Lessons From Lockdowns
Forbes India|January 15, 2021
Industry leaders from across sectors talk about what their learnings—professional and personal—have been through the Covid-19 pandemic
Jasodhara Banerjee

There is nothing like a full-blown crisis to bring out the best in people. As the Covid-19 pandemic swept across industry sectors, upending established processes and putting lives and livelihoods at risk, business leaders learnt to quickly adapt to evolving realities and recalibrate priorities. It was not just business processes that had to be re-engineered, but even personal lives, as people found themselves juggling office and house work while remaining confined within their homes. Leaders from across various sectors shared with Forbes India their experiences, learnings and self-discoveries, and how they turned a crisis into opportunities for themselves and their teams.

‘Resilience, Authenticity and Compassion Are Values That’ll Define Our Future’

SURESH NARAYANAN, chairman and managing director, Nestlé India

While the pandemic has made us realise we are living in unprecedented times, it has also accelerated changes that were under way, and triggered an essential rethink of how organisations work. It is time now for the three Ps—people, purpose and partnerships—to come before profit. To deliver optimum results, there should be a focus on trust, empathy and compassion, as much as on driving growth.

Every crisis leads a company back to its values and purpose. ‘Purpose’ is not an add-on or an occasional adoption of the cause du jour to make headlines and win awards. It speaks of a higher cause of trust and responsibility, and a higher calling, where the company is guided by the values that determine its relationship with its employees, partners, stakeholders, customers and consumers. A defining moment for me has been witnessing ordinary people do extraordinary acts, seeing our employees and partners going out of their way to serve people in times of crisis.

The three attributes that will shape successful organisations and societies in future are resilience, authenticity and compassion. Consumers are looking for companies they can trust, are torchbearers of ethical conduct and have social impact.

‘Contrarians Sweep the Market When They Are Right’

ABHIRAJ BHAL, co-founder, Urban Company

During these past few months, I have had three key learnings as an individual. The first is that crisis management requires you to be both short-term and long-term in your thinking. When the lockdown was imposed in March, we had to focus on short-term prudence, control costs, and revamp our processes to prepare for a post-lockdown world. Yet, it was also important to recognise that this was a humanitarian crisis, and we shouldn’t forget the humans. Urban Company took the decision to protect jobs, not cut salaries, institutionalised various monetary and health care measures for our service partners, and took each decision with not only the short- but also the long-term picture in mind.

The second learning was to be contrarian. Contrarians sweep the market when they are right. Consequently, even as businesses were shutting down or laying off in our sector, we hired over 300 full-time employees, and on-boarded 10,000 service professionals. We were also aggressive with our marketing and communication. This helped us bounce back to 140 percent of our pre-Covid peak in a relatively short period of time.

The last learning was around time management. Prior to Covid-19, my calendar was always blocked throughout the week, but somehow work from home allowed me to be more disciplined, regimented and focussed on how and where I spend my time.

‘The biggest Lesson Was To Maintain balance between Lives and Livelihoods’

ANIL MATHUR, COO, Godrej Interio

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns triggered a slew of changes in consumer behaviour. The industry has been on a path of transformation, with brands redefining their purpose, exploring new materials, products, and services, and adjusting to the new ‘phygital’ consumer journey.

At Godrej Interio, we blended our digital and retail stores to deliver an omni-channel experience to customers. We increased our online channels and delivery points from 2,000 to 5,000 pin codes. To help customers make informed choices, we started virtual tours of the stores; customers could also experience the product at the store through prior appointment, and by following all social distancing norms.

The biggest lesson we all learnt, however, was to maintain the balance between lives and livelihoods. As a country, we were not prepared to leapfrog into a work-from-home or remote-working culture. Drawing strict boundaries that promote work-life balance is a necessity, and it requires a concerted effort from industry leaders. We focussed on educating and empowering working professionals to create a healthy home-office setup using webinars with ergonomists, and releasing white papers and posture guides for consumers. At Godrej Interio, we not only implemented policies that prohibited meeting pre- or post-working hours but also urged managers to hold at least one meeting every week to discuss the well-being of colleagues.

‘We’ve Taken To Digital initiatives To be Ready For the Future’

ASHISH GUPTA, brand head, Volkswagen Passenger Cars India

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out many learnings for us, one of the biggest being the art of handling unpredictable situations, quick adaptation to new scenarios, finding the right solutions and being responsible citizens within our community. Further, it led us to apply a work-life balance and ensure time management, as bifurcation of personal and professional time was a challenge in the early days.

Similarly, on the business front, we were coerced to reflect on our business priorities and bring in a fresh perspective that is relevant today, and prepares us for tomorrow. One of the key supporters through this pandemic has been technology, and at Volkswagen, we’ve taken this opportunity to accelerate our digital initiatives and be ready for the future.

‘Focus On What you Can Control’

BHARAT PURI, managing director, Pidilite Industries Ltd

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