What do businesses need to think about in a post-pandemic world concerning people, profit and productivity during these uncertain times? That was the subject of the latest Tarsus Engaged webinar, held on 26 August 2021, and hosted by Asanda Sosibo, Tarsus Distribution portal sales manager.

On the panel were Bev Hancock, interactive global presenter, strategic facilitator and conversational catalyst; Siphiwe Moyo, international keynote speaker and managing director of Paradigm People Solutions; and Shirlinia Martin, general manager, channel sales at Tarsus Distribution

Sosibo opened the discussion, pointing out that in a world where it is no longer business as usual, it is vital to redefine the enterprise to build a sustainable future.

“Technology is the enabler for a hybrid work-from-anywhere model, but how well we adapt to getting things done in new ways, requires us to prioritise people and their wellbeing,” she said. “This is especially important given that South Africa now has the highest rate of unemployment in the world.”

Defining disruption

Although we are in the middle of the most disrupting event our generation has experienced, the future world of work is unknown and therein lies the opportunity.

“Disruption is being framed as innovation,” Hancock said. “We have had 600 days of learning how to do things better. What we need now are intentional conversations on moving forward.”

Moyo noted that when one disruption ends, another begins. “We live in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world. To reframe how we think about it, we are living ‘with’ disruption, not ‘through’ it. Just when we were focusing on moving on from the pandemic, riots broke out. That is the nature of our environment today.”

Disruptors can also be positive, added Moyo, leading to stronger post-traumatic growth. In the words of essayist Nassim Taleb, people can respond to black swan events in three ways: they can be fragile, in which case they may not survive; they can be robust, which indicates they will remain steadfast; or they can be anti-fragile and perform even better than before.

Martin noted that she and her team quickly achieved 100% productivity shortly after lockdown began. “Then the question was, ‘what comes next?’” We created the automated TD Portal, enabling resellers to easily place their orders, but this made us realise that we had to upskill and empower our people to move from being order takers into trusted advisors if we wanted to prepare them for the future world of work. It’s about taking industrial economy workers and growing them into digital economy workers for the future. Digital change agents may be the answer if we want to facilitate this process.”

The importance of empathy

The panellists agreed that empathy must be a priority in the post-COVID workplace. People at different income levels have had to work from home, often under difficult circumstances for those at the lower end of the income scale. Many have also had to deal with the trauma of COVID deaths in the family.

Employee wellbeing should be a key concern for all employers, encompassing such things as happiness, job satisfaction, freedom from anxiety and feeling worthy and appreciated. Demonstrating care for employees, they concurred, leads to discretionary effort where people give more than is expected from them for the benefit of the organisation.

They spoke about the importance of balancing the individual’s desire for upskilling and autonomy with the need for discipline and consequence management. “Leaders are tasked with providing a supportive environment,” said Hancock. “But business still has to be done, and delivery is not optional. To ensure the best outcome for everyone, giving all stakeholders a voice and co-creating solutions can be truly powerful.”

“Building trust is critical,” Martin added. “When a team member died, we met online and cried together. When staff had used up all their compassionate leave but had multiple deaths in the family, we talked about what support they needed and how we could help. In times like these, are you going to be governed by policies, or by your heart?”

Investing in your employee value proposition (EVP) is the key to improving productivity, innovation and the business’s bottom line. “Care about your people, and the business will thrive,” said Martin. “Why? Because valued employees value the customer.”

The discussion turned to incentives and remuneration. Hancock raised the issue of the Great Resignation, a mass, voluntary exodus from the workforce, which is happening right now. “Young people especially are questioning whether they want to be employed by companies they see as uncaring,” she said. “In Silicon Valley, location-based salaries and compensation are the next big hotly contested issue. To retain valuable workers, leaders need to focus on outputs, not on where people live, or how many hours they put in. Different people are drawn to different incentives. A mother with children may appreciate a day off far more than a single woman who is saving for a home, for example. It’s important not to bring old rules into this new world. That is why personalisation will become increasingly important when determining rewards.”

Martin noted that incentivisation is easy in the sales environment, but that it is more difficult to provide rewards for achievements that are not measurable. “Throwing the question back to employees is helpful. People need to be asking themselves what they are doing to improve their prospects when it comes to the jobs of the future, and what they are bringing to the party.”

Being a better leader

If you want to be a better leader, get out of the way. That was Hancock’s advice. “As accountability increases in this new environment. trusted, skilled employees do not need to be micro-managed.”
Martin agreed. “My key words are trust, listen, empower,” she said.

For Moyo, it is important to communicate below the neck. “Touch my heart,” he said. “Paint a picture of the future you have in mind for us. Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream.’ He did not say, ‘I have a spreadsheet’.”

Looking to the future

Given the unemployment rate, the panellists agreed that it is imperative for industry to help prepare young people for the job market, and that corporate South Africa needs to help entrepreneurs grow through collaboration and partnerships so that they can create sorely needed jobs.

They reminded those present to be kind to themselves and to embrace optimism in the face of current difficulties because there is always hope for the future.