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Keeping P.A.C.E With The Changing Times - Leading In Times Of Crisis

Leaders redefined organizational goals and objectives, reimagined business models, prioritized health and safety of employees, mobilized their workforce, fostered engagement and a built a remote and sustainable business continuity plan.

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Every once in a while, we are faced with an event that gets etched in history and changes the course for future generations. The COVID-19 pandemic is definitely one such event. We welcomed 2020 with huge excitement and anticipation and without any inkling of what lay in front of us. By the end of February 2020, it was amply clear that the pandemic would challenge our traditional and well-defined ways of living and working and push us to the edge. It led to a rapid sequence of events, resulting in a high degree of uncertainty, and a sense of loss of control dominated. How did organizations stay focused and committed to their goals? 

2020 redefined leadership. Leadership success was largely marked by the ability to take rapid decisions, nurture employee wellbeing, and navigate employee health and safety. The past 12-14 months have been a testimony to Napoleon’s famous words, “Leaders are dealers in hope”. 

Leaders redefined organizational goals and objectives, reimagined business models, prioritized health and safety of employees, mobilized their workforce, fostered engagement and a built a remote and sustainable business continuity plan. Great Place to Work® Institute felt that this grit and fortitude needed to be recognized and celebrated. Thanks to the many interactions with organizational leaders and an opportunity to study the culture of many organizations, Great Place to Work® Institute had the unique opportunity to witness the resolve, toil, and resilience of leaders of India Inc.  as they held fort during these difficult times. 

Thus, as a mark of admiration for the dedication and perseverance of these leaders, Great Place to Work® Institute, India introduced the study on ‘India's Best Leaders in time of Crisis 2021’. The study intends to honour those organizational leaders that demonstrated exceptional ability in dealing with the COVID-19 induced crisis.

Key elements of ‘Leadership in Times of Crisis’ framework


Methodology: As part of this study, all participating organizations were evaluated through two lenses. The first lens measured employees’ experience of their leaders’ response to the Covid-19 crisis. This was done through a survey. It accords 1/3rd weight towards the overall score. The second lens evaluated the quality of practices in the organization that were initiated to deal with the crisis both on the people and business aspects. This carried 2/3rd weight towards the overall score. All organizations that participated in the various studies conducted by Great Place to Work® Institute, India were eligible for this study. This year we studied approximately 700 companies. Leaders from 75 organizations are being recognized as ‘India’s Best Leaders in Times of Crisis 2021’ across large (>500 employees) and mid-sized (100-500 employees) employers.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary leaders. 

Crisis is a true test of the character and mettle of leaders. What do leaders do during such times to build personal and professional credibility? How do they ensure business continuity and long-term sustenance while at the same time caring for employees? An enquiry into these questions uncovered, that leaders who were successful at leading organizations during the difficult period could keep the P.A.C.E with time. They exhibited:


One of the most striking observations of the study was that leaders continued to lead with integrity and veracity. They ensured that their teams based their actions on values and principles that defined the organizational DNA. The former Chairperson and Chief executive officer (CEO) of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi talks about a ‘compass’ as one of the critical aspects of effective leadership, which personifies a strong commitment to principles and morals. Some of the principles followed by leaders during these critical times were: 

  • Focusing on business continuity while ensuring employee well-being
  • Carrying out transparent and honest communication with employees
  • Trusting employees and empowering them to lead  
  • Prioritizing emotional well-being of employees and care for their whole self 


During the crisis, when customer preferences and priorities changed, and employee well-being was at the forefront, leaders adopted an agile and adaptive approach. The focus on technology, digitization and automation allowed for innovation in products and services. Leaders called out that they were able to bring a significantly larger number of products into the market in just 3- 6 months which would have otherwise taken them and their teams much longer. Many didn’t have a choice! They had to be nimble and adapt. 

Employees endorsed this through their feedback-

  • 90% of employees of the organizations we studied said leaders took timely decisions to adapt to changing demands of the Covid Crisis. 
  • 89% said leaders undertook adequate measures (implementing/updating technology, tools, business model, etc.) to ensure business continuity. 
  • 88% said that leaders supported teams effectively in adapting to new ways of working. 


For many businesses, physical connect with customers was lost when the pandemic hit. Leaders lost no time in ensuring that they recreated a superlative customer experience in the virtual environment as well. They leveraged technology and automation significantly to drive innovations in product and customer management. 

Employees and leaders spent inordinate amounts of time ensuring that they connected with their customers. And it wasn’t only about business. The focus was on demonstrating connect and care. ‘I spoke to over 300 customers in just the first month after lockdown. I don’t usually connect with so many customers in a quarter. While I had my sales targets, the conversations were really about the connect and relationship.’ is what a sales representative from an Indian bank shared. 


The pandemic had a profound impact on the psychological make-up and physical safety of employees. Leaders realized the importance of prioritizing employee well-being and staying connected with their people. They left no stone unturned when it came to employee safety. They extended care to the families of their employees. And they supported employees during their transition to the work-from-home model. Through town halls and one-to-one connects, leaders prioritized the mental wellbeing of employees and their loved ones.

90% of employees said that their leaders took adequate steps to ensure safety of employees. 

Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University has talked about a Growth mindset that helps leaders create positive outcomes in all situations. Our data showed that a leader who could keep PACE with time, indeed exhibited a growth mindset and created a High-Trust High-Performance™ culture through mentoring, collaboration, and open mindedness. 

What were the top Lessons learnt by the leadership team during these times…?

Embracing the new normal……

In the coming days, weeks and months, the pandemic may end, but we are not going back to the old normal. Restrictions will relax, the market sentiment will become buoyant, but workspaces will continue to discover ways and means of adjusting to the new normal. What is the new normal envisaged by the Leaders of India Inc?


Digitization of products and services in the form of virtual collaborators and touch-less services will be a part of the new normal. Agile teams will continue to be a critical component, helping organizations gain an edge. 


The past few months have indicated to all organizations, irrespective of the industries that they belong to, to heavily invest in deeply built systems that fit hybrid working. These trends will continue in the post-pandemic era, reimagining the arrangements for employees and customers as fluid spaces prevail.


Shift in brand preferences, purchase intentions and basket re-composition will continue to impact organizational strategies in the months and years to come. 


The global pandemic has in the truest sense brought conversations on holistic wellbeing of employees to the forefront. Caring for employees’ mental wellbeing will impact people practices and managerial behaviours 


Organizations will continue to invest in people and skills enhancement in days to come. The need to be agile and responsive to changing landscapes is encouraging organizations to create a stronger talent pipeline. Leadership development programs are on the rise. Learning partnerships are thriving like never before. 

“And once the storm is over, you will not remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You will not even be sure whether the storm is over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you will not be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ―Haruki Murakami

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Authors: Dr. Deepika Dabke, Senior Associate, Great Place to Work® Institute, India and Dalreen Patrao, Practice Head, Great Place to Work® Institute, India