COMMENT: COVID-19 – Yes, there is disruption, but also, opportunity

PUBLISHED: Mon, 06 Jul 2020 20:45:35 GMT

I hear this a lot: “We are in unprecedented times.” Actually, to borrow from author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, we are not. We have been through tough business situations like this before. This is not the first time and it may not be the last, but the context of what we’re going through may be a lot more shocking and sudden than we’ve previously experienced.

It’s easy to fall into a state of fear and panic. It is human nature to brood and worry – and none of us are immune from these impulses in extraordinarily challenging times. However, I urge you to take a different viewpoint of our current circumstances. I’ll start by reframing our context. Did you know that half of the companies currently listed on the Dow Jones were born in recession? Those companies understood the opportunities that disruption and tough periods offer and created something new from them. 

Simon Sinek talks about the Infinite Game – and if you haven’t heard about him and this concept already, I urge you to watch his YouTube videos on the topic. The Infinite Game says that the players change, but the game doesn’t. It’s not about competing and being ‘the best’. Rather, it’s about asking, ‘how can I make myself, and my organisation, a better version tomorrow than today? By constantly striving to be better tomorrow than we are today, we free ourselves from the fixed mind set of, ‘I know it all’ and embrace the growth mind set of lifelong learning, opening ourselves up to the possibilities that come from uncertainty and change. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a mass digital transformation and shift to 4IR. Some organisations – including huge multinational corporations – have been unprepared for this transformation. Business models are already changing, so the challenge for us is to rethink and reinvent our business moving forward. Organisations that cling to the status quo, who focus their energies on preserving their current state, are going to find themselves in trouble when we reach the other side of this dark tunnel we’re currently in – no matter how much money they have. Talking about pay cuts and indulging in short-term thinking will not save them. Now is the time to think big, and think boldly, to shift our behaviour.

I urge you to set aside your fear and embrace the unknown. This disruption is opening up opportunities, and organisations who identify these, and approach them with a growth mindset, will be poised to seize that opportunity. We will invest in the skills sets we need to not only survive, but to thrive. I am intent on ensuring that every employee has the right skills for the challenges ahead. We have the chance to ask ourselves, how will we prepare ourselves for the change that is coming? My view is that those that are the most prepared are going to come out stronger. 

I am not talking about thinking about how we take advantage of the situation or milk the crisis to our own benefit. Let’s rather look at how we can differentiate ourselves as an organisation, helping the citizens of South Africa and across the globe, and leading the way through the darkness of this uncertain time, into the light at the other end of it.

Let’s begin to explore what new ways of work and opportunities we can find coming out of the crisis we’re currently in. Importantly another conversation we must have is our embrace of the digital mind set. This is the new norm for us right now, and the new way of work. The dark side of this is, of course, digital fatigue – or even digital burnout – from a constant rotation of online meetings and work expectations. I heard President Cyril Ramaphosa comment that he is currently spending 18 to 20 hours a day in meetings. None of us are in quite the same position as the President, but we face great challenges with our time and mental resources. When work and home are one and the same, it’s easy to blur or forget the boundaries. I want to reinforce to you that our culture at SAS is one of trust – I don’t need to see all of you 24 hours a day to feel confident that you are engaged in the necessary work of the day. 

Your emotional and physical wellbeing is of utmost importance. I want to encourage you to set appropriate boundaries and to take care your mental health and wellbeing at this time. These may not be unprecedented times, but they are for many of us, the most challenging times we have faced in our lifetime. Take care of yourselves, strive to find some work-life balance and let’s move calmly and assuredly forward with a sense of renewed purpose and excitement about the opportunities that lie ahead.

SAS’s Country Manager, Akesh Lalla.

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