Aperian Global recently hosted the second in a series of “Conversations That Matter” webinars tackling some of the big — and often overlooked — issues in the business world today.
In the webinar entitled “Navigating Relationships and Loss During the Virus Crisis,” Mui Hwa Ng (Director of Consulting, Asia Pacific at Aperian Global), Perry Tan (Head of Learning Design & Development and Business Learning Partner, Tech & Ops at DBS Bank), and Roman Matla (Diversity and Inclusion Leader – Asia Pacific at Uber) discussed strategies for managing constant changes and keeping staff engaged through the current volatile environment.
Here are some of the key insights from the discussion:
“A lot of experts are saying the economic fallout will be as bad as the Great Depression in the 1930s,” Tan says. “We have not lived through that — people that lived through the Great Depression have been retired by now. So none of us have any idea of how we’re going to manage this. Of course, the situation is new to everyone else as well.”
A key for navigating the crisis, then, is to have conversations and explore other insights. See what’s working (and what isn’t) from other companies and other industries, and try to apply these ideas and suggestions to your specific company.
It’s important to be aware that everyone in your organization — and everyone you interact with in the business world — are facing their own challenges. “I’m human — I have concerns, I have good days, I have bad days,” Matla says. “But what’s really helped me is that perspective — okay, my situation can be difficult, but there are other people in the world, in this country and the country that you might be dialing in from, that have it so much worse than I do. For me, that’s a learning and humbling experience.”
Leaders should be aware that their employees might be dealing with pressures and challenges at home that might be very different from their own — ranging from child care to taking care of the elderly.
“Lead with empathy” should be your mantra when it comes to dealing with the crisis. Be sure to listen intently and put yourself in the shoes of others. See their perspective and let your humanity shine through. “Looking at the individual and the leader in the organization, I think it does boil down to very human behaviors,” Matla says. “It’s really taking it back down to what links us all — our humanity.”
This can be tricky. On the one hand, you don’t want your communications to be too “doom-and-gloom,” adding to a situation that might already be relatively pessimistic. On the other hand, people are aware of how difficult times are; too much flowery and cheerful language may come off as unrealistic and unrelatable. “There are a lot of messages that need to be given,” Matla says. “Particularly now, where nothing is ‘business as usual’ — in fact, I’ve actually stripped that from my vocabulary, because this is entirely ‘business unusual.'”
Adding to the challenges? With a fluid situation that changes by the day (and sometimes by the hour), there’s no exact formula for messaging. Instead, try to deliver “a balance between transparency and realism,” as Tan says, in communications. Aim for a mixture of humility, straightforwardness, and inspiration when delivering messages to your employees.
“There’s a risk of our people misconstruing that message, and people behaving in a way that’s going to add more stress to their lives,” Tan says. “If we think about it, a lot of people – if they are lucky to be hearing that kind of communications from their leaders – that means their jobs are safe, but the message is ‘be resilient.’”
However the message of being “being resilient” may cause even more stress in Asian cultures, as workers scramble (and potentially overwork themselves) trying to keep up with the prompt. Instead, take the opportunity to reframe the message of resilience.
“It’s a chance to frame resilience – instead of working too much, you can make resilience be about adapting to the way of working in a new world,” Tan says.
It’s okay to communicate your own struggles to your employees. Let them know that you — just like them — might not be operating at 100%. However, it’s imperative that this messaging is authentic and doesn’t just sound authentic. This might not be a natural element of leadership for many. “The secret is not about developing empathy or humility,” Matla says. “It is about showing the vulnerability and taking that step to show who you really are as a leader. That is incredibly important, particularly now.”
Matla also warns against inauthenticity.
“Having a stoic leader is great, but having a fake stoic leader can be incredibly damaging,” he says.
With the pressure of these times, a type of open forum for leaders to share their concerns, struggles, and strategies can be both cathartic and helpful. Matla’s organization, for example, has an “open hours” Zoom call for an hour every two weeks. “We set up a call with specific senior leaders across all time zones,” Matla says. “So, you have three different sessions to cater to the entire world, and you come in to talk about whatever’s on your mind.”
Matla says these sessions have been beneficial.
“People look forward to them,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to connect with peers that are also struggling and then getting a senior leader’s perspective — not necessarily answers. Actually, more often than not, the answers come from the individuals that dial-in.”
Get creative with the ways you can help your employees through this crisis. For Tan’s company, a “virtual festival” offered a chance to cover both heavier and lighter issues — ranging from strong science sessions to “lifestyle sessions” on yoga and cooking aimed to combat cabin fever.
“Having a combination of the hot topics and the soft lifestyle topics was very, very impactful,” he says.
Matla also mentions the importance of focusing on mindfulness as a way of boosting mental health. His organization integrated a 5-10 minute mindfulness breathing exercise at the end of a recent global all-hands call.
“This is stuff we never would have done,” he says. “A few short months ago, we may have thought it was laughable. Now it really, really hits home, and it makes a big difference. It binds us all as human beings.”
Perry is a seasoned HR leader with cross-industry and cross-functional experience. He is currently responsible for the learning agenda for the Group Tech and Ops function and leads a team of Learning Design & Development professionals. His current focus is developing digital capabilities and facilitating organizational digital transformation. Outside of work, Perry indulges in a variety of hobbies including fitness, softball, photography, reading, parenting, and socio-political discourse.
Roman has spent 24 years in a variety of Technology, Human Capital, and Business Analysis leadership roles across North America and the Asia Pacific region. He is the first APAC Head of Diversity & Inclusion and is responsible for delivering a globally aligned yet regionally tailored D&I strategy and set of initiatives that support Uber’s business opportunities around the region. He has made Singapore his home for the past 18 years along with his wife Heather and two children Alex and Kalyna.
Mui Hwa Ng has successfully delivered a wide range of talent development interventions throughout Asia Pacific for many executives of Fortune 100 and FTSE companies. She has developed training programs for the educational, banking, finance, pharmaceutical, electronics, manufacturing, and consumer goods sectors in various areas of Leadership – including Culture and Workstyle, Team Collaboration & Management, Inclusion & Diversity, Distance and Matrix Leadership.
Prior to Ms. Ng’s consulting career, she worked for fifteen years in a regional role for three major international advertising firms in Asia and London. During the mid-90s she also developed and conducted workshops on assertiveness and empowerment for working women in Hong Kong.
A Singaporean Chinese, Ms. Ng is proficient in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. She facilitates in all three languages and has been consistently rated as highly engaging by past audiences.