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Will the Chief Empathy Officer replace the Chief Executive Officer? Is that the #nextnormal? – My reflections


The cat is out of the bag. We have now all understood our employers. Whether you are in a small, large or multinational organization it has emerged clearly that your employer is either for employees, for profit or for both the employee and profit. The idea that we can run a non-profit organization without any business acumen is a myth. Why, like you, I received a salary slice to ensure us #movetogether to the #nextnormal. Organisations worldwide have had to make tough calls; some have lost jobs, some are on unpaid leave while others have cuts.

So what next?

I had the pleasure on 21st July, to attend a zoom-enabled webinar held by the Strathmore University Business School, which continues to #staysafe but #keeplearning during these times. The webinar hosted by Agnes Ruoro was engaging, scary, exciting and riveting. All the emotions put together as she and the panelists shared what they think the human resource experts should look into for the #nextnormal. It is clear that the past is gone – out of the window and the new has come. It is for all of us to now embrace it either by crawling, slow walking, fast walking, running…depending on your personal character. As an individual, one needs to agree. Are they sinking or swimming. The onus is on YOU. YES YOU first.

Our well-being

This online world is interesting. I can be in Geneva today and South Africa tomorrow. So, this week I was in both. During the WHO briefings, Dr. Tedros spoke on the direction the global community should take to fight COVID. Indeed, we need the vaccine but before that, we have tools we can adopt. The key thing he advised was ensuring lower transmission to save lives, which brings me to the first point by the HR experts.

The Human Resource Experts

We as employees and employers need to ensure our well-being is at the frontline. Are your employees safe? Are they alive? Are their children alive? Are their parents alive? Questions perhaps you did not ask in the past are now the immediate questions to ask when you make a call. Once we have the well – being in place, we can then move to the next step of lowering transmission, community engagement, and ensure the economy restarts successfully. We cannot do anything in isolation. Everything is now interwoven as John Mwendwa said “There is no business without employees and there are no employees without a business.” I would add, ‘’there is neither if we are dead.”

Of course, one day we must return to our lush buildings for nothing lasts forever. So let us assume we have done all the above, John advises, on repurposing the work place. It is true we can work from home and in fact, speaking for myself, I have found it more effective. However, I miss the banter, the shared jokes, and the community. Employers now need to rethink how to blend working and use the buildings more for bonding as we can now work from anywhere. So idling is no longer a word in the #nextnormal for you do not know where and when I worked.

What new thinking can we embrace?

Emma Crompton shared some views from the Harvard Business Review which now terms the situation as the #nextnormal. She gave an example of Virgin Media whose engineers were now on the ground. They were re-skilled to do customer service. This is a great way for all of us to rethink days ahead on how to keep afloat. One might not be effective at their current position due to the times but a lifeline in another department. Is it the time to have a conversation with the Human Resource of your organization?

Further, she highlighted the importance of empowering employees. Micromanaging, she added, is now gone. You cannot micromanage someone you cannot see. It is time to build trust if you have not done it in the past. At my work place, we have a value called “Freedom with Responsibility”; we really had a wise founder. We now have to live it. We are free but we need to be completely responsible.

Edward Mungai emphasized empathy. A CEO by profession he wondered if his title needs to change from the Chief Executive Officer to the Chief Empathy Officer. This, I guess, was advised when COVID hit his organization and, immediately, a donor due to the unprecedented times recalled 1 million USD. Empathy is now at the forefront. When you sent your employees home, how did you expect them to work? Did they have laptops? Had you provided? Or did you opt for the essential services way? Empower only whom you at that time felt were essential services. Tough times call for tough measures but it is now time to strategize for that employee you sent home might now be at the forefront sailing the ship. Let them know they are valued. We need everyone to move forward.

I could go on and on about the different initiatives we can explore but the article has to come to an end.

Last Words

Allow me to finish with some of the insights by Fred that I as a Manager can immediately implement at no cost. I know we love budgets but my finance friend, let us call him Mungai, would have me for breakfast if I mention a number at this…you said it…unprecedented times.

  • Step back and see how all of us are vulnerable and some have touched the hem of death directly or indirectly. So now that this is clear, before the whistle is blown, what is truly important for each of my direct reports? What is their purpose?
  • Coach myself to lead from a distant. This needs extra effort in building trust. We need to be aware that the relationship between line managers and their direct reports is crucial for their engagement, learning and growth.
  • Taking precautions when we return to office – Educating people on behavior change communication is free and can save lives. This will ensure business continuity and avoid future lockdowns. #wearyourmaskatalltimesinpublic

Friends, I could go on and on but I must say this was an eye-opening webinar. We are in the future. The experts have spoken. We are in the #nextnormal. The future of work is here with us. We have been thinking about the future for a long time and now it is here. What will you and I do? I can tell you for sure, after this webinar, I am convinced some jobs will become redundant and allow for the #newjobsonthefrontline. It is indeed time to unlearn-relearn-upskill and aim for the jobs of the future.

Redefine the workforce. Redefine the workplace.

I will leave you with that to ponder.

The panelists were: John Mwendwa – Human Resources Director, Coca Cola; Fred Gituku – Head of Human Resource – Vivo Energy; Emma Crompton – Human Resource Consultant and Edward Mungai – CEO Kenya Climate Innovation Centre.

This article was written by Anne Njeri Njoroge.


Would you like to share your experience of living through the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic? Kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu