How to develop and retain your key people – remotely and in a time of crisis

We are looking into a new normal for today’s leader, when it comes to motivating and inspiring people. We might have to start considering new factors and use new tools, when wanting to develop and retain key people in the organization. This, to be best prepared for what is in store on the other side of the crisis.


The thoughts that run through our heads…

We keep talking about everything being unsure, unpredictable and unsafe, and you as a leader have most likely asked yourself; what will happen with my company? Can we go back to what we used to be before the crisis? Will my strategy stick and will it still be realistic in 3-6 months’ time?

For you as a leader, it is surely difficult to find the right recipe that ensures the company’s survival. Because of the many changes around us, both at a social and financial level, there are no guarantees in the choices that you make. With the words of the Danish Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen in connection with the Danish aid initiatives: “It is all about navigating at sea without a compass”. In one our previous posts, we mention that some of the characteristics that you as a leader must show in times like these are Empathy, Composure, Vulnerability, and Endurance 

Much of what we have previously stressed, and what is being said by experts in the media, are the expectations that you as a leader face right now. You have to appear to be in control, and even if the situation is uncontrollable you are the one to steer the ship while clearly signalizing responsibility – instead of becoming a victim of the circumstances. One thing is for certain: At some point, the markets will re-open and grow, which also means that companies will re-surface and grow.

This is where you as a leader have the opportunity to demonstrate foresight and insight. The questions you should ask yourself are:

  • How quickly will your company be back in gear and ready for a new normal?
  • Will your company be able to go back to former glory?
  • Will your company be able to be back at the same speed and deliver the same kind of services as before?
  • Will your management team have the same kind of collaboration and team spirit, when the company is safely “on the other side” of the crisis?

Career Management in times of crisis – High Potentials and High Performers

Today, most companies have employees and managers that are forced to work in “isolation” in the safe space of their homes. Several of these may right now reflect on their own careers, and if they want to go back to what used to be. Now, some of these may think about new careers in companies that better reflect their competencies and values; not necessarily because the company they are working for is doing things “wrong”, but because they themselves are in a kind of limbo and unclarity.

Your people are not the only ones. You as a leader are most likely having the same kind of thoughts about if you have the right team? Also, who are High Performers, i.e. the ones that react quickly to create growth and results, both during and after the crisis? Who are your High Potentials, i.e. the ones that possess the potential to take on even more complex tasks, and who are motivated to be future leaders and to take on future crises to come? These people may already now make a mark of themselves with new ideas and initiatives.


Just as food for thought: We have, during the last 15 years and from our more than 1.900+ Development Centres, experienced that less than 10% of High Performers are High Potentials, and more than 80% of High Potentials are High Performers. Interesting, right?


It is not easy to distinguish these groups and the potential pitfall in developing the “wrong” ones is just as apparent. As a leader, you are responsible for adapting your leadership style to the characteristics of each group. In line with this, you may need to consider if you hold the necessary competencies to lead them according to values, competencies and career ambitions. Because, in our experience, you as a leader must remember to lead yourself and consider your plan for how to get through the crisis as a potent and strong leader.

How to lead in times of ambiguity

During these challenging times and as a leader, you do not have many keys to play; you cannot get your organisation together and you cannot display the same kind of closeness and coaching leadership style that you would normally prefer. Today, leadership happens at a distance (not only physically but also mentally). Also, it is difficult to know how people, not least your organisation, react to and deal with a time of crisis, and also if they expect something different from you.

The only thing you can be sure of is that you will be and are challenged in your leadership. Leadership in this context is to show presence, firmness, closeness, and not least knowledge about and belief in your strategy and operative plans. We highly recommend you as a leader to remember to cover factors such as Substance, Character and Style, when considering the right way to lead and act (for more information, please refer to Executive Presence Indicator, Bates Communication’s ExPI Model).


Character describes qualities that are fundamental to a leader (person and identity), and which give others a reason to trust the leader. We appreciate Authenticity, Integrity, Concern, Restraint, and Humility

Substance describes cultivated qualities of mature leadership that inspire commitment, inform action, and leade to above-and-beyond effort. We look at Practical Wisdom, Confidence, Composure, Resonance, and Vision

Style describes overt, skill-based patterns of communicative leadership that build motivation and shape and sustain performance. We recognise Appearance, Intentionality, Inclusiveness, Interactivity, and Assertiveness.


To lead in a time of ambiguity, you must be certain that you have the right people and that the organisation is geared to get you out of the harbour quickly. Your competitors are most likely also working on their recovery plan for how to recover their position in the market. It might also be worth considering the fact that your customers want something fresh and new when we return to the “new normal”.

It requires more than a gut feeling to establish the best teams and spot the best-abled talents. Times like these require certainty for the choices and investments that you make in developing your talents’ competencies – and not least, also to be sure that they are all motivated for having you as their leader and investing their resources in developing your company. To be sure of this, you need the right tools to support you in identifying and assessing the key talents that can take you and your company to another level during and after the crisis. Because things will not be as pr. usual.

Developing High Potentials remotely – a proven concept

At Hudson Nordic, we offer established and proven tools to use for virtual development and assessment programs, and with the use of tools that are not translated to be used virtually, but tools that are specifically developed solely for virtual purposes. The tools are proven to be successful in assessing, coaching, and unleashing the potential of talents.

For the past 20 years, we at Hudson Nordic have built a strong experience in spotting and developing talents and leaders for a wide range of national and international companies. We have assessed close to 2.000 leaders and talents via our internationally recognised and proven Development and Assessment Centres. Everything that we do builds on scientifically validated and documented methods and tools, and we only use professionally certified assessors and coaches.

The intention with making use of our virtual or physical assessments can be many but considering the crisis that we are in the midst of, it is a valuable signal to send to your talents and leaders that you as a leader and company want to invest in their development. Again, this serves as a tool for retaining and motivating your people.

One of the main differences between our physical and virtual assessments is that your talents can be placed in San Francisco, while we are in Copenhagen. Our assessment gives you and your company a validated and reliable result based on objectivity, followed by concrete and clear advice for development and points to pay attention to get the most out of your high potentials or high performing talents.


When we speak about objectivity, we really mean objectivity.

In our Hudson Research Centre, we have developed a wide range of assessment exercises in the shape of business cases, presentations, role plays, and commercial exercises that all take outset in real-life businesses challenges and with manuals for what constitutes good, medium and bad results. This serves to ensure that we do not let subjectivity drive our evaluations. We can build the assessments around your company’s competency framework or base it on our own renowned 5+1® Competency Model; a model describing a set of personal competencies within 5 clusters; the +1 hints to the professional skills needed. We will, of course, guide you in a Competency Workshop and discuss the exercises that are most relevant.

Our clients experience great value in participating in the assessment because they get an opportunity to see their talents perform real-life and out of their normal comfort zone. Much like in a time of crisis, which cannot be described as a “normal” day at work. In a virtual assessment, we still make the same observations, perform a number of exercises and challenge the talent just as much as we would have done at our physical assessment. The only difference is that we send material and make introductions real-time and virtually, and the talents perform their exercises virtually.

Based on the assessment, we make an extensive report describing strengths, potentials and development areas in all competencies, and we offer concrete development advice and activities. The report is presented and discussed in a triad-meeting, where you as a leader, your talent, and a coach from Hudson Nordic participate. In this meeting, commitments for development are discussed. It is our experience that it brings the leader and talent closer together.

Offering your talents a tailored development program based on their profile and development needs serves as a tool for developing, retaining, and motivating your talents. They experience that you as a leader and your company want to invest in them, though we might be in the midst of a crisis and uncertainty. This can be considered as a training program for the big match that waits ahead after the crisis.

If you are interested in learning more about what we can offer in tailored virtual or non-virtual development programs, and how you can stand out of the crowd with the best team and be the most well-prepared leader, we are more than willing to engage in a noncommittal dialogue.


Ola Lenes

Executive Coach / International Certified Assessor