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Changing role of Leadership in the times of COVID


Interview with: Arnold Titus : Director – Human Resources India and Commercial Excellence APAC, Medtronic

With the entire world of work going through a transformation almost overnight, what are the key leadership attributes that have made some leaders shine out while others have struggled to keep pace?

The Covid-19 pandemic has tested the skill and resilience of leaders across Industries. Leaders and decision makers are perplexed and struggle to define the road to recovery. Our response has been a mixed bag as new scenarios have emerged and most of our solutions have been more serendipitous than a planned response. The “new normal” is the changed world. Every individual, business, community and country must adapt to survive. Smart leaders are quick to work on the attributes in an organization that enhance trust and much of their time should be spent on building a culture that strengthens these attributes.

  • Inspire confidence: In the uncertainties of the pandemic, a leader must take charge and responsibility and deliver messages of reassurance while also steering the team out of water. A leader who can cut through the clutter and pave the way for success stands tall amongst the employees.
  • Communicate regularly and effectively: Communication is very important, especially now that many companies are embracing remote working. Leaders should be relentless in communicating with their people to be proactive. Communicating with clarity and giving a sense of direction for employees is another way to give the keep the rank and file engaged.
  • Ensure Transparency: Transparency fosters stronger connections and working relationships. Admitting to the current realities of the pandemic will foster trust and reassure teams that you are on top of the situation.
  • Consistency: In the new normal, where consistency is dynamic, a leader must bring in a sense of calm and order. Designing daily schedules and activities will bring down the anxiety level of their people. The dynamics of order and consistency are important to create a semblance of normalcy.
  • Empathy: Many employees have gone through this uncertain phase facing a lot of stress. Leaders who understood these situations and responded positively to the needs of the employees by listening and enabling them to tackle situations have earned the respect and trust of the employees.

How has remote working helped leaders to come forward and display ownership, empathy and change management in a transformational manner?

Firstly, while remote working may be the new normal, it has allowed leaders to be creative and innovate constantly. COVID-19 has proven that while technology can augment and supplement work, it does not replace what is needed from humans.

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Secondly, with change being the only constant, it is important to foster loyalty so that employees feel an important part of the org setup.This is the time to stay closer to them than ever before, recognizing their efforts and rewarding even small accomplishments.

Finally, many leaders led from the front and became role models for employees to follow. This has made a huge difference and strengthened the resolve to do their best. Leaders have evolved during the pandemic. We have observed many leaders change their perspective for the better during these tough times. They have shown their flexibility and patience to deal with the emerging situations.

How has healthcare as an industry stood out as an example of true leadership, teamwork and customer service during the pandemic. Is the world likely to look at healthcare differently post COVID?

The healthcare Industry has worked with true resilience during the pandemic as our Covid warriors aka healthcare and frontline workers constantly worked hard to keep us safe.  Alternative approaches to screening, disease monitoring, and consultation emerged giving rise to digital healthcare, to reduce any exposure to the virus and ease the burden on health care providers and facilities.

No one can fight COVID-19 alone. And that goes for us, too. In March last year, Medtronic recognized the acute need for ventilators as life-saving devices in the management of COVID-19 infections. It was a global crisis that needed a global response. So, we publicly shared the design specifications for the Puritan Bennett™ 560 ventilator to enable participants across industries to evaluate options for rapid ventilator manufacturing to help doctors and patients dealing with COVID-19. Throughout the last one year of the pandemic, our employees have shown gritand worked alongside Covid warriors by supporting critical procedures and ensuring that product supplies are maintained in hospitals across the country even during the toughest phases of complete lockdown. They kept the Mission alive to ensure that no patient suffers, and that requisite support is provided in a timely manner.

However, Coronavirus reminds us how our economies, industries, rituals, and life as we know it, exist in a delicate balance. What happens in one corner of the world inevitably impacts another. The pandemic has also opened our eyes to the state of our health systems and preparedness to handle a pandemic of this scale. It is important for all key stakeholders like government, hospitals, healthcare professionals and industry at large to collaborate and implement learnings so that a catastrophe of this scale can be managed in future.

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What are some of the efforts taken by Medtronic to keep the employees motivated during the pandemic?

Tenet 5 of the Medtronic Mission talks about our most important asset — our people. The unprecedented nature of the pandemic changed our lives overnight and threw us all in a situation where we were burdened with trying to strike a balance between work and personal commitments. During this period, the health and wellness of our employees continued to remain the top priority and we have been implementing initiatives to support remote working in the new normal.

  • Our virtual Yoga and meditation sessions led by certified yoga trainers have aimed at providing employees with a holistic wellness solution to deal with working remotely.  The sessions have focused onpractical tips on improving immunity, increasing joint mobility and mind relaxing techniques.  This program has been much appreciated as the feedback received suggests that it has helped them relax, improve their focus and productivity, and reduce stress levels in their daily lives.
  • Managers reached out to teams and collectively worked with tools and technology to ensure work continued while regular interactions and fun engagements broke the monotony. Virtual meetings, digital townhalls, shipping merchandise and gifts to their homes, communication and recognition became a regular feature. The underlying aspect was the employee experience to beat the isolation blues.
  • Support to employees was also extended through assistance programs to build emotional and mental well-being along with providing opportunities to upskill and work on stretch assignments to foster cross function and cross border collaboration.
  • Provided employees with requisite IT and infrastructure support to make their work from home a smooth experience.
  • As digital tools took over our lives, social media engagement became the fuel that kept the wheels running. Whether it was internal engagement on Yammer or discussions on Facebook or Instagram, our employees became our brand ambassadors and shared about their lives in the new normal through pictures and anecdotes.
  • As we now move towards a hybrid work setup with the opportunity to be flexible with work from office and home, at Medtronic, plans are constantly afoot to provide complete support to our employees, as we move ahead together to bounce back.
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Going forward, what are some of the key areas that you would like to work on to ensure that your teams become more agile and ready to face a disruptive work environment?

Our societies are irreversibly changed, but the power of connection and optimism remains. Disruption is a part of life, and the current pandemic has reflected the need for leaders to make decisions that are dynamic. However, a well-planned strategy that focuses on minimizing the effects of disruption will help future transitions operate more smoothly.

Upskilling has been a clear strategy to help employees manage the new normal and has also enabled the company to deliver to the best in these changed situations. We realized there were many success stories as we connected with our employees in our weekly town hall meetings. We believe the public recognition has spurred many more employees to go above and beyond in these COVID times.

Going beyond the workplace and doing work for societal impact is another opportunity to provide employees opportunities to look at changing situations and support employees to respond to those situations. The opportunity to learn new things and make quick changes in an imperfect ecosystem has been immense value add and leaders who provide these opportunities have made an impact within the company and outside.

Leaders must align the company’s vision and purpose with that of the teams and workplace culture. This will help steer the company towards the right path and make it less susceptible to major change.


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