Covid Effect: Reconciling the global with the local (Column: Spy’s Eye)

Management of business would be written afresh in the phase of post-Covid economic recovery and some significant new concepts would be incorporated for their long term relevance — compelled by the ‘evolutionary’ impact of the pandemic.

Since business is all about human activity, the most important question would be whether alternate ways of maintaining the physical outreach to users or customers would be invented and made viable to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Secondly, it is open to question if a corporate needs to depend on a glossy, populous and noisy headquarter — of which every executive wants to be a part — to maintain organisational loyalty as well as the efficiency of output and delivery?

Third, how has the role of Business Intelligence been affected, particularly in planning for the future?

Further, what are the new paradigms, if any, in the vital areas of performance evaluation and human resource development? And finally, how does ‘globalisation’, the hallmark of success in business, stand in relation to the growth of local markets and ‘local economy’ that is emerging in a country like India as the successful model for economic recovery and sustainable business?

All these facets of post-Covid national and international economic scene are being intensely researched by economists and Centres of excellence in the field of business management.

Technology has emerged as the big saviour of business in times of collapse of demand caused by the cessation of physical movement resulting in markets losing the ‘crowd’ of customers and also by a dampening of the flair for ‘product development’.

It is technology that enabled the retail business to go online in an unprecedented manner and establish a new mode of generating and satisfying the customer demand, as the futuristic trend.

Amazon was able to announce hiring of tens of thousands of hands in a situation of sudden large scale loss of conventional jobs in the market. Technology made it possible to handle global management of collection of local products and their dispersed delivery with speed.

Covid has made retail a business inviting global competition. Thanks to innovative technology applications, many essential services like medical consultation, sourcing of medicines and hiring of para-medic assistance have risen on the horizon and are fast becoming a part of every body’s life.

This will help maximise the use of hospital infrastructure for attending to patients who reported physically for a serious ailment. In the US and other developed countries clinics have gone online to the advantage of all concerned and this has enlarged the medical umbrella for the people at home.

In India this must be worked out in a big way as a public health project which underscores the importance of ‘preventive’ care and prophylactic medication, was so essential for our populous country.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Covid restrictions made ‘work from home’ an immediate fall back for corporates to keep their business going — this practice, however, has come to stay for multiple reasons some of which established it as an advancement over the past.

The employee was saved the hassle of dressing up, traveling and carrying his PC to office and certainly was expected to work with greater ‘peace and concentration’ at home and achieve greater ‘productivity’- which by definition is the output per unit of time. In any organisation there is this mix of policy makers, supervisors and a bulk of employees broadly acting as ‘compliers’.

The last mentioned group could work from home without any detriment to the organisation and to an extent make the operations cost-effective provided of course that online supervision became stronger than before for keeping up efficiency.

Work from home has produced a welcome outcome for the corporate body in as much as the supervisors who were senior executives — just providing broad oversight — would now work as ‘team leaders’ with direct hands-on involvement with those below.

Their leadership acumen will be tested in terms of knowing their men better, delegating decision-making power and enhancing organisational cohesion. Work from home helps to make the corporate headquarter less ostentatious and more business like and define a true apex known for the physical presence of the leadership.

The Board Room, it may be mentioned, will always be the best place for the Directors to assemble even if they had the freedom to hold virtual meetings.

Those allowed to work from home may be called to corporate office in spells by rotation so that they did not become ‘de conditioned’ and did not develop vested interest in the home option. Both in US and India this latter trend has been reported as a growing phenomenon showing how personal advantage was prevailing over the organisational good. ‘Return to office’ initiative would therefore rightly become a leadership trait.

What has become even more important in the post- Covid economic climate is the fundamental utility of ‘business Intelligence’ for planning and sustaining ongoing operations and affecting any course corrections necessitated by unforeseen changes in the external environ in terms of politico-legal, socio-economic and technology related developments.

Even in best of times business plans are in fact a guesswork since complete information about what lay ahead would never be available. A basic flaw in the traditional business plan is that it was considered infallible- just because it was believed to have been based on right decisions- whereas in the contemporary world any plan is vulnerable to unpredictable changes — Covid making the situation even worse.

Capacity to course correct in the light of new information is now a requirement of successful business pursuits. All corporates need to invest well on Business Intelligence including information on potential competitors and their ways.

Covid had a certain impact as an ‘equaliser’ with the result that only two types of players had the advantage- big business commanding economy of scale and entrepreneurs putting innovative ideas into their start ups. Both however, would bank on reliable and comprehensive assessment of the business environ. Covid has in a sense given a big fillip to ‘knowledge economy’.

In business, the old concept that ‘the individual is at the centre of all productivity’ has been — beyond the reality of technology-driven processes — put on test in the back drop of Covid restrictions. Members now working from dispersed locations have to have a fully developed sense of organisational loyalty, an added willingness to team up with others and a proven ability to take decision at their respective levels.

There is a new challenge for human resource development in putting the right man at the right job, using up-skilling and re-skilling to get the best out of the available man power and bringing ‘Emotional Quotient’ into full play to keep members satisfied amidst exposure to family distress and fear psychosis caused by the pandemic.

Leaders of the enterprise may find that the typically Indian theory of ‘paternal nurtural’ management as against the Western approach to management that largely concerned itself with the work place doings of the employee, produced better results on all fronts.

Boss-subordinate relationship has become more interactive, evaluation has become more transparent and the sharing of credit has moved in the direction of proper recognition of collaboration and assistance from the earlier practise of the lead player cornering it all. This perhaps is the greatest ‘gift’ of the pandemic for the future corporate working.

Finally, the Indian model of economic recovery and growth embodied in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call of ‘vocal for local’ is attracting global attention for it revives the familiar local market economy for generating demands of day to day living, decentralises trade and sale facilitating the rise of small businesses at the ground level and invents a bottom-up approach that took in its embrace the entire range of business from local to global with full utilisation of technology at all stages.

At the level of national economic strategy it has given special meaning to ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ in areas of Defence, international trade and globalised business. This has the effect of bringing out the national talent and incentivising indigenous investment with or without external partnership. For a vast country like India with multiple economic classes, varying demands and availability of a wide variety of working hands, this economic model is going to work fine and push up the GDP with promise of growth at all levels of the economic pyramid. The Indian experiment may be a great path breaker for post- Covid economic recovery.

(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal)


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