Harnessing the power of optimism

resillience

Ulrich Stork, Chairman of the managament Board, PWC Global

 

As businesses emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, what have they learned as businesses and employers? And what can we do to build a better world?

The COVID-19 pandemic is and remains the foremost crisis with a high human cost. But it has also forced many to reconsider the present and future in a world that has changed in ways not yet fully understood. When faced with such uncertainty, mindset matters – and in particular, I would argue, optimism.

It’s no accident that psychologists consider optimism to be one of the main pillars of resilience in times of crisis. I believe that in challenging times, it is up to socially responsible leaders to make decisions with an optimistic mindset – because ultimately, that sends out a message of confidence about the strength of the economy, society and businesses. Optimism spreads to others, and encourages us all to learn lessons from a crisis and grasp the real opportunities (as opposed to opportunism) that may arise.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst for accelerated learning in many areas – including, for many economies and businesses, a crash course in digitisation. Not every step has been right, but I’ve seen communication between employees and employers improve and intensify, a new willingness to collaborate, and a greater recognition of the importance of operational, environmental and financial resilience in the business world. In many ways, we, as a society, are being forced to set the right course in the face of enormous uncertainty. There are many important lessons we can learn about ways in which we can recouple social and economic prosperity as we work to rebuild.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst for accelerated learning in many areas – including, for many economies and businesses, a crash course in digitisation. Not every step has been right, but I’ve seen communication between employees and employers improve and intensify, a new willingness to collaborate, and a greater recognition of the importance of operational, environmental and financial resilience in the business world. In many ways, we, as a society, are being forced to set the right course in the face of enormous uncertainty. There are many important lessons we can learn about ways in which we can recouple social and economic prosperity as we work to rebuild.

To give an example, it seems inevitable that the pandemic will leave a lasting impact on value contribution in the supply chain, which in my view is a good thing. Low production costs are always going to be key to competitiveness, but as we move forward, other criteria will increasingly sit alongside cost and will be considered just as critical.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also reinforced the importance of investing in people and skills and as we move into a new world, investment in digital skills is paramount. There will inevitably be pressure on companies to cut costs in the coming months, but intelligent spending will enable them to be fit for a future that looks very different from before.

The importance of science and innovation has been clear throughout the crisis. We need to ensure we have a robust system to support independent science and technology, as they continue to change lives at an even faster pace.

I believe society is at a crossroads. While I have heard expressions of goodwill from leaders many times in the past, this is the time to act. We can use this moment to shape our future, together, and create a framework that allows us to address both short-term improvements and long-term sustainability in the economy.

This is not just about improvements in individual areas. We need to, collectively, rethink the purpose of our economy and how business can better deliver against that purpose. Growing societal trends of conscious consumption and a greater respect for the environment are all pushing in that direction. The task is to take those trends seriously, build on them and address the global challenges of the future. Is the aim of business always to increase profits or is the real aim to create new solutions that produce social and ecological advantages for customers and other stakeholders, and profit as a result of that?

These past few months have shown that people are the most important part of a business. So when we think about the purpose of business, putting people – their wellbeing and the general health of our society – at the centre of everything is key.


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