Webinar: What do Leaders need to Unlearn to Succeed in the New Normal

Reflections from our webinar

The Signium – Stein & Partner team, as part of one of the leading executive search companies in the CEE region, was delighted to have hosted on the 15th of June the second webinar from our Transforming HR series: What do Leaders need to Unlearn to Succeed in the New Normal having as guest speakers: Mrs. Melania Jaravete, HR Director at Cargus Romania, Mrs. Adina Vidroiu, HR Director at Microsoft Romania, Greece, Malta & Cyprus and Mr. Dragos Barbulescu, Deputy General Director and Group CFO at E.ON Romania. The discussion was moderated by Mrs. Raluca Modoran, Senior Leadership & People Advisor within Signium – Stein & Partner.

As we wanted to explore different perspectives from different industries, we invited our guests to an interactive panel conversation, which led to a very insightful collection of reflections.

Here are some of the main thoughts we’ve collected. For the extended conversation, you can access the below recording:

Resilience and humanity are the keys to successfully overcoming difficulties

Management’s approach to the new normal depended heavily on the specific of the industry and of the business. Either they encouraged employees to work remote or focused on ensuring all possible measures so the field employees can continue to work on site, but most companies shared the strategy to focus on maintaining the essential services up and running and at high standards. The success has been driven by a high level of resilience with a profound care for people.

“Due to the specific of our industry, most of our people have been working on site the full time, making sure everyone had power and gas during the very difficult times we’ve had, especially last year in the lockdown. All of us encountered difficulties, both on a personal and business level. Speaking of the latter, the first and most important caution for us was the human aspect: getting in touch, connecting with as many people as we could, providing confidence, reassuring them. Afterwards, we continued building on resilience: we had to make sure we deliver the same services at the same pace.” said Dragos Barbulescu.

“Our company is performing an essential service that has not stopped, even during the lockdown, even if it has been under a lot of pressure. Thus, for the business that meant a complete outlook shift and an adjustment to the new circumstances, as our services were in high demand, and we wanted to maintain our high-quality service standards. Most of our employees could not work remotely, as the vast majority are employed as couriers and sorters, activities that under no circumstances can be performed other than on site. For my courier colleagues, going out every day was a way to connect. The internal feedback I got is that “my smile can be also seen through the mask”. It’s a connection, sometimes you stay at home and the only person you see is the courier knocking at your door. There are clearly a lot of things we have delivered and for them it was a means to keep the interaction.” stated Melania Jaravete.

“We looked for our people and at the same time, we supported our customers as they were also digitalising at a fast pace and going through the same changes. It was an intensive journey for us, and it will continue to be one. I believe that one of the things that helped is that even before the pandemic, we’ve had a framework for all our people managers, based on a coaching approach. We made sure that it is aligned with our leadership principles, with our culture and with our values.” added Adina Vidroiu.

The last 18 months changed the work environment forever

Whether the pandemic has created more job opportunities for some of us, offered others more time with their families, saved commuting time or has forced some to rethink the overall life habits and better plan the working hours, the disruption was tremendous and with long term consequences.

“We should review the entire workforce because the pandemic has impacted every person in every organisation across the globe. It has been more challenging to keep the balance between the personal and professional life and this line between them has become even thinner and the stress on the teams increased substantially. This is accelerating the pressure on the leaders in the companies, because at the end of the day, not only are they humans, but they have been going through the same changes that impacted their colleagues.”, mentioned Adina Vidroiu

Leaders faced deep concerns as pressure was coming from all directions

Maintaining a high level of physical and psychological safety for their team members, keeping a high spirit and connection in the team, delivering business results at the same standards of customer satisfaction, while ensuring a personal and family balance, are things that have generated an immense amount of pressure for leaders.

“At Board level, we were concerned about business continuity, as we had to have continuous supplies in terms of power and gas for all customers, ensuring that everything went smoothly. One third of our people were working from home and they had to transition overnight to this scenario, and the other two thirds were always on site. Thus, we had many challenges at the same time. Finally, it was the pressure, the psychological impact of the crisis on all of us.” Dragos Barbulescu told the audience.

“Leaders’ main concerns were related to adapting to the new business environment, to finding the best ways to deliver business. However, the biggest concern was related to the mental health of the employees and that was a new thing for us. If a few years ago we were talking a lot about benefits, work life balance, how we could do more for people, now endeavours are related to mental health, because in the long run, we all feel, depending on the circumstances, either too disconnected, either too exposed, or both at the same time. Now people have seen our houses, our kids, our pets, and all these things might make us feel exposed, while on the other side we feel completely disconnected because we cannot physically connect with one another, give a pat on the shoulder, a handshake, a hug. We didn’t have that for a while, and somehow it leaves an impact on the team.” added Melania Jaravete.

Great leadership in the new normal means finding the right balance

Different contexts require different leadership capabilities and the last 18 months have required leaders to use their past experience and past successes in an innovative way. Leaders have been in a position to balance business priorities with people needs and to make decisions considering different factors.

“Great leadership in a the new normal is a combination between balancing different perspectives, caring about people and their mental health and finding new ways to connect, especially now with the help of new digital platforms. I strongly believe that people should come first.” stated Dragos Barbulescu.

“I think the profile of a leader during these times and moving forward, is mainly related to knowing how to apply concepts of business continuity, to finding best ways to adapt, to showing flexibility to changing circumstances and to different business requirements, to caring for people and making sure they are involved in the middle of each decision. Basically, it is a matter of finding the right balance between the requirements of the business and the requirements of the team. I would also add that we should not forget that leaders are also people who might struggle individually in ways we could not grasp. I believe that showing people that leaders are humans too is a new thing and I guess it’s the 1st time in our company that employees understood that our CFO is also cooking at some moment in time. Showing vulnerability and openly sharing the same challenges is what brought us together and helped us stay connected.” mentioned Melania Jaravete

“We continue to embed our model-coach-care framework. When we say model, our presumption from every manager in the company is to demonstrate strength of character. They are role models for the culture, for the values and also for the leadership principles that we have. They are the ones setting the tone, and their words and actions are leading the organisation and their team members to integrity. Coaching, although commonly used, means for us that they need to assist their colleagues to develop that sense of shared purpose and to create that energy level within their teams, by supporting them on a day-to-day basis. We know that managers who create high engaged teams have a higher productivity. Nevertheless, the part that was more critical was the care one, because fundamentally the role of a people manager is to care about others, not only about their team members but also about other peers they are interacting with across the organisation. They are the ones who are building on and finding the right talents and the ones who are creating that environment where people can open up. And this was paramount during this period, even when observing the conversations we’ve had, the shift focused from “what are you doing?” to “how are you feeling?”, “how are you today?”, and the answers were more related to the personal life. They needed to be equipped for that and this is what we’ve done. It wasn’t easy. It’s still a journey. At the very end of the day, leaders, managers, are also people that have a personal life back home.” said Adina Vidroiu.

Leadership with a touch of vulnerability

After centuries of a leadership model in which one should look bright, powerful, and always know-it-all in order to succeed, leaders have recently been in a position to admit they are humans too and vulnerable in front of their teams. Is that the best thing to do, to be successful in the new normal?

“I think it depends on the cultural organization that you are part of and even if you are aiming to show your vulnerability, your story needs to be intentional. In Microsoft this is part of our Diversity & Inclusion strategy plan, which is about having inclusive behaviours and being mindful of the things that happen within the organisation. And what we have done in the last year, and even before, is that we have been intentional, and it started with the leadership team sharing more about themselves. We’ve tried to put a great emphasis on the mental health in an attempt to cast away the stigma related to it, especially in Romania. It was an effort aimed to educate our people that it’s ok to share the stories they have behind. So, creating that space and flexibility and sharing that it’s ok not to be ok, coming from the leadership team and then being cascaded across the organisation, definitely helped during this period.” mentioned Adina Vidroiu.

“I think they can, and they should!  I don’t believe it’s something that was expected but rather it was something that came naturally and helped create the connection. Leaders observed it works and they considered wise to keep on doing it.  I would also add that we must keep up with the times. Now people are expecting a completely different version of their managers: they want them to be involved and truthful.” added Melania Jaravete

“Even before the pandemic we had the value of care within the organisation, which has been translated in a number of actions, but now it has been raised to a new level of complexity, with new challenges which are more comprehensive than we actually thought they could be. I would encourage every company to have this aspect taken care of. It’s a need and a must for this period and for the times to come.”, stated Dragos Barbulescu

What do leaders need to unlearn to be successful in the new normal?

“I think leaders need to unlearn that they do not always have to show a perfect image because it is an unrealistic level of expectations. The more you show of yourself, the more truthful and authentic you become.” answered Melania Jaravete.

“If we look at the new hybrid model of work, I consider that leaders will need to meet with new employees’ expectations: connecting a more distributed workforce and also providing the tools to renovate and work together, while at the same time being inclusive. The hybrid work will present more challenges, especially when it comes to organisations that have their employees working in different cities or countries, operating in different time zones.  In my opinion, it’s important for leaders to be more intentional about creating that space for those inclusive conversations and to define ways on how they work together, while bearing in mind the aspect of flexibility which will be mandatory in balancing the work life.

I would not necessarily say that they need to unlearn something, because the context pushed them to learn new things, like managing teams remote. I think it’s more about re-learning how to connect with their teams, how to focus on the relationships they already built, how to maintain the work life balance, what it means for employees to work in a hybrid model, how flexible can you be, how mindful can you be, because at the end of the day we will also have in mind the productivity that is there” added Adina Vidroiu.

“We need to re-learn how to reconnect with the team, especially in dealing with this new way of flexible working. Some people will want to return more to the office, while others prefer to work more from home, and it’s a challenge that will require flexibility from all parts” concluded Dragos Barbulescu.

One thing is clear, we’re still in a transition, exploring new behaviours, new approaches, testing and failing, surprisingly achieving things we wouldn’t have imagined possible. And in this journey, we intentionally and conscientiously learn, unlearn and re-learn those traits which help us succeed in this new normal.

It was a tremendous pleasure and an honour to have had the opportunity to explore these aspects with our speakers, which brought clear, applicable, and sustainable recommendations for our leaders. If you would like a deeper dive into the conversation we had with them, kindly access the embedded recording of our webinar.

If you would like to further discuss on this topic or others related to human capital advisory, please contact our colleague Raluca Modoran, Senior Leadership & People Advisor.


 Content written by Ana Maria Popescu

Unlearning -The key to wisely navigating in times of great upheaval

When the context abruptly and massively changes, such as the one we’ve been going through since the spring of 2020, the blueprint and practices of the past became out of place.

To move themselves and their organisations forward, leaders became aware of the need to adapt, so they continued to learn, but most of them started to unlearn.  Otherwise, how can we make room for something new? How can we be open to new approaches and practices unless we conscientiously decide to give up the old, unnecessary ones? How can we be permanently on our toes, ready to change direction and inspire trust and commitment?  Lots of questions that still need answers.

In the light of our upcoming webinar on June 15th: Transforming HR: What do Leaders need to Unlearn to Succeed in the New Normal we, at Signium – Stein & Partner, considered this a favourable moment to take a breather and sit down with our speakers Mrs. Melania Jaravete, HR Director at Cargus Romania, Mrs. Adina Vidroiu, HR Director at Microsoft Romania, Greece, Malta & Cyprus and Mr. Dragos Barbulescu, Deputy General Director and Group CFO at E.ON Romania, and collect some reflections from them, in an attempt to warm up the spirits before we go live with a new engaging concept of an interactive webinar.

What was the most valuable take away for you as Leader from the past 12 months?

Melania Jaravete: As the entire world shifted gears due to the pandemic, it became clearer and clearer that the HR function should evolve into the natural next step, HR needing to become Chief People Officer instead of a paperwork-based department, to re-acquaint itself with people, their needs, their concerns, and become the main communication channel guiding the team through this period and providing security, reassurance, and a stable context. 

Adina Vidroiu: The past 12 months helped us learn more about ourselves and the importance of human connection. Believing in our people and showing care about what matters to them, namely their passions, purpose, and strengths, is strongly embedded in our culture. We made sure that we kept an open and constant communication with our employees, which contributed tremendously to creating clarity and trust. I’ve been amazed by the strength shown by our team and our community and impressed by the stretches in adaptability people demonstrate when they’re set up to succeed. Trust, communication, and a focus on output do wonders in a remote workforce, and having supported flexible ways of working, the past year has proven it can all work out. 

Dragos Barbulescu: I have learned that although we cannot accurately predict the future, it is important to react calmly and resolutely to the unknown. Contingency plans and a resilient organization will always allow us to respond effectively and efficiently to difficult situations.

I also learned that any crisis brings with it several opportunities and that it is in our power, as leaders, to take advantage of them and keep our people close, connected and engaged to the realities of the business.

The Covid-19 pandemic was an accelerator of the digital transition, which remains a priority for us in all areas of the organization, being a method of streamlining the business and improving the experience of our customers. On the other hand, we cannot talk about the future, about technology and the development of innovative digital solutions without motivated employees and adapted to the new reality. We must continue our cultural transformation, to invest in our people and thus to attract diversity in terms of abilities and personalities, so that team members can amplify each other’s results.

The performance comes out from resilience, agility, independence (given by the team’s abilities and the vote of confidence won from the organization), curiosity, and the ability to see the full spectrum. These are also the ingredients we aim to develop through our team members

What has helped you personally keep the balance through this uncertain context?

Melania Jaravete: Despite the challenging context, my anchors are the family, friends and work content that makes me feel I can contribute. These have kept me grounded, reminded me that we are supported, understood, and accepted in our journey and that we can remain true to ourselves even in a shifting environment.

Adina Vidroiu: Living in a pandemic this past year and a half has posed immense challenges for everyone and a steep learning curve. When uncertainty became the only sure thing, we refused to stay under the pressure of disruption and instead became stronger, leaning on soft skills like empathy, motivation, and collaboration to support each other. Personally, spending more time with my family and friends, as well as focus more on my own wellbeing, helped me maintain balance.

Dragos Barbulescu: Before being leaders, we are human beings, so difficult situations are influencing us emotionally too. Accepting the situation and looking for solutions are the first things you can do.

I could say that I’ve created a new, beneficial routine for myself, for things which in the past I didn’t have time for or paid insufficient attention to, and I’ve realized how important are these for my balance.

As a person, keeping the balance meant a combination of several factors: family, social connectivity with friends and colleagues, physical activity, allocating time to relax and reset.

As a business, times of crisis require adaptability. The new technologies have helped us to stay connected and ensure the functioning of the companies and the services at an optimal level. All this time, we kept the team close, and we did our best to communicate even more with each other to stimulate the involvement in the new projects and thus to have all the highest possible morale and motivation.

The days when the responsibility of the CFOs and the financial executives was limited to financial reporting, compliance, audits, and the presentation of annual accounts are gone. The current context forces us to look up from the spreadsheet and quickly find solutions to adapt and, where possible, reinvent ourselves.

Today’s CFO must be able to see the “big picture” and play a key role in strategic capital allocation and corporate governance decisions. Currently, we are talking about some basic pillars in leadership: on the one hand the development of self-control, problem solving and decision making; then strategic agility and business acumen. To these is added the management of relations with all those involved. From this point of view, the open and empathic communication, the optimistic approach to the new situations have helped both at team level and individually, to overcome the pandemic period, and all the lessons learned will certainly be seen in future progress.

For more reflections on people and organisational practices, join us on Tuesday, 15th of June, at 14:00 EET, for our second online event in the Transforming HR series: https://steinandpartner.com/events/.

Content by Ana Maria Popescu

Important appointment on the Executive Search market

The Managing Partner of Signium – Stein & Partner, elected as Signium Global Board Director

 Signium is one of the top Executive Search and Leadership Advisory partnerships worldwide


A big win for the Executive Search Market in CEE! David-Sebastian Stein, Managing Partner of Signium – Stein & Partner, founded in Romania in the early 1990s, was elected as part of the Signium Board of Directors. The latter is one of the top partnerships in Executive Search and Leadership Consulting worldwide, with almost 70 years of experience and presence in over 30 countries.

The decision was made following a nomination and an internal voting process, won by an overwhelming majority, a year and a half after the company became part of the Signium partnership. The appointment is doubled in importance, as David-Sebastian Stein is the youngest member to hold this position since the establishment of the partnership until today.

Currently on the board, along with David-Sebastian Stein, are Annelize van Rensburg (South Africa), Piotr Pilecki (Poland), Felipa Xara-Brasil (Portugal) and Aleksander Montalbetti (Germany). The responsibilities of the five members in their 3-year term, are related to making administrative decisions in accordance with the development and coordination strategy of the 250 people in the partnership. Their goals for the next period include business development in the key regions, expanding into new markets worldwide and consolidating leadership in certain areas, while simultaneously boosting Signinum’s global Brand Strategy and Communications.

“I am both honored and grateful to be elected as Global Board Director, all the more as I respect Signium’s 70-years legacy and success, and that it’s continuing to build on its industry experience to remain a top player in the market. I want to add value to Signium projects worldwide and together with my colleagues to succeed in achieving our goals and to support the strengthening of our market position through focused leadership and governance”, said David-Sebastian Stein, Managing Partner Romania & Austria for Signium – Stein & Partner.

“Signium – Stein & Partner Austria & Romania is a reliable partner for us, and we are happy to have them by our side, not only as part of the partnership, but also a part of the Global Board of Directors. We believe that the experience of their consultants and good knowledge of the Central and Eastern European market will translate into increased quality and performance of the entire network, having more than 150 consultants, in 40 offices – worldwide. We are confident in this partnership, and we are sure that, with this board’s vast experience, Signium Global is uniquely placed to advise and support its diverse client base as they face complex leadership issues in an era when good c-suite leadership has never been more important”, mentioned Annelize van Rensburg, Chair of Signium.

Given this new responsibility and the importance of Stein & Partner for the global partnership, the company is undergoing a rebranding process and will become Signium by the end of the year: “The values ​​that define our organisation are in full agreement with those of Signium. It is an opportunity for us to actively participate in the development of the network and to find the best solutions for our customers based on intelligence, intuition and entrepreneurship”, David-Sebastian Stein also underlined.

About Signium – Stein & Partner Founded in 1994 in Bucharest, Signium – Stein & Partner offers an extensive portfolio of consulting services and leadership solutions, from Executive Search, evaluation, and development of management teams to the alignment of human capital in mergers and acquisitions, coaching for integration, and not only. At the same time, the collaboration with hundreds of clients and thousands of candidates from many industries, including pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, banking, insurance, construction, and investment funds, has helped the company gain experience working with diverse professionals with different needs, expectations, visions, and values. Signium – Stein & Partner is a member of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC).

The above press release was published by Business Review and you can acces it here.