Leaders Under Pressure

Leaders under pressure

The responsibilities of business leaders have dramatically changed with Covid-19. We now need to thrive in a new reality while also maintaining innovation and high performance. This puts a lot of pressure on leaders. Mette Krogsrud, EVP People & Corporate Affairs, shares some of Schibsted’s actions to support business and leaders.

It is hard to recall what 2020 was pre-Corona. As I write this, the spread of the virus is still increasing, and we still find ourselves working from home. How will the pandemic impact future business and the way we work? Will there be changes for the better? What about Schibsted, our family of businesses and brands – what will we make of this crisis?

The American economist and Nobel prize-winner Milton Friedman once said, ”Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change”. And these past few months confirm his statement. We don’t know what the future will hold. But we do know that it will change.

We need empathic leaders

It is said that in times of crisis, a leader’s true self comes out. We know from before that empathic leadership is more and more important in our rapidly evolving and complex world, and now more than ever as people are having to cope with disrupted, detached and uncertain circumstances. How may leaders balance their focus on crisis leadership while simultaneously drive business continuity? This is certainly a balancing act and not an easy transition. None of us were trained to lead in a pandemic and new leadership muscles are certainly being tested and trained.

To move forward in a crisis, leaders need to cultivate four behaviors in themselves and their teams, writes Nichols, Chatterjee Hayden and Trendler in Harvard Business Review. They must decide with speed over precision, reliably deliver, engage for impact, and adapt boldly. Inspired by these guidelines, let’s explore some actions Schibsted has taken which adresses these four behaviors.

The beginning of March was chaotic, and the situation was changing by the hour. Schibsted established a Covid-19 task force on March 2 to process available information and rapidly make some bold decisions. Even though the information was incomplete, and emotions and anxieties ran high, we decided to have all employees work from home, starting March 11. Our CEO, Kristin Skogen Lund, held an epic all-hands speech to our colleagues. Heartfelt and calm, she encouraged us all to ”keep calm and carry on. Be safe, look after each other and we will get through this together.” Our 5,000 employees headed home and started getting acquainted with the new reality, clueless as to how long it would last. The majority of us have been working from home ever since. Norway announced a lockdown of the entire country on March 12.

Leaders Under Pressure


In the first weeks of home office, there was a great need for information and direction among our colleagues. Our Corona task force stayed on their toes, ensuring constant guidelines and communication across Schibsted. A few weeks in, 97 percent of Schibsted employees responded that they were satisfied with Schibsted’s handling of the situation and an impressive 85 reporting a high level of motivation in their work!

A collaborative spirit

To reliably deliver, according to the HBR report, leaders need to align team focus, establish new metrics to monitor performance, and create a culture of accountability. Never have I experienced such a collaborative, innovative spirit, caring leadership and colleagueship, and willingness to change across Schibsted as I did in those first weeks of the crisis! Our second-quarter results and giant acquisitions this summer are certainly manifestations of how our people reliably deliver, with transparency, speed, and courage. The Schibsted share price reached an all-time high and financial forecasts were no longer looking as bleak as they did when the crisis first hit. Our investors, and our own confidence in Schibsted’s ability to deliver even in the midst of a crisis, certainly bounced back into place.

Strong leadership drives high engagement and high engagement drives great results. Through our pulse surveys we identified some areas that were the most important to our colleagues. These areas included: a sense of belonging through interaction with colleagues, information sharing, well-being, and leadership. Leaders across Schibsted have made and are still making many meaningful small and big steps to address these needs.

A toolbox for leaders has been developed – filled with actions meant to engage and fuel interaction and wellbeing even when the casual encounters we all miss are no longer available. These include for instance walk-and-talks, park meetings, after work video conferences – and endless other video conference initiatives across teams and geographies.

In September we launched a state-of-the art engagement programme, ACT, which equips all our leaders to drive change and engagement in their teams on a continuous basis going forward. Now it’s all about engaging leaders and teams to create an impact!

Supercharged change

There is no such thing as ”business as usual” anymore. Almost 100 percent of the workforce is now working from home – some with their kids running around them. Change has been supercharged in the pandemic accelerator and we have all been forced to adapt. The adrenaline surge from the first lockdown shock is fading. Yet, future oriented leaders get ahead of changing circumstances and take action and experiment their way to the new normal. Which begs the question: where do we go from here?

At Schibsted we have launched a Future of work project (read more about it on the page opposite) in a quest for answers – aiming to turn challenges into opportunities. The project team works actively with gathering ideas and learning from experiments internally and externally. Our dream is that our ways of working in the future will make us an even more innovative, agile, collaborative, sustainable and attractive place to work.

I am convinced that how we work will never go back to how it was before Covid-19. How we will work in the future depends on the radical ideas that are lying around as we adapt and develop. Schibsted wants to fertilize the soil from which radical ideas can flourish. We want our leaders and colleagues to experiment, learn, and share on our journey to develop even more innovative and sustainable organizations. It won’t be easy, but as Kristin Skogen Lund said upon the traumatic lockdown day on March 12th: ”Schibsted has endured many crises before and even proved an ability to thrive and grow through troublesome times.” Now our big joint challenge is to design our future of work. I truly look forward to being part of the journey and experiencing the many experiments and radical ideas that will emerge, with or without the virus circling. It’s time to produce real change.

Mette Krogsrud

Mette Krogsrud
EVP People & Corporate Affairs
Years in Schibsted
What I’ve missed the most during the Corona crisis
Time with my family and friends in London