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Remaining Relevant

Covid prompting new work culture

All are wondering what the world would be like once Covid 19 is controlled. Many feel it will be a different scenario altogether.

The corporate world is expecting a different work culture to emerge once things return to normal. In fact, we are already witnessing unprecedented changes in our life and work style.
We are getting used to being confined to our homes following protective lockdowns. Work-from-home is becoming a reality with long term socio-economic implications. While its economic impact is much talked of, the social impact has not drawn adequate attention.

Though it is a separate issue in itself, I feel work-from-home may boost women emancipation across societies. Digitisation will make work and family life easier for both the genders.
Focusing on the corporate world, one finds that medical and pharma enterprises have already adopted major changes in work systems in the global fight against Covid 19 pandemic. See how pharma companies have abandoned deeply entrenched and proven protocols in their quest for a safe and effective vaccine against the deadly virus. The time span for developing a vaccine, which usually runs into years, is being compressed in view of Covid’s inter-continental spread and lethality. Inter-country and inter-company collaborations are driving the vaccine search. Private and public sectors have joined hands. All this entails tremendous adjustments in diverse work cultures. Innovation and agility have become the key words in this global endeavour whose history has yet to be chronicled.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the worst of times bring out the best in us. Faced with an existential crisis, people or companies perform miracles. The keen competition between different Covid vaccine candidates proves the point.

Scientists, pharma companies and countries are rapidly devising new ways to create an elixir against the deadliest viral contagion in living memory without compromising with safety and efficacy. It is apparent that new work systems are being evolved, tested and verified. This is rocket-velocity change in work culture happening before our eyes.

It is, therefore, apparent that success on the vaccine front will only propel enterprises to make changes in their established ways much faster than before to introduce newer and better products and services. This will be a new world needing enterprising, agile, innovative and nimble-footed managements, executives, experts and other employees. Mere walking won’t do. Skateboarding will become the new mode of mobility. Are our managers and young executives readying themselves for the times to come?

Mere walking won’t do. Skateboarding will become the new mode of mobility. Are our managers and young executives readying themselves for the times to come?

Is this sounding very daunting to young executives? Well, it should not. Change in work culture has been as old as business itself. The difference now is that it is becoming regular and faster. It has been noted that companies and managers who embraced change proactively remain ahead on the learning and growth curve. Those who opted for change when compelled by dipping business fortunes either fell by the wayside or simply languished. The new era will have place only for executives who are agile, nimble footed, adjustable and innovative.
Let me bring to your attention a major exercise on work culture change in Indian pharma MNC Dr G K Reddy’s as reported in Harvard Business Review June 2017. The company had, at that point of time, seven distinct units working in 27 countries with over 20,000 employees. Each unit had its own work culture. There were too many procedures and decision-making across the behemoth which was becoming a formidable challenge.

The top management at Dr Reddy’s after much deliberation decided that all its operations and employees needed to be nimble, innovative and patient-centered. To align and galvanise company’s manpower around this target the leadership came up with an evocative and inspiring purpose: ‘Good health can’t wait’.

However before announcing the purpose, small and modest projects were launched across channels to highlight agility, innovation and customer-centricity. The work involved many things from product packaging to creation of internal data platform for employees to be proactive with customer requests with agility. After all, nothing can match successes and wins, even though small, for inspiring and attracting those employees who are not easily impressed by mere slogans howsoever well thought those may be. Living examples carry a lot of weight. Therefore even small successes need to be celebrated to establish the credibility and effectiveness of the real purpose.

Then all people were asked how they could contribute to the guiding principle ‘Good health can’t wait’. One of the scientists reported how he had been able to develop a product within 15 days. This was amazing considering that procurement of raw material itself for creating a new product used to take months. The scientist was candid enough to disclose that he could achieve such a milestone only by ignoring long established procedures and using innovative practices. It is a fact that companies often continue with old systems and procedures which have lost relevance.
Real change in work culture happens when employees start asking themselves “why do we exist” beyond personal gains. And this did happen at Dr G K Reddy’s through an elaborate change in work culture. The company continues to prosper as do the employees.

To use a Gandhian phrase, young executives need to be the change they want to see in their companies.

Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. (feedback@basantchaudhary.com)

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