How COVID-19 will lead to permanent change at Simon-Kucher & Partners

Stephan A. Butscher, Chief Talent Officer at CEMS corporate partner Simon-Kucher & Partners, reflects on how COVID-19 will lead to permanent change in his organisation. Stephan’s observations and experiences fed into CEMS guide to ‘Leadership in a Post Covid-19 World,’ which will be published next week.
Stephan A Butscher, Simon Kucher & Partners

The COVID-19 crisis will lead to permanent change for Simon-Kucher & Partners’ international operations. As a Partner-led organisation we have traditionally been de-centralised, giving local Managing Partners a lot of entrepreneurial freedom. As we grew (on average 18% p.a. in the last 35 years) Simon-Kucher has installed more global corporate governance and processes. This has proven to be an advantage in the current crisis, as the global bodies required to co-ordinate decisions across countries to ensure consistent and effective measures were already in place. In our case, the co-CEOs, Board and Executive Committee were used to working together. The change was the frequency of meetings during the crisis.

Building for Agility and Speed

Specific topics had always been covered in sub-committees or workgroups, so we could quickly distribute the many Corona-related “to-be-developed” actions across small agile international teams. The main challenge was the speed in which the results had to be developed. This put a lot of additional pressure on the Partners and senior HR leadership, which reflects the increase in importance of resilience as a leadership skill.

During the crisis we put a strong emphasis on helping all associates, who were forced to work from home more or less overnight, with maintaining their mental wellbeing, mastering remote working, staying in touch with team members. Agility is another success factor in a crisis. Can you develop and implement new virtual trainings and support for mental wellbeing quickly, without lengthy decision processes?

The Human Side

Leaders were sensitised to show empathy for their team’s specific challenges (for example managing children at home). One important lesson we quickly learnt is that you need to include the senior leadership in this. It is often expected that senior leaders ‘can do this’, but very few have experienced a similar crisis with the related pressure before. This has led Simon-Kucher to start rolling out a broad coaching program that will eventually cover our entire leadership across regions and functions.

Communication is Key

Regular communication from the leadership to the teams is particularly important in a crisis. Everybody wants to be informed regularly, so we installed frequent global ‘town halls’ run by our co-CEOS, in addition to countless local or team-level information calls. Even if there is not a lot of news, simply hearing from leadership how the company is doing is important for morale. At Simon-Kucher we communicate revenue and order entry figures to all associates on a monthly basis, so during the crisis they understood why we had to halt certain spending in the worst months and also why we could flexibly adjust upwards, as region after region entered the upswing.

In summary, I fully agree with the report’s finding that while a focus on the numbers and strategic vision remain important leadership qualities in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, they will need to be more evenly balanced with ‘humane’ leadership qualities, such as resilience, empathy and communication ability.