As companies continue to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 they are learning more about themselves and their corporate resilience  says VMWare Group head of sustainability, Nicola Acutt

The company shifted almost its entire 30,000 strong workforce to work from home arrangements in March, and after 10 weeks of lockdown, Acutt says the company’s philosophy that resilience is the twin to sustainability has been clearly borne out.

But she says VMware has also developed a greater sense of what that really means.

Nicola Acutt, VP sustainability strategy, VMware. Source: VMware.

“Our view now is slightly different from what I would have said two or three months ago.  And the first thing that comes to mind is that resilience really needs to include the idea of hyper-agility.

Acutt says this is true from both a technological and an operational perspective.

“COVI19 has demonstrated that having a digital infrastructure and technology to enable it is central to a resilient organization. But cultural resilience is just as important.”

She says resilience has been a part of the VMware leadership code for several years “…however we have recently changed the language to talk about “grit”.

“The experience with COVID-19 has brought another human dimension of resilience to the forefront that we hadn’t considered before.  Yes, it includes grit and perseverance. But to that, you also have to add empathy and the importance of mental health.”


So what are the characteristics of leaders who can build resilience into their teams?

“You know, the first thing that comes to my mind is the importance of mindset. Yes, preparation is a key part of it.  But while we often talk about leadership values and leadership skills we don’t talk about leadership mindsets as often as we should.”

In a real crisis, true leaders emerge, she says, and their mindset is an important thing that sets them apart.

“These are leaders who are themselves resilient, and who can communicate with empathy, with confidence with calm, especially distressing situations for people.”

According to Acutt, “All the soft skills that are often so undervalued really come out in these situations.”

She also flags foresight as another key leadership attribute which the current conditions have revealed.”No one had a crystal ball and no one could ever have predicted the exact way this has played out.  I think the lesson is the importance of considering science and data and, of scenario planning.”

As with many aspects of leadership, the question that gets asked is can mindset be taught.

“I think you can teach it, but it takes a different kind of leadership training and a different kind of approach to leadership. A lot of it comes down to self-awareness and getting leaders to understand their own mindset and  how that is influenced by their experiences.”

But mindset is an area that needs more attention, she says. “I’m an optimist in that respect, I think you can teach people mindset, but it is definitely not something you can do without reflection.”

Digital Fatigue

New ways of working have also introduced new stresses into organisations that simply hadn’t been considered in the past.

For senior executives who might be spending 8 to 10 hours a day in back to back video meetings, digital fatigue has emerged as an issue.

“Absolutely, from my own experience, that is a real thing.”We use Zoom as our key tool and Zoom fatigue is real. “

Already, managers are learning to adjust, she says.

‘Structure is important. We don’t have a culture of being on board and available 24 hours a day. So little things like calendaring are important. Your Microsoft calendar is structured by the hour.  But in this kind of digital world, that kind of structure doesn’t work because if you are not in control of your calendaring one meeting just runs right into the next for hours on end.”

Acutt says it is important for leaders to understand and recognise the need to sustain their own well being.

“There is potentially a mental health toll that this takes on your workforce.  People are only just starting to get their heads around. But that’s a real thing.”

Photo credit: Photo by Charles Forerunner on Unsplash

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