Summary NextGen Finance Virtual Forum: Agile leadership in times of crisis

27 november 2020

As we enter the final weeks of a challenging year, it’s worth looking back and considering some of the broader lessons of 2020. For Nadim Habib, visiting professor Nova Business School on agile leadership in times of crises, these include: Why did it take a global pandemic and significant economic slump to drive organizations to make necessary changes? Did leaders consistently underestimate the capabilities of their teams and should they have offered their people more autonomy? How can we, as leaders, best nurture the concept of true value?

Indeed, this year – with its many business and personal challenges – has helped to showcase the role of leaders and underlines a key question: Why do we need managers? In particular, the role of the manager is tied to guaranteeing the survival of the firm. This involves, in essence, providing value – financial and more – to at least three clear stakeholder groups: (1) shareholders or fund providers, (2) employees, and (3) clients and partners. Indeed, managers not only need to provide this value, but need to do so predictably and regularly – an increasingly difficult challenge in a landscape marked by uncertainty.

Given this growing unpredictability, we must shift from managing for efficiency – with centralized decision-making and prescriptive rules and processes – to managing for change. As the saying goes, if you can’t predict the future, you need to build a team who can handle anything!” In doing so, managers must drive sustainable improvements in profitability, address uncertainty and absorb unpredictability by offering strategic clarity.

Strategy, among other roles, is a way to align shareholders and senior management. In fact, leaders and people managers would do well to keep in mind the essence of strategy:

  1. It’s a diagnostic that defines the challenge clearly by identifying critical factors and simplifying the complexity of the situation.
  2. It’s a governing policy to coordinate action.
  3. It’s a series of initiatives and routines to ensure implementation.

Winning in the new reality
Following Nadim’s keynote presentation, Caroline Tervoort, Chief Human Resource Officer KPMG NL, offered her insights into ensuring business continuity and the health and wellbeing of people across the organization. In particular, she outlined KPMG’s recently defined ‘North Star’ for navigating the new reality: “In decision making on how and where we work, we continuously strive to maintain our client value, our business performance, our public trust, and our best human experience.”

In charting the way forward, KPMG has reshaped its approach to the office (“work is an activity not a place”), culture & engagement (“new rituals must be rooted in our values”), and leadership and development (“living our purpose through personal leadership”). And to support in codifying new behaviors (rituals) to win in the new reality, KPMG has put in place its New Reality Charter, which outlines how it will drive its client value, ensure an optimal human experience, and deliver on its business performance and public trust ambitions.  

Key takeaways from the plenary discussions

  • Autonomy is about creating the space to ask the right questions – and it should be exercised like a muscle.
  • ‘Values’ need to be strategically aligned and reflect the realities of an organization for them to be truly relevant.
  • Managers must, above all, figure out a way of providing certainty in a world of chaos and chart the path forward for their teams.
  • In a world of remote work, the lack of informal meetings – in the canteen or at the water cooler, for example – particularly limits cross-functional or cross-team collaborations.
  • For multinational organizations, there continues to be a need for some structure and guidance to maintain one level of cohesion and direction.
  • In the coming years, reskilling and upskilling will become increasingly important for professionals in a wide range of industries.