Leadership during disruption: an excerpt from KPMG

Last month, IPAA Queensland’s valued partner KPMG released a very timely and relevant report, Leading for high performance in disruption: A toolkit for leaders in the context of COVID-19. Here we provide some excerpts from the report to inform and challenge your thinking about leadership in disruptive and uncertain times.

We’re all prone to falling into comfortable patterns, including in our leadership roles. It’s not until something disrupts the equilibrium that we tend to call into question how effectively we’re exercising our leadership responsibilities.

During disruption, what we do as leaders reflects on the reputation of our organisations.

Leaders play a critical role in creating a sense of shared commitment to ride through the uncertainty to survive, thrive and be stronger, and undoubtedly changed, on the other side.

So, where should leaders focus?

KPMG identifies four areas of focus for leaders in volatile times:

  1. Our People – their wellbeing and their performance and productivity
  2. Our Clients – business continuity and securing a sustainable future for both
  3. Our Context – the shifting context and anticipating and adapting
  4. Ourselves – the capacity and resilience to lead

These leadership challenges are explored in more detail and some diagnostic tools and tips are provided.

Implementing large-scale remote work arrangements requires leaders to consider a range of factors, including how to keep their leadership visible, how to maintain motivation and productivity, and how to communicate and keep people connected … and importantly to support wellbeing.

To make flexible practices work, KPMG outlines some key factors for leaders to consider, including:

  1. Sustaining performance in a virtual environment – how do we conceptualise all the factors that help or hinder performance in a virtual workplace?
  2. Who are the leaders we need to be now? – the unfolding situation requires quickly adapting our mindsets and skills to lead effectively
  3. Maintaining productivity – motivation can be impacted by swift change to working arrangements so how do we keep people productive?
  4. Supporting wellbeing and social cohesion – how do we replicate the working environment and support social cohesion and good mental health?

Let’s take a closer look at key factor #1 – 

For sustaining high performance in virtual settings, the following framework identifies six interrelated dimensions that are crucial for leaders, teams and individuals:

  1. Resetting expectations for clarity and alignment
    • Are leaders keeping teams and staff updated on the evolving context, changes and impacts as they occur?
    • Are people clear about what they need to deliver and the way they need to work?
  2. Evaluating and reviewing performance with limited visibility
    • Are leaders and teams sharing information about work underway and how people are progressing tasks and activities?
    • Are there mechanisms to regularly discuss how the flexible arrangements are working and their impacts on the individual, team, clients?
  3. Maintaining and sustaining motivation for goals and outcomes
    • How is motivation being impacted as people move to engage in new ways of working?
    • Are leaders and managers’ actions providing people with positive role models in terms of working during disruption?
  4. Leveraging the right infrastructure for virtual arrangements
    • Are there effective channels for information sharing – both formal and informal?
    • Have leaders checked in with individuals about the viability of working remotely and issues they may need to navigate, e.g. care arrangements?
  5. Establishing new avenues for support
    • Are there mechanisms in place to maintain contact with those who are working remotely?
    • Have leaders developed strategies to replicate ‘water cooler’ conversations?
  6. Aligning capability and capacity
    • Do leaders have the skills, confidence and capabilities required to lead and embed the new ways of working?
    • How are leaders monitoring people’s levels of stress and mental wellbeing during the disruption? What channels are available to discuss concerns?

Our wellbeing and social cohesion, and more broadly the social fabric, is being threatened by the global pandemic.

Let’s take a look at key factor #4 – 

Leaders play a key role in ensuring changes to the ways we work, especially the huge increase in remote working, is managed in a way that promotes good mental health and wellbeing for all.

KPMG notes there is good evidence about what works, where the threats are, and what we can do as leaders to maintain our own wellbeing and support our staff, colleagues and clients. Citing the research by Professor Ian Hickie (Co-Director, Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney), two factors drive good mental health while experiencing prolonged uncertainty and physical distance:

  • Personal autonomy – being able to be in control of our life and working arrangements means individuals know the risks and threat, and are empowered to take action to minimise the risks for themselves, their colleagues and loved ones
  • Social cohesion – with strong human connection, we thrive. In situations where we feel threatened, we usually seek and stay close physically to those we know and trust. Maintaining social connection, despite physical distance, is a key driver of wellbeing outcomes for you and your staff.

The wellbeing of our colleagues, staff and teams has a direct impact on engagement, performance and productivity. Normalise discussions about wellbeing to encourage people to share and support each other.

Maintaining social connection during physical isolation is what really matters. Find ways to enable your teams and staff to speak more, share more, and connect more with those they trust and work well with.


For the full report, see Leading for high performance in disruption: A toolkit for leaders in the context of COVID-19 https://home.kpmg/au/en/home/insights/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-leading-high-performance-in-disruption.html