Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic requires a range of managerial skills—and business schools like Johns Hopkins Carey are well-placed to impart them to future healthcare leaders
With workforces around the world working from home, Coronavirus is having a profound impact on the way we work
Considering applying for an MBA this year? Watch our special BusinessBecause Presents video where we answer six common questions about applying to b-school during the coronavirus pandemic
As the world moves online, brick-and-mortar retail is struggling to keep up. After a pandemic and international lockdown, is this really it for physical stores?
4 Skills Healthcare Leaders Need In The Fight Against COVID-19
Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic requires a range of managerial skills—and business schools are well-placed to impart them to future health care leaders.
As organizations race to develop vaccines and therapeutics in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a range of medical and managerial challenges has emerged.
The spread of false information about COVID-19 and its treatment has put efforts to stop the spread at risk. The myth that ingesting disinfectants such as bleach can kill the virus, for example, carries significant health risks.
Meanwhile, the unprecedented race for a vaccine has led to a pipeline of more than 145 potential candidates, raising the challenge of global collaboration.
This race has sparked a partnership between GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi, the two largest vaccine producers.
For two senior lecturers at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, Supriya Munshaw and Bonnie Robeson, these challenges have highlighted some important skills that future health care leaders will need in order to tackle crises such as this one.
Below are four of the most crucial skills:
One of the major skills leaders require when dealing with a health crisis is making fast, ethical, and evidence-based decisions, with long-term benefits.
For example, at each stage of vaccine and therapeutic development, there are new business decisions to be made, explains Supriya.
Managing large clinical trials, setting an appropriate price, manufacturing, and wide-scale distribution all exercise a leader’s decision-making abilities.
“There’s scientific data you have to look at, but you also have to look at potential return on investment and market access,” she says.
Analyzing return on investment can be complex. Vaccines, for instance, are generally less profitable than therapeutics, but they can help a company build public goodwill that can boost value in the long run.
At Carey, Supriya helps students prepare for this complex environment by focusing her teaching on real-world health care decision making.
In one recent class, a group of her students (Mariia Salova, Sonia Toporcer, and Aastha Vashist) worked on a pricing strategy for remdesivir, a drug that prevents the coronavirus from replicating in the body.
Bonnie, too, encourages her students to hone their decision-making techniques. One effective method is learning from past failures, she says.
“You can ask what mistakes were made, and what failed to be seen.”
Her previous work with the National Cancer Institute gave her first-hand experience working out which treatments to continue developing, and which to drop.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how crucial collaboration can be.
To control the virus, multiple groups like governments, public health experts, and business experts, have worked together to inform policy, educate the public, and develop treatments and vaccines.
Business school can help students develop the teamwork and communication skills that will enable them to lead such collaborations—both within their own companies and between organizations.
In the health care sector, government collaboration is especially important. The industry is heavily regulated, and much funding flows directly from government bodies. To help future health care leaders navigate this landscape, Bonnie (right) teaches students about joint ventures, partnerships, and collaborations in one of her courses.
Cross-functional collaboration within a company is equally valuable, she adds.
“Professionals have to have a business understanding of all the functions, and how they interrelate and communicate with each other,” she notes.
The health care landscape changes fast. New technologies are emerging all the time, and in order to make the most prescient decisions, health care leaders need to keep up.
The outbreak of the coronavirus has demonstrated just how quickly treatments can develop. The virus was genetically sequenced as early as January, and new drug trials are taking place all the time.
“In therapeutics and vaccines, we always have new technology emerging, so you really have to keep abreast of how new technologies advance, and how they can be applied,” says Bonnie.
Proximity to the research going on at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine means that Carey students have easy access to many health care breakthroughs. Business students often collaborate with students and faculty from the school of medicine and the National Institutes of Health on evaluating new ventures.
4. Critical thinking
The far-reaching impact of coronavirus has also highlighted the need for health care leaders with nuanced critical thinking skills.
Without the ability to analyze views and data presented to you, it can be easy to inadvertently spread misinformation—an issue that has hindered progress in the fight against COVID-19.
In the health, technology, and innovation MBA track at Carey, students practice their own critical thinking skills through experiences such as the Design Lab and Commercializing Discovery experiential learning courses.
“Students come up with their own ideas on health technology developments and get a chance to prototype, develop a product, and figure out how to take it to market,” says Supriya. The process requires students to practice thinking critically about new ideas in the medical ecosystem, and how they can best be leveraged.
Bonnie and Supriya believe that courses such as this, and business schools overall, are well placed to train effective leaders who can help tackle complex challenges such as today’s pandemic.
“Business schools have a role to play in developing leaders—to develop well-rounded individuals that can lead health care organizations, including biotech and pharmaceutical companies,” says Bonnie.
3 Ways Coronavirus Will Change The Way We Work
Remote working, flexible hours, and reliance on technology have become increasingly common practices in many modern-day workplaces over the last few years. Coronavirus is accelerating their implementation, says Cranfield School of Management professor of human resource management, Emma Parry (pictured).
Emma, who also leads Cranfield’s Changing World of Work research group, explains that attitudes and preferences around work are changing. Though the pandemic has been a global experiment no one asked or planned for, it’s an area of research Emma finds fascinating—the way we worked before is set to merge with how we’re working under pandemic conditions.
Coronavirus will change the way we work in three ways.
1. It will move more of the workforce online
In recent years, Emma’s research has focused on technological advancements in the workplace. In the middle of a pandemic, being able to communicate with your team online, as well as submitting work is made far easier with the internet.
Workplaces are now experimenting with social media, AI, and wearable technology, bolstering their presence in the digital space. Emma says she wouldn’t be surprised if in the future organizations choose to move completely online. Alongside saving money with no retail or commuter costs, it allows businesses to hire employees without being restricted by their geographical location.
“Losing the ability to go into the office or travel to work has meant people are using technology for virtual meetings, conferences, and events. It’s been a huge learning curve, and really interesting to see how organizations and individuals have adapted.”
Of course, it’s not without its challenges. As Emma points out, people are naturally social beings, and a lack of face-to-face interaction can prompt a decline in mental health, an unhealthier work-life balance, and slower communication.
“We were seeing it before the pandemic. Organizations pre-Covid that got rid of their physical workplaces found their employees suffered because of that lack of face-to-face interaction.”
2. It will change the way we measure productivity
Before remote working, employees would enter office spaces and stay there for the traditional nine-to-five. Productivity was measured by attendance and whether employees were sat in their cubicles.
Emma doesn’t think this is the way productivity should be measured going forward.
“There needs to be more output-based ways of monitoring people’s performance, rather than physically seeing people with their heads down in the office.”
Before the pandemic, organizations were slowly coming around to the idea of trusting employees to work outside of a manager’s direct oversight. The global lockdown has forced any business dragging its feet to begin addressing the issue of productivity, Emma says.
How do they know their employees are actually working? How do they communicate with their teams?
“At the moment, I’m seeing a lot of traditional managers,” she goes on to say. “There’s a lot of micromanagement happening. There needs to be a change in mindset towards workplace culture, and that includes changing the way productivity is measured. More focus on output rather than logged hours, for example.”
Now Emma is working online, she says she likes to lead by example. She doesn’t measure the team’s productivity through how quickly they respond to an email, but rather through how many of their weekly goals they manage to achieve.
3. It will give us more control over our working hours
Nine-to-five doesn’t work for everyone. Employees with children might need an extra hour in the morning to manage childcare or the school run. Another employee might find they are more productive earlier on in the day and so might shift their start time to early morning.
Restricting all employees to the same hours without taking into account their individual circumstances is becoming a thing of the past.
Although Emma thinks the pandemic will encourage businesses to relax their working hours and allow their employees to work some days from home, she doesn’t think the long-term change will be as dramatic as some predict.
“Prior to Covid-19, there was this illusion that the traditional office was dead and everyone would be working from home, but the number of people working at home in the long-term still remains relatively low,” she explains.
“Flexible working doesn't always have a positive connotation. It can mean longer hours. There’s a massive amount to be done in terms of educating, training, and developing the mindset and culture around leadership and management, in relation to when and where people work.
“Nonetheless, it's safe to say that, when we do come out of lockdown, and work begins to return to normal, it's not going to look the same as it did before.”
Your COVID-19 MBA Application | 6 Common Questions Answered
The coronavirus pandemic has made applying for business school a little different this year and candidates are asking a lot of questions.
Do these questions sound familiar?
In this BusinessBecause Presents video, editor Marco De Novellis puts six of the most commonly-asked questions about applying to business school during COVID-19 to two top MBA admissions consultants.
WATCH THE VIDEO
Has Coronavirus Brought Brick-And-Mortar Retail To An End?
Brick-and-mortar retail dominated the high street before the 1990s. But, with the invention of the internet, a whole new paradigm of sales and marketing changed the retail industry completely. Nowadays, brick-and-mortar retail is at risk of falling behind as e-commerce continues to grow exponentially, dominated by Amazon.
COVID-19 has put further strain on traditional retail. There have been widespread closures of department stores around the world since January 2020. At the height of global lockdowns, the pandemic widened the gap between brick-and-mortar and online commerce as consumers were pushed fully online.
But is physical retail really dead?
COVID-19 | Putting pressure on brick-and-mortar retail
COVID-19 has been a disaster for brick-and-mortar retail over the last few months. But, right now, it’s hard to measure exactly how much of an impact the global pandemic has had on the sector, says Ben Voyer.
As a professor at ESCP Business School and qualified behavioral scientist, Ben draws on his research within organizational behavior and consumer behavior to analyze the trends we’re seeing in retail right now.
“One can say that many people have discovered the convenience of online shopping during the pandemic.” he says. “But we’ve also seen a lot of people complaining about missing delivery items and increased wait times.”
Associate professor of marketing at Imperial College Business School, Rajesh Bhargave (pictured above), points out that the brick-and-mortar businesses most likely to be affected by the pandemic are the department stores already on the downturn.
“Changes in consumer behavior are obviously going to affect stores that are already on the margin,” he says. “They’ve already been struggling with low profitability and declining footfall.”
118-year-old department store chain, J.C. Penney, filed for bankruptcy in May after a decade of losses, losing out on more than $4 billion since 2010. Stores are closing across the US, with the retailer announcing it would be cutting 1,000 jobs across executive and regional offices.
UK department store chain, Debenhams, has also been struggling, and COVID-19 looks like the final nail in the coffin. It filed for administration in recent weeks––the second time in a 12-month period—with the closure of 22 stores in 2020 and further plans for 28 more closures in 2021.
Both of these retailers were struggling before the pandemic. Not bolstering their online offerings at a pace fast enough to match the emergence of e-commerce competitors has stung them. COVID-19 isn’t the source of their problems, though it has exacerbated them.
Using experiential retail post-pandemic
It’s not all doom and gloom for brick-and-mortar, argues Rajesh, but they do need to provide more competitive value to their customers when they enter their stores.
There are ways physical retailers can innovate their businesses to keep them alive and attract fresh consumers. The importance of this has been heightened by coronavirus. Now shops are allowed to reopen, they need to look for ways to entice customers.
Trinity Business School professor in marketing, Laurent Muzellec (pictured), uses IKEA as an example. Shopping there goes beyond simply purchasing products, it’s an experience. People may spend an entire day at an IKEA warehouse, navigating the maze of showrooms and products.
There’s also a café for customers to take a break during their shopping excursion, and most products are labelled and easy to find on their online site. Queues outside IKEA stores on the days following the relaxing of lockdown measures proves the importance of consumer experience in the post-lockdown recovery for brick-and-mortar stores.
This happened within the book industry a few years ago. Barnes & Noble was struggling to keep up with the book sales made by tech giant, Amazon. People were choosing convenience. So, booksellers had to innovate, and they introduced interactive events with authors, more diverse product offerings, and exclusive signed copies of texts to entice customers in store.
“These stores can focus on the experience rather than the selling of the product, whether the transaction is completed online or offline,” Laurent explains. Going forward, he says there are definitely opportunities for brick-and-mortar retail to benefit from and utilize the convenience of online.
Complementing brick-and-mortar with digital retail
It’s all too easy to pit physical and online stores against each other. If brick-and-mortar stores are going to survive post-pandemic, they need to remove that distinction.
There’s an approach brick-and-mortar retail is beginning to implement called ‘web-rooming’ or ‘showrooming’. Retailers advertise products online as only available in store, customers will identify the product online, and then they will go to the store to physically buy the product.
“Online retail is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean the bricks-and-mortar sector is going to disintegrate,” says associate professor of logistics and supply management at Trinity Business School, Sinéad Roden (pictured).
It’s undeniable that the pandemic has forced retailers across all sectors to reevaluate, she adds. Traditional retail hasn’t been possible, with international store closures, social distancing, and a steep drop in demand for in-store products.
But we’re seeing traditional stores being reused and repurposed. Blending online and in-store retail is made possible by the technology built into the smartphones we carry around with us every day. Digital transformation grants huge opportunity for traditional retail.
UK department store chain, Selfridges, is an example of a brick-and-mortar business introducing a more digital fusion to its business model, Ben explains.
“They work with social media influencers, and are really marketing themselves as a source of new trends.” In doing so, Selfridges is able to maintain a steadier footfall at its stores compared to its competitors.
“The point is to make the sale, no matter what,” Rajesh adds. “I think there will be a long-term improvement in revenue generation if bricks-and-mortar retailers improve their ability to gather more data from customers, by blending online and physical retail stores together.”
Is brick-and-mortar retail really dead?
The short answer from our business school experts is no.
In some capacity, people are always going to want a level of face-to-face interaction. They will want to try on clothes, go to the local bookstore, or meet their friends at the mall––online shopping doesn’t allow for that.
“There will always be a human dimension to commerce,” Ben (pictured above) concludes. “And that means there will always be a level of demand for bricks-and-mortar.”
Nonetheless, the demand on the high street is currently declining––the pandemic has made that downturn all the more apparent––and physical retailers are likely to continue to see a loss in revenue, job cuts, and store closures in the short-term.
The large department stores who have become the victims of the pandemic were already suffering losses beforehand, and so COVID-19 isn’t the sole cause of their demise. For the survivors, it will take innovation and a reimagining of traditional business models for them to prosper post-pandemic.
There’s the opportunity to reshape the bricks-and-mortar infrastructure, but this will take time and there will likely be growing pains. The industry now needs future-focused visionaries who are able to provide fresh perspective and reinvigorate bricks-and-mortar retail in the years to come.