The impact of the pandemic on leadership

Through the pandemic, companies and teams have learned to adjust to using technology like Zoom and Teams. Remote work has grown from a curiosity to a necessity in the lives of managers across the globe. Without question, technologies like Zoom are here to stay, and they offer companies and managers a tremendous value. However, understanding the value of technology and the downsides to it will be critical to future success.
As our team at Consumer Fresh Produce adjusted to the day-to-day management of the company through technology in place of face-to-face meetings, we learned that for routine operational meetings where we were attacking management decisions, Zoom was an effective tool. However, when we moved from tactical discussions to more culture-based discussions, the narrow nature of Zoom calls seemed to be less effective.
In large part, Zoom and Teams, and other tools of that nature, by design tend to compartmentalize the discussions. For example, with Zoom, our agendas were more defined, meeting starting and ending times were tighter and people were deliberate about holding to the intent of the meeting.
If stated in lean terms, Zoom was like a Kaizen event. We leaned out the process of meeting on tactical issues to eliminate the time wasted in the past. Today, as we near the end of the pandemic, our Zoom meetings are efficient and effective as a management process. We get things done.
So where is the issue? From a management perspective, Zoom is effective. However, from a leadership perspective, the narrow landscape of Zoom tends to eliminate the benefits of being present. If we can define management as the process of getting things done, and leadership as the development of the company culture and norms that define the environment for getting things done, the point becomes clear.
Leadership benefits from the ability to touch and feel the organization. The greatest leaders continuously observe their business, bump into the issues that frame challenges in execution and have the ability to be curious by observation, teach by example and reinforce the norms and expectations of belonging to the company. These fringe behaviors are lost through technology. Leaders cannot see around the corner through compartmental tactical Zoom calls.
As companies exit the pandemic and return to work, there will be a place for technology in reducing costs and improving management’s processes for tactical execution. However, the challenges leaders will face is to focus on reconnecting their organizations, rediscovering their cultures and ensuring that the sense of belonging is re-established for all those who have been absent from the office since the pandemic began.

As you bring employees back to the office and begin to engage in leadership, you have the unique opportunity to measure the power of your culture and reconstitute your values, norms and leadership principles. Talk to your C-suite about the experiences over the last 12 months. Be realistic about the value of technology to reduce your costs, improve productivity and focus on how you can re-establish the principles of leadership in your organization.

Gregory D. Cessna is CEO of Consumer Fresh Produce