling at managing spring orders cancelled by retailers, there are few who have decided to also focus on future seasons.
Despite having downsized its warehouse manpower and closed retail stores in the U.S. and Europe, Rick Darling, chief executive officer of Global Brands Group, remains steadfast on working through the cancelled Spring/Summer orders with suppliers, while moving forward with Fall/Holiday programs and developing Spring 2021.
Echoing this, is Gary Wassner, the CEO of Hildun Corp who wrote a blog for The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) to help fashion businesses chart their course of action in the coming months of uncertainty.
“Soon we’ll evolve into a stabilisation phase when planning will begin again and sales will start to generate some revenues. At this point, you want to be positioned to fill the immediate needs of retail.”
In addition to planning the cash flows based upon three different stages of crisis response: panic, stabilisation and recovery, Wassner also emphasised monitoring consumer demand shifts. He believes that the current phase will soon evolve. While retailers will buy again in due course, they will be very selective and cautious. Therefore, brands and businesses are advised to start strategising and planning to meet those needs now.
You might also like
Ways to Optimise Retail Inventory & Overcome Excess Stock
The threat of a retail inventory crisis still looms over the industry as no one can say for certain when the Covid-19 pandemic will end. For many, excess stock has been an issue since last year, when retailers had exceeding amounts of products while demand plummeted. The supply chain crisis also left Spring inventory stuck […]
Year-in-Review: Top Sneaker Releases of 2020
We return once again with the latest edition of our top sneaker releases in 2020. Despite experiencing the most turbulent year in retail, the streetwear and sportswear industry was one of the first segments within fashion and apparel to recover. This time around, we will not only be reporting on the most valuable sneakers within […]
Recovering from the 2020 Retail Slump: Three Strategies for Sales Growth in 2021
After a tumultuous year in survival mode, 2021 presents an opportunity for retailers to recover and maximise sales growth. 2020 was a challenging year for retail. Most retailers fell short from their sales targets and had to adjust their financial guidance. After a year of grappling with supply chain disruptions, inventory crisis and discounting ruts, […]
Bottoms Out, The Rise of Zoom Fashion
In a time defined by digitalisation, Webex, Zoom, Facetime and any other software supporting video conferencing has become our main medium of communication. Regardless of work or play, video is an integral part of today’s lifestyle and the way we present ourselves online is dictated by the 16:10 aspect ratio on most digital devices. Unexpectedly, […]
Chinese New Year 2021: Three Retail Trends to Lookout For
With Christmas in the rear-view mirror, the next major retail event geared up is Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year. Falling on 12 February, the year of the rat will give way to the next zodiac cycle and usher in the year of the metal Ox in 2021. The Lunar New Year […]
The Man Behind the Machine, CTO of Omnilytics Dr Mohammad Mahboubian
At Omnilytics, our technology is our most valuable asset. We process millions worth of data points daily to provide our clients with intelligent and accurate insights. At the centre of our tech development lies Dr Mohammad Mahboubian, the Chief Technology Officer of Omnilytics. With a PhD in computer science, Mahboubian joined Omnilytics as a data […]