Razorpay CEO explains his ‘surviving to thrive’ strategy — a 3-step process in dealing with the pandemic

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Razorpay CEO explains his ‘surviving to thrive’ strategy —  a 3-step process in dealing with the pandemic
Harshil Mathur, Co-founder & CEO of Razorpay Razorpay
  • The goal before a CEO right now amidst the global pandemic and the severe economic uncertainties is deceptively simple.
  • He/She needs to ensure that decisions, while taken with speed and with short-term goals in mind, have a positive impact in the long term.
  • Here are the pointers that will help CEOs navigate these uncertain times and ensure organisational survival for the next 18 to 20 months.
We are living in a time for which there is no playbook. How businesses and business leaders react to this Black Swan event and the decisions they make, almost on the fly but with far-reaching consequences, will be the difference between survival and failure now.

The goal before a CEO right now amidst the global pandemic and the severe economic uncertainties is deceptively simple—ensure your company survives and is in position to kickstart the growth engine when conditions turn benign.

With companies shifting away from focusing on growth to survival mode, it is clear that this is not a ‘peacetime’ scenario, and in times of ‘war’ the leader has to ensure the organisation moves with greater agility and decisiveness. However, this is not the typical ‘wartime’ business scenario either. There is a global health crisis that will remain the unknown factor for the immediate future, and the resultant macro economic pressure is also not going away easily. In the face of such uncertainties, which also has a human cost, the CEO needs to take his ‘troops’ into confidence. He/She also needs to ensure that decisions, while taken with speed and with short-term goals in mind, have a positive impact in the long term.

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I believe the following will help us CEOs navigate these uncertain times and ensure organisational survival for the next 18 to 20 months:

Plan for multiple scenarios

Typically, we CEOs thrive on long term planning and strategising, with the team executing the plan. But the present volatile and erratic macro situation is not conducive for such long term planning. The solution is to look at the different scenarios that your organisation could find itself in within the short-term and create plans for each. Draw up plans for optimistic, pessimistic and realistic scenarios and keep monitoring the situation, so you can unleash the appropriate plan. For instance, if the economy shows green shoots of recovery then start opening up marketing and start being aggressive again, but if the economy deteriorates then cut your costs further. The organisation has to operate with a lot more agility, so you as the CEO have to constantly evaluate the situation to assess if the company is moving in the right direction.

Handle difficult decisions transparently

For founders and CEOs, laying off employees or cutting pay is always the last lever for cost conservation. The impact of such measures on the culture and morale of employees is long term. But when a company is in survival mode, such decisions may have to be taken. Letting go 10% of the employees might ensure the survival of the organisation and of the jobs of the remaining 90%. You can make the hard decisions a little easier by ensuring layoffs and pay cuts are done in one shot and you are transparent with your team. Most companies will have to use some form of cost conservation, even if they do not let go of staff. You need to take your employees into confidence, let them know what you are thinking and what you foresee for the next 12 to 18 months. This helps build trust.

Be prepared for the new normal

There is a lot of negativity out there and that is sure to impact the team. The most important role of a CEO right now is to give his team the confidence that they will be able to overcome the crisis. For the employees too this is a new phenomenon. We need to focus on mental health and ensure employees have access to professional help if they need.

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Another challenge is replicating the in-person collaboration in a remote work environment. We cannot hope for chance encounters leading to collaboration, but rather will have to forcefully create those moments. Conducting open discussion sessions, TGIFs, and all hands meets more often could be solutions.

In all this, it is important for the CEO to stay motivated. I have found that scenario planning, where we are prepared for the worst-case outcomes, helps as I know the organisation is prepared and ready. Looking for opportunities for growth ensures you are looking to the future and that always makes me hopeful. Most importantly, knowing that you are responsible for an entire organisation gives strength and increases resolve.

In times of crisis, your place as the CEO is in the trenches by the side of your team, so they have the confidence that you have their back even when volumes are down and when things are not going well. It is easy to get bogged down by the negativity, but I believe organisations that come out of this will be stronger, more agile and nimbler. It is times like this that truly show us what we are made of.

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