Crisis is both a “black swan" - an unforeseen thing that makes a huge impact on people and businesses, and a “grey rhino,” something which is highly probable but left ignored.
This was MVP Group of Companies Chairman and CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan's similes for crisis when he recently spoke to members of the Penn-Wharton Club of the Philippines.
The dangers of a pandemic have always been there before COVID-19 happened, and yet the world remained vulnerable and unprepared.
But this is not a cause for panic and despair, but rather a reality that needs to be faced head on, he pointed out.
“COVID-19 reminded us that businesses operate in a Darwinian landscape – it will not be the biggest or smartest who will survive, but those who best adapt to change will come out victorious in this crisis,” he explained.
Needless to say, profitability had to take a back seat for now.
The MVP Group itself prioritized the business’ most important components: the health and financial well-being of its employees, maintaining connectivity and service to customers, and assisting the government in caring for those who are most affected by this crisis.
To tackle the long-term effects of COVID, companies should start future-proofing their organization while leading with a “people-first” mindset, Pangilinan admonished.
A case in point was PLDT. The telco has matched its business forecast with the demands of the industry as well as their employee skillset in the years to come.
This way, the telco – and the MVP Group as a whole – can ensure job security for employees who are also coping with the crisis.
“We not only have to pivot our business model to future-proof it as much as we can, but at the same time, to address the skill base and number of people we need moving forward. In the case of PLDT, we did a five-year forecast during the crisis and one of the assumptions was our headcount will increase,” he explained.
Another key learning in crisis management is authenticity.
To be an effective leader in times of crises, one must be clear and transparent about the reality of the situation.
“It’s important to be able to communicate constantly with people. I think it’s helpful to be articulate, if not eloquent. It just keeps the fabric tightly woven within your company, within the group. It is always good for them to see that their leader is on top of the situation,” he added.
And it helps to keep calm amid the storm.
“When there’s a crisis, you cannot panic. You cannot be seen as being doubtful or fearful of the situation. Any crack at the top will be seen as a chasm from below."
The current situation is akin to “That strange and unsettling time and state… that space between no longer and not yet.”
But leading bravely and being comfortable with discomfort will help us get through, he emphasized.
While the “what” and the “how” may not be recognizable in this time of crisis, the “who” and “why” of an organization must remain rock solid, above all.
There is no playbook for a crisis, especially for the one we are in now.
“Having a clear value system to guide our decisions and actions is more crucial than ever. We see the power of this approach from leaders who are showing up with their values in ways that clarify, comfort and inspire,” the MVP Group chairman maintained. And so, he ended with a quote. “I’m reminded of what was once said: ‘If you want to make God laugh, just tell him about your plans.”