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5 Lessons HR Teams and SME Leaders Can Learn from the Ukraine War

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5 Lessons HR Teams and SME Leaders Can Learn from the Ukraine War

March 24, 2022

As Russia began its large-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, all eyes were cast on embattled President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Ukrainian leader’s determination to defend his country caught the world’s attention when he was reported to have said “I need ammunition, not a ride” when the US offered to evacuate him out of the capital city Kyiv. Without fear for his own safety, Zelensky’s commitment to stay in the fight, to never lay down arms nor surrender, has seen the Ukrainian army mounting stiff resistance to stymie Russian forces.   

In the business world, organisations, too, are constantly “in battle” with their competitors. So, what can HR teams and SME business leaders learn from Zelensky and Ukraine to win their “battles”?  

  1. Money is not a long-term motivating factor – Zelensky has proven that when people are motivated towards a cause, and in this case, fighting for their country’s freedom, emolument becomes irrelevant. His appeal to people worldwide to join Ukraine’s foreign legion as volunteer fighters has been met with great enthusiasm. Nearly 20,000 foreign volunteers have signed up to fight alongside Ukraine against its invaders. Even truck drivers from as far as US has signed up and used their own funds to join the cause. Similarly, in business, HR and leaders should know that monetary rewards and company perks have a limited impact on employee motivation. In the long run, employees are more motivated by organisations with values that are more aligned with their own, and have a vision and mission that they believe in. Simon Sinek, a renowned author and inspirational speaker, says “People don’t buy what you do; they buy WHY you do it.” He expounds that in reality, what motivates people most is the mission and vision of the organisation. 
  2. Communicate openly regularly – Zelensky is often on his social media account to communicate openly about the Russian incursion. He is constantly engaged with his audience, let it be Ukrainians, other world leaders and even the enemy. Right before Putin sent over his troops, Zelensky appealed directly to Russians who were lied to by Putin’s propaganda to “de-nazify” Ukraine with a “special military operation”. He told Russians, in Russian, that Ukraine was free and need not be liberated. Similarly in business, leaders should communicate openly with their employees, share frequent updates to let everyone know about company-wide developments. This helps foster a more committed and loyal workforce which is able to better relate with its leaders and its purpose in the company. 
  3. Equip your team well – Despite having a smaller military force compared to Russia’s, Ukraine has been able to hold up the advances by Russian troops. Ukraine has been fortunate to get weapons from its allies since the Crimean Peninsula annexation in 2014. Despite having a smaller artillery of weapons, the Ukrainian army has made great strides to stall the heavily equipped Russian army, boasting advanced military vehicles and weaponry. Businesses too, must equip their workforce with the right tools to remain competitive. Many a time, businesses, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), tend to view technology investment as a cost and the system costs as a separate line item in the company and underinvest accordingly. Investing in enabling technology not only help employees be more productive but also make a difference in the bottom line. With the rapid development of technology, cost of IT systems has come down dramatically. For example, Cloud based vendors, like JustLogin, provides companies access to immensely powerful applications at very affordable monthly fees.
  4. Training makes all the difference – Ukraine military has been trained well ever since Russia encroached Crimea and seized the Peninsula. U.S. Special Operations Forces have also trained Ukrainian military forces. This has helped them face the Russian forces this time around. Canada and other NATO nations, too, have played their roles in training Ukraine forces since 2014. On the business front, due to, whether it’s sales training or learning about new technologies, training helps teams to perform better, which in turn translates as better profitability. For example, effective sales coaching can improve win rates by as much as 29%
  5. Delegate decision making for better outcomes – One of the key lessons that Canadian military taught the Ukrainian army personnel during their training in 2015 was that small-unit commanders to make decisions on the fly in the battlefield. This was the opposite of the top-down style of military decision-making they had inherited from their Soviet days. This strategy, say military analysts, has helped Ukrainian forces stall a big Russian convoy north of Kyiv. As the small-unit leaders decide on the best course of action, they have crafted many ambushes which have worked in favour of their soldiers. By empowering your people and trusting your teams, SME leaders will see a more engaged workforce who become increasingly responsible and progressive. Having happy and successful teams is a magnet not only for employees but also customers.   

Despite all that the inspiring lessons we have gained from Zelensky and the war, our hearts go out to all Ukrainians whose peaceful lives upended with this senseless war. 

*This article was written by Chan Chiou Hao, who is the COO for JustLogin.

About Chan Chiou Hao

Chan Chiou Hao is currently the COO of JustLogin, a Singapore based HR Software as a Service provider. He has been with the company for over 6 years and has grown the business from a 10-person operation to 80 employees and grown the revenue by 300%.

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