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Conversations by a virtual coffee machine

Operating profit is currently the main focus of corporate management teams. In many sectors revenues have been hit hard, but the costs of producing products and services are still high. The letter C has now been added to EBITDA: earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization, and coronavirus. The coronavirus has also restricted everyone’s movements and cut out the important daily encounters in the workplace and conversations around the coffee machine. Management now happens from the home office. Companies’ values and culture are now being weighed up.

Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, said: “I hate the word ‘culture’. Culture is really just how we all behave.” I have understood corporate culture to mean the way people act when the management is not present. It is what life at work really looks like when no one has to “play corporate theatre” or do certain things just for show. Corporate culture has never before been put to the test to this extent. How do we act now, when the management is “not present”, but somewhere far away, on the other side of Skype, Teams, or Zoom? What does this mean for the management team?

The answer can be found in the behavioural formula: B = ƒ (P x S). Behaviour is a function of a person and a situation. This means that behaviour should change when the person or situation of the interaction changes. Now, when the situation in this formula has changed drastically and we no longer have our encounters by the coffee machine, we should continue having these meetings in a virtual setting, and even strengthen them in the midst of this crisis. Who would have thought a few weeks ago that today’s leadership requires virtual, situation-specific crisis management?

But first the manager and management team must ensure their own ability to act during these turbulent times. They have to start by putting on their own oxygen mask so that they can then help others. In order to ensure continuous trade, managers must look after their mental wellbeing so that they can look ahead. In the midst of a crisis, clarity is emphasised in the role of the management team. Clarity on where we are, where we are headed, and how we will get there. In leadership behaviour, clarity should equal calmness and determination. It is well known that an organisation will reflect the behaviour of its leaders. That is why you never see an officer or a doctor running.

Now more than ever, the “how” side of leadership skills, i.e. the behavioural competence, is emphasised. It is not enough to be highly skilled on the technical “what” side if a leader does not lead. Leadership means communicating, influencing, enabling, and resolving. And, above all, leadership means interaction and encounters – even virtually.

This blog post was written by StaffPoint Executive’s Senior Advisor Mikko Kemiläinen.