Four steps leaders must take to overcome uncertainty and build strong, resilient (remote) workforces

“Those companies that prioritised people and culture during the 2008 recession not only survived, but outperformed their competitors 3X”.

– McLeod

Extraordinary times

We’re living through extraordinary times. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses across the world are dealing with unprecedented levels of change – at speed and on a massive scale. This radical uncertainty just seems to be the new norm.

Uncertainty can be overwhelming and frightening – we’re all feeling that right now. But it has an important role – it disrupts our usual patterns and shows what’s working, and what’s not, about the way we do things. The COVID-19 pandemic is a reality and there’s no real end in sight. This comes on top of the huge changes in technology, societal and generational mindsets and political landscape that businesses were already struggling to respond to. Companies must develop new dynamics – not only to thrive, but to survive. 

The key to success

The key to long-term success in our new world is creating more resilient, adaptable workforces.  People who can respond quickly, innovate and stay positive while dealing with complex, changing circumstances.

But how do CEOs and businesses become more resilient? According to the 100+ leaders we interviewed in our new report Surfing Uncertainty: The role of purpose & culture in organisational resilience, businesses can only hope to survive and build resilience by investing in two ‘intangible’ assets: purpose and culture. Indeed, 41% of them credited their success during the 2008 recession to investing here, and almost a quarter (23%) who had worked for failing or ‘just surviving’ businesses, admitted that ‘an underinvestment in people and culture’ was the reason their business didn’t make it.

So what do purpose and culture look like? A company purpose creates unity and motivation around a common direction, for all employees – from the factory floor or marketing department, right up to the boardroom. Having a purpose that’s geared towards positive societal impact (beyond profit) allows CEOs and employees to foster collective meaning beyond short-term instability. A strong culture, underpinned by a solid set of values and a clear identity, brings employees together, and creates the right attitudes and behaviours to protect and grow the business. 

Four immediate steps for all leaders

If this doesn’t sound like your company right now, you have an opportunity on your hands – not just to protect your business, but to catalyse long-term success. Research included in our report analysing companies after the 2008 recession found those that prioritised people and culture not only survived, but outperformed their competitors threefold (McLeod). 

With millions of employees self-isolating, suffering increased anxiety and taking time off for illness, businesses are already experiencing serious drops in attendance, productivity and motivation – with significant financial consequences. But if you act now, you can use this opportunity of change and uncertainty as a catalyst to turn your organisation into a future-fit one. In ‘normal’ times, changing a culture is slow, but do it now and you can hit a fast-forward button and come out stronger than before COVID-19 hit. 

We’re currently working with our clients on four key ways to do this: 

  1. Behavioural psychology-led communications that hit the mark – For example, many personality types will crave moments for genuine two-way dialogue like Q&A’s and all-hands sessions during times like these, even if you know you won’t have all the answers (that, in itself, sends a powerful message).
  2. Mitigating the mental health impacts before it’s too late – Run basic mental health awareness training with all employees in the next two weeks before habits are formed. Working with leading mental health experts including Geoff McDonald and Harriet Waley-Cohen, Kin&Co has developed a tailored interactive one-hour session around mental health called ‘Mental wellbeing – how to stay sane during isolation’.
  3. Driving remote culture from the bottom up – Within many organisations in crisis decision making is being made at the top, meaning people feel even less in control of their own destiny. Establish a virtual culture champions network of a cross section of employees, to instigate and share best practice around remote working etiquette, tech and tools and wellbeing giving people a defined role and purpose.
  4. Use purpose to motivate teams – Many organisations are offering support to the vulnerable or pivot their services to support the nation, but aren’t making the most of that for employee engagement and motivation. Involve employees in coming up with ideas, or exercises around setting their own personal purpose for the next 12 weeks.

A practical survival guide for businesses

Good leaders mitigate risk. Great leaders see opportunity. Tackle this challenging time head-on and you’ll not only survive, but outperform your competitors and acquire the skills to ride out future periods of change.
For the full insights on surviving and leveraging times of change and uncertainty, advice from CEOs and leaders around the world, and the practical steps you can take immediately, download our report here, or get in touch for a free one-hour advice clinic on