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Leading through Omicron, The Great Resignation and other high-impact risks

By John M. Bremen | December 20, 2021

The presence of the Omicron variant plus other high-impact risks demonstrates that leaders will continue to face unanticipated risks. Future-focused leaders adapt through six differentiating actions.
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John Bremen is a guest contributor for Forbes.com, writing on topics including the future of work, leadership strategy, compensation and benefits, and sustainable strategies that support productivity and business success.

As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 transmits across various countries, we still have much to learn about the risk it poses to people and markets. Concurrently, other high-impact risks persist, including economic, geopolitical, social and climate-related threats, as well as severe talent shortages and “The Great Resignation.”

This situation demonstrates that business leaders will continue to face unanticipated risks for the foreseeable future, despite substantial advances in mitigating them. To thrive amid such risks for an extended period, future-seeking leaders continue to be flexible, adaptive and creative, challenge assumptions and work to fulfill their complex responsibility to protect their people, customers, suppliers, and communities – all while continuing to grow and be profitable.

Future-focused leaders effectively adapt to the constancy of change through differentiating actions:

  1. 01

    Adopt a new mindset (and relationship) with risk

    Today, risk has become a mainstream element of business, and future-seeking leaders recognize its new role in routine assessments, decisions and actions. While most large risks typically do not occur simultaneously, leaders allow for the possibility, requiring both enhanced day-to-day management and agile planning as a “portfolio” of risks. They know the time horizon for risk mitigation requires a long-term view, while a culture of adaptability incorporates new information that arrives daily or even hourly. Constantly anticipating and identifying risk, preparing for the unexpected, and being ready to act decisively when events happen represents agility at its core.

  2. 02

    Update workplace safety enhancements and encourage vaccination

    Future-focused leaders adopt, promote, and educate employees on the effectiveness of interventions in limiting the spread of COVID-19. They support testing, improved ventilation, mask wearing, physical distancing, reduced travel, and decreasing employee density through remote work or staggered work schedules in areas with high transmission rates and cases. As data on Omicron become available, experts assert vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization or death from COVID-19 (including the still-prevalent Delta variant). Future-focused employers facilitate employees getting vaccinated by communicating the importance of vaccinations and boosters, sharing resources on how to obtain them, and providing paid time off. While many employers have stopped short of mandates, they are increasing support and education, remaining receptive to further actions given what is known about the risks of the Omicron variant.

  3. 03

    Focus on employee wellbeing and organization resilience

    Millions of people around the world have been personally impacted by the global crises and many more have been indirectly impacted. In response, future-focused leaders promote employee wellbeing (physical, emotional, financial, social), connecting the support of healthy, resilient employees to healthy, resilient organizations. Building greater organizational resilience (demonstrating the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties) is a defining mandate of the current environment, and provides a new form of competitive advantage. To create resilience across risk factors impacting operations, finances, and people, leaders double down on practicality, strategic risk management, flexibility, agility, compassion and transparency.

  1. 04

    Promote psychological safety

    To drive resilience, future-seeking leaders promote psychological safety in a number of ways. They combine compassionate, disciplined, and transparent behaviors with clearly laying out their efforts to mitigate risks, helping employees feel confident that their employer genuinely cares about safety and wellbeing for them and their families. They recognize the anxiety that accompanies high-impact events, including factors that impact physical, emotional, financial and social wellbeing, as well as concerns associated with on-site work during crises. This necessitates emotional and caregiving support for employees and their families. Future-seeking leaders also emphasize workplace dignity, making the work environment as safe, inclusive and fair as possible.

  2. 05

    Keep an eye on talent challenges (and opportunities)

    Future-seeking leaders concentrate on talent strategies that involve both offense and defense. They create places people want to be in the midst of what many are calling “The Great Resignation.” In this environment, leaders strive to be “net talent gainers,” hiring more employees than they lose, and focusing on why people join and stay as well as why they leave. They create value propositions and employee experiences to drive success by recognizing flexibility is an advantage, transforming pay and benefits, aligning wellbeing, resiliency and work, and reinforcing culture, values and purpose.

  3. 06

    Double down on elastic innovation

    Elastic innovation is a mindset that, in midst of disruptive markets, disrupts innovation itself, constantly expanding and contracting market response on a short-term, real-time basis, while simultaneously continuing to manage innovation pipelines for the long term. Innovative businesses are more resilient when facing economic headwinds when their cultures and business models allow them to pivot quickly as the organization navigates through market uncertainty. Historically, innovation falls into three categories: grassroots, incremental and disruptive. Elastic innovation adds a fourth category to denote immediate-time efforts to address often temporary and short-lived market needs.

Appreciating that high-impact risks are not going away, future-focused leaders adopt a new attitude and take mitigating actions around risk, setting their organizations apart from their peers.

A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com on December 13, 2021.

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