This article is part of the New New Rules of Business.
The Fast Company Impact Council, an invitation-only group of corporate leaders, entrepreneurial founders, and other leaders from across industries, gathered on June 30 to share their insights. Members split into small groups, moderated by Fast Company editors, and shared their perspectives on how they are managing and innovating amid a trio of crises: the global pandemic, the economic slowdown, and calls for social justice in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
In this roundtable discussion, led by editor-in-chief Stephanie Mehta, top executives discussed the New New Rules of Leadership. Participants in this session, in alphabetical order, were Cristiano Amon, president, Qualcomm; Jeff Huber, CEO, Home Instead; Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA; Brad Keywell, founder and CEO, Uptake Technologies; Stephanie Linnartz, group president, consumer operations, technology, and emerging business, Marriott International; Marc Metrick, president and CEO, Saks Fifth Avenue; Dana Settle, partner and cofounder, Greycroft; Alicia Tillman, global CMO, SAP; Tiger Tyagarajan, CEO, Genpact; and Frank Young, president, vertical market software solutions, Global Payments. Excerpts of the roundtable have been edited for length and clarity.
Tiger Tyagarajan: Speed has probably never been more important. We’ve been on a journey that says no longer is the shareholder the only stakeholder, there are actually four stakeholders. There’s the customer, there’s the employee, there’s the community. And then there’s the shareholder. Over the next three to four years, I’m sure we would have all changed [to a stakeholder model]. COVID-19 has collapsed that to a hundred days.
Stephanie Linnartz: Marriott International has 30 brands in 140 different countries. It is a different situation depending on where we are in the world. Our business in China is actually coming back. But yes, travel and obviously the service industry have been hit incredibly hard by the COVID-19 global pandemic. We’ve had to move quickly to push forward things like our mobile guest services. People want contactless arrival experience—they don’t want to talk to a person, they want to go right to their room or order food and beverage from their phone to their room. It’s really forced us to move at record speed, to roll out these mobile capabilities across our hotels.
Barbara Humpton: Probably the most notable thing that I experienced [with] this change is the incredible need for empathy. I’ve been talking in our organization about having three major qualities: the old-school IQ, we’ve got to know our stuff, we’ve got to be technically capable. There’s EQ, this empathetic, emotional quotient that keeps us connected to people. And we’ve been thinking a lot about “DQ.” And six months ago, I would have told you that’s a digital quotient. But right now, I want to think of it slightly differently, which is a “disruption quotient.” What if change is actually the new constant? What if, what we’re trying to create is not some new stasis but to create organizations that are capable of rapidly changing as conditions require.
Brad Keywell: This [period] is allowing for more asynchronous clarity, the idea that Jeff Bezos really mandated a long time ago, that we all must be API to each other, is one that I’ve embraced in a deep way. [Employees] at Uptake must be even easier to “understand” to each other, because we can’t bump into each other anymore. So that idea of asynchronous clarity, visual clarity has been a sort of governing aspect of how we’re operating, and post-pandemic, how do we make this “fix” something structural?
Alicia Tillman: You can look at a résumé and it can tell you what that person has accomplished, but how they went about accomplishing their goals is often something that’s more difficult to measure. How do we get underneath whether or not someone is truly a decent person, so that they can be a productive person that you need to be able to lead teams? I think that becomes a strategic imperative, because in the environment that we’re working in today, it’s about unlocking personal values of individuals.
Frank Young: Our primary product and service is digitally enabling merchants of all sizes and all industries to accept payments. Restaurants are a big segment of our [customer] population, and we’re all familiar with the level of change restaurants are going through, but also doctors’ offices, casinos, retailers. As Stephanie mentioned, many are leaning into touchless experiences. We’ve got to figure out how to help them, and back to the point Tiger was making earlier about speed, this is really requiring us to up our game. And I think the level of digital enablement is going to accelerate five years because of what we’re forced to do now.
Jeff Huber: We just had the highest-[grossing] two weeks in company history, the first two weeks of March, and then 25% of our clients hit the pause button because they didn’t want [Home Instead’s healthcare providers] coming into their homes anymore. On the other side, we had a number of people wanting to come out of nursing homes because their family members wanted to pull them out of the communal living situation. Unlike Frank’s business, we are not a digital solution. We are a deeply human solution; we spend 27 hours per week in the client’s home. So we’re trying to equip that high-touch experience with digital tools. I think [families] have now recognized that home is really a safe and secure place to care for vulnerable people.
Marc Metrick: We have 97% or so of our workforce out in the field . . . and we’re listening to them. Barbara mentioned this: It’s really having empathy and really thinking differently. We have to be decent while at the same time navigating this because sometimes what they don’t realize is the collective good of our associate base is the most important thing. That could mean furloughs. That can mean suspending the 401(k) match, but all of those things are to advance our ability to accelerate our digital shift. We also have had to invest in PPE. I’m buying hand sanitizer, I’m increasing my cleaning at my properties. I’m changing my protocols, taking temperatures, and buying masks.
Dana Settle: We have more than 200 active portfolio companies, and the leaders who have been more empathetic—I really liked the idea of IQ, EQ, DQ, and I’m going to use that now—are thriving during this time. And I think largely because they’ve created culture that had already been taking care of all of their constituents . . . and it’s sort of embedded in the culture. When we look at companies and really look at how they’re going to perform, as venture capitalists, we’re looking at the numbers, we’re looking at the financials and looking at the data. But if we’re thinking and looking at what is really working as far as long-term performance, we need to start measuring other things, too, including measuring diversity on teams as a performance metric.
Cristiano Amon: We’ve seen a big productivity increase in our company. In some groups, we saw an increase of 30% of productivity. We’re able to make decisions in a very fast time and to be flexible. So will we go to trade shows in 10 years? Look at [how quickly widespread of adoption of] e-learning and remote medicine happened. Now, one of the difficult things we’ll experience, especially in the tech sector, is the search for talent. You want to hire the best people possible in the industry, and at a company like ours, we have a mindset about building talent in a particular location—we needed talent to move to California. Now we have a different challenge that we didn’t think about, and I think we have to solve as an industry. The connection between physical and digital spaces is not great. If you have half of the people doing [a teleconference] and half of the people in a conference room, it’s not the same experience. How we think about integration of digital and physical spaces is an interesting challenge.
Brad Keywell: As an entrepreneur, one of the edges that we must lean into is hustle, resourcefulness, and demonstrating commitment, right? And one way to do that is to react to an opportunity by going somewhere physically and showing up the next day as a reflection of how much I care. And now I can’t. So then what? My hope is that you feel my enthusiasm through Zoom. So my reaction to this new reality is to say to our people, we’ve got to be so visually phenomenal [on Zoom]. You’ve got to see what we do and be blown away by how beautiful and easy and logical and actionable it is. Because what other advantages do we have?
Stephanie Mehta: Brad, your telepresence is powerful.
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