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Between Two Chairs

Challenges faced by top executives in a prolonged pandemic

It is hard to find balance in business in strategic areas: world events and business interests. What is certain is that COVID has changed the lives of top decision-makers in the strategic planning process, if not for life, then for a very long time. Nature is dying, people are dying, and all the while, there is the familiar business interest. How can all this be balanced? This is perhaps the biggest challenge of 2021.

The rules of propriety

Before the COVID era, the business strategy manager’s job was usually simple: to deliver the best possible results for the business, or to best meet the shareholders’ expectations, be it a single shareholder, several people, or companies or investors with listed securities. Although more and more companies have turned towards environmental awareness in recent years, it has been more about paying attention to using materials and solutions that can be considered “green”, even at the cost of increasing costs, if necessary. The nature conservation focus was also present in a number of places at an early stage of strategy development, but was not a determining factor for managers in the final decision-making process, with one or two exceptions. But the situation now is quite different: not only costs but also people’s lives and their planning need to be included in a process where nature is given a prominent role. What exactly do I mean? I mean that expectations and objectives must be set in the light of the fact that COVID, for example, is still part of our everyday lives and, as things stand, we will have to plan with it for some time to come. And, where there is a virus, experts say, there will be another, so this is the dawn of a new era in business. And the key question for most managers is what the right behaviour is, what the most socially acceptable direction is. Are we still allowed to focus on business interests, or have they been completely overtaken by the virus and, if that is what someone now wants to focus on, they can be excluded by society? Is it permissible to drive workers towards new business goals, say now, in mid-August? Or must we consider the fact that the majority of people are concerned about their own lives and the lives of their fellow human beings? To what extent can we demand maximum attention at work, and how much can and should we allow employees to concentrate on their own lives?

Clarity of vision

Why ask this question now? Strange as it may seem, at the beginning of the virus, somehow there were no challenges of this kind in the lives of managers, as everyone was going with the flow, and on the ownership side, they simply had to accept the fact that this one year had to be sacrificed. However, no shareholder is willing to sacrifice 5-6 years. In other words, the real long-term issue is only now emerging for managers, as they need a permanent change of mindset. And let us not even mention that we are changing does not necessarily mean that we can implement our plans without disruption, because the intensity of the virus and the reaction of governments to it are unpredictable and unplannable. What is certain, however, is that the right ideology must be developed now in strategic areas. What exactly does this mean? It can be summed up very simply: what kind of leaders we want to be, what kind of leader we need to be to meet current business expectations, and then compare how well these two can be aligned. But if we cannot do that, we need to act in time, because falling between two chairs has never been more dangerous. It is a very bad result if you are fired from a management position, and people still hate you.