As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic linger on, the war in Ukraine has plunged the world into turmoil. People are struggling, and many are worrying about their loved ones. At a time when so many are exhausted, we now may have new anxieties related to the economic impact of the Ukraine war.
In this context, businesses must once again expand their remit to balance short-term and long-term challenges and measures. Quickly assessing and planning for inflation, anticipating the Ukraine war supply chain impact, and securing operations and systems are all top of mind during these times of leadership under crisis. At the same time, leaders will likely prioritize the physical and mental well-being of their people. They need to be flexible and creative in rethinking their HR people strategy to anticipate and manage talent shortages.
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In this volatile environment, leading with compassion and communicating with clarity and honesty may be key to supporting people, while managing through business constraints and challenges.
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I offer the following principles to consider, which may help you guide your people in these difficult times and support them to maintain productivity and trust in your business.
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Principle #1: Always act with care and show compassionate leadership
Even though they may be worried about the business impact of the Ukraine war, purpose-driven leaders are guided by a moral compass and empathy. Their focus is on their people. To follow the compassionate leadership principle, you can:
- Be compassionate, caring and transparent in your communication: Our research conducted during the COVID-19 crisis found that people look to leaders for compassion, care and confidence in navigating a crisis and setting a direction for the future. You don’t have to know everything, but you do need to be transparent about what is driving decisions.
- Conduct listening sessions to assess well-being and promote employee belonging for all workers. Expectations that business leaders are responsible for their people’s well-being heighten in times of crisis. Use Accenture's Net Better Off framework to evaluate where your people stand on the relational, emotional, mental and physical dimensions of well-being.
- Offer support to help employees. Workers are stressed—even burnt out—from navigating the pandemic. This war may only magnify these feelings. Consider confirming that mental health services and other key resources are available to vulnerable and resilient workers alike.
Principle #2: Support people at all levels of the organization
This is a critical time when leaders will be stretched thin. Especially in Europe, where most of my clients are, the eurozone economic outlook may be a matter of high concern, but success and growth in Europe will likely depend on whether leaders and their workforces remain aligned and engaged. To manage this situation, you can:
- Prioritize well-being and self-care for all. Leaders will need to care for others and for themselves, by asking for input and adopting a collaborative approach to help ensure belonging in the workplace.
- Elevate the voices of people at all levels. To inspire trust, leaders need to listen, learn and act—individually and collectively, by implementing a solid listening framework to help make sure all voices are heard. Don’t just follow waterfall communications from the top down—request and incorporate your people's feedback into top decisions.
- Understand people's needs. Focus on solving their top priorities to the utmost extent possible.
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Principle #3: Know your people and their needs
Leading through a crisis that has multinational implications for individuals, teams and workforces requires you to know your audience well and think about how best to serve them. Different people have different needs at different times, and you can lead with meaningful and caring actions. To be strategic, intentional and to implement personalized actions:
- Think outside the box when it comes to global people strategy. Assess the needs of your various workforce segments and get creative about how you can support them. Consider role flexibility, advanced pay, continued pay despite pausing operations, mental health support and more.
- Understand and prioritize the physical, emotional and mental safety of all. In Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, physical safety is a top priority, followed closely by emotional and mental safety. People can only focus on productivity if these needs are met, so ensure these foundations exist in the workplace before anything else.
- Be transparent in your communications with employees about changes to employment terms due to the Ukraine war’s economic impact. Revisit your messaging around the impact of the war and craft communications with a “people-first” lens, showing how you plan to navigate and support your people’s needs.
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Principle #4: Focus on a broader view of humanity, even in times of leadership under crisis
The list of things that keeps leaders up at night was significantly smaller just a few years ago. Now, leaders are held responsible for their company's impact on the world at large. To navigate this situation:
- Consider impact beyond payroll. Accenture research—"Perception is reality"—shows that leaders are under significant pressure to expand their responsibilities to the communities in which they live and work (p. 6-7). The decisions you make today may have an impact on society, both globally and locally.
- Reflect on what you do not know. Thousands of people have friends and family in Ukraine and Russia, while others have Russian or Ukrainian backgrounds. Be mindful of your messaging to be inclusive—in person, on calls and via social media.
- Promote belonging for all workers. Workplaces reflect the real world. As leaders, you can pave the way to an equitable future by taking strategic and intentional action to help create inclusive workplace environments, while also setting an example of tolerance and inclusivity for the communities where your companies operate.
Principle #5: Think differently about workforce skilling opportunities
The talent market was already experiencing shortages post-pandemic. According to Forbes, thousands of skilled workers may be displaced due to the war. In particular, an estimated 100,000 senior IT and digital skilled workers will be displaced, representing about 10% of senior workers in global business service centers in the war region. This situation has created the need to look at broader recruitment strategies:
- Re-examine whether to use a traditional recruitment and HR people strategy. Current reports and forecasts anticipate a widening of the skill gaps. As a result, it’s even more crucial that companies uncover hidden talent pools and recruit around skills and skilling potential, as opposed to just filling jobs and using automated recruitment processes.
- Look for ways to experiment with flexible work options. Consider alternative schedules and other structures to accommodate and empower relocated workers, and think about how you can help clear the path back to work and create connections on a human level, regardless of location.
- Invest in a wide range of skilled workforce development. Paramount skills that leaders and managers will need to activate, but which will also prove useful at all workforce levels, include empathy, decision-making, problem-solving, scenario planning, change management and transformation.
- Think about re-evaluating the timing of your workforce skilling plans. Review your skilling plans and consider relaxing their projected timing and return on investment goals. As safety concerns and emotional strain grow, learning and skilling may fade to the background. While people may wish to remain on track, they may need flexibility to focus on immediate needs.
Putting principles into place
Our new research—"Organizational culture: From always connected to omni-connected"—explores what makes us feel connected at work. People are not only experiencing a new world of work—they’re living in a new world that is constantly changing and presenting new challenges. We believe that compassionate leadership is the way forward. Looking out for your people’s needs, building trust, creating more connection—these are the things that make people want to stay by your side and deliver for the business throughout these challenging times.
To prepare your discussions with your people about these challenging times and to lead with compassionate leadership, start by downloading our conversation guide.
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