The Delta Variant: Crushing Our Mindset

Office returns delayed, business trips halted and morale down the tubes. A lingering pandemic creates yet another unprecedented leadership challenge, according to a new report by Korn Ferry. The study looks at challenges facing businesses as recruiters from the search firm weigh in on what executives must do to overcome the frustration caused by the pandemic.

August 20, 2021 – The health damage is distressingly easy to spot: Nearly 630,000 new cases a day worldwide on average, and more than 9,500 daily deaths since COVID’s Delta variant arrived.

According to a new report from Korn Ferry, the toll on organizations is also relatively easy to quantify: ships unable to unload cargo because of a global shortage of healthy workers, companies forced to push back their office re-openings next month, and high-profile events such as the World 5G Conference in Beijing canceled entirely.

But experts say this latest COVID surge is also taking an exacting toll on the mindsets of people up and down the corporate ladder. The Korn Ferry report says that it’s a little harder to measure, gauged more in frustration, irrational decision-making and a return to the uncertainty that many people thought they were past, at least in the U.S. “There’s a definite fatigue,” said Melissa Hadhazy, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s industrial practice.

In theory, Korn Ferry says this is the same set of problems that many have been feeling over the last 18 months, and in theory some of the ways to combat that frustration still apply. The search firm notes that the challenge now is that businesses are often driven by momentum; many organizations have seen tremendous progress in the health of their workers and their bottom lines since the beginning of the year. The Delta variant’s surge has put a stop to that. “We love seeing progress and quick wins—we do not like to feel like we are going backwards, losing ground,” said Dennis Baltzley, a Korn Ferry’s global solution leader for leadership development.

Impact of the Delta Variant

According to the Korn Ferry report, some of the frustration, at least among senior executives, is that their visions of everyone coming back to the office, happy to see one another and ready to take their companies to new heights, has been dashed … again. “Organizations want to pass a D-Day,” said Juan Pablo González, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and the firm’s sector leader of professional services. The problem is the impact of the Delta variant—and whatever comes next—varies considerably by location, according to Korn Ferry. “Some workplaces may be fully vaccinated in areas of the world where COVID has remained contained, while in other places, the virus is running rampant among many unvaccinated people,” the firm said.

CEO Leadership During COVID-19

In a new report, McKinsey & Company reveals the routines and approaches that top executives have adopted to help cope with the pandemic. “Once the crisis is over, everyone is likely to remember how CEOs acted,” the report says. Clark Beecher, managing partner of Beecher Reagan, weighs in on the impact of the crisis in a new “Talent Talks” podcast.

Experts suggest senior executives empower their middle managers to make decisions on when to open certain facilities. According to Korn Ferry, those lower-level leaders are also the ones having conversations with many employees, finding out which of their teammates are dealing with sick relatives, uncertain school and daycare situations, technology problems and other issues that have developed over the last 18 months. “There should be a mindset shift among senior leaders from making declarations to asking questions,” Mr. González said. Such questions can include “What is everyone else doing?” “How is everyone feeling?” and “How are you getting your work done?”

Korn Ferry notes that frustrated executives also should look inward, making sure that they themselves are managing change effectively. Experts say if a leader isn’t particularly good at managing change, it will likewise be difficult for them to motivate their teams to do so. “It’s like on a plane—put on your own oxygen mask before [you help] anyone else,” said Elise Freedman, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and leader of the firm’s organizational strategy and workforce transformation practice.

Related: What Companies are Looking for in a CEO During a Pandemic

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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