The title of this article may seem a bit blunt but our aim is to encourage much needed action. We cannot afford to procrastinate about the changes we now need to deliver.
No-one knows with any certainty what the next normal will be like for our economy. However, we do know that it will be tough for citizens, businesses and governments for a long time. There are many considerations yet to play out. For example,
- Will we see a regression in globalisation?
- Will there be more state control of big industries?
- Tighter international borders?
- More local buying and supply chains?
- Shorter working weeks?
- Remote working becoming the norm?
- Will gluttonous consumerism emerge as a result of all we have been starved of in the past few months or will we enter a phase of ‘living without’?
We have very little control over much of what might happen. So what we shouldn’t do is spend too much time thinking about all the possibilities and, instead, focus on creating the next normal for our own businesses or organisations. There is a Darwin quote that seems particularly relevant today and perhaps gives us the strongest clue as to how our businesses and public services should respond to the uncertainty, 'It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change'.
In our work with clients, we have identified five areas of focus in those who manage to survive and thrive with agility in times of disruption. Perhaps the current circumstances will provide the injection of energy and leadership required to make these more commonplace in more organisations.
Business planning and associated contingency and resilience planning are an imperative for success. However, how well did our plans stand up to COVID-19 crisis? Have we reviewed our plans to ensure currency, and flexed them to suit changing circumstances? Are we challenging our assumptions about customers and workforce? Are we involving our teams and stakeholders in the re-planning? If the answer to any of these is 'no', we run the risk of delivering the wrong plan.
Getting planning right:
- Shorten your planning cycle, releasing resources in the right direction at the right time
- Challenge everything you thought you knew about your customers and teams
- Collaborate and co-create – a shared plan has more chance of success.
The one certainty is that customers' buying patterns have changed forever, particularly in B2C relationships and transactions. Some of the new holding patterns created during the crisis, for example, movies direct to streaming services, restaurant meals at home, may become new habits. Do we know how COVID-19 has impacted on our customers? Have we asked? Are we regularly listening and responding? Have we checked the ‘tone’ of our engagements?
Looking after our customers:
- Engage across multiple platforms, listen and respond timeously
- Old habits don’t die hard post-COVID! New habits have already been formed – understand, and respond to them
- Be authentic in all communications – purchases of any kind are underpinned by trust.
Our immediate action has likely been on the redesign of our workplaces and workforce to ensure we can continue to operate and keep our teams, customers, and suppliers safe. Beyond that, how will we deliver? We have seen how others can prototype and test faster; how others are looking differently at their supply chains; how teams are working (sometimes better) remotely; and how others have been flexible in their use of technology and new approaches to supervision and management. Have we reacted as quickly? If not, how long will it take the rest of us to adapt? We are running out of time so what are we waiting for?
Getting on with delivery:
- Identify areas for improvement quickly – don’t be scared to reuse and repurpose
- Prioritise high value projects and stand up teams to deliver rapidly
- Deliver – succeed/fail – learn - deliver and repeat many times.
Perhaps we have become blasé talking about data? In recent months we have all learned about the R number, ‘flattening the curve’ and 7-day rolling averages. Are we as conversant and comfortable with the use of data within our business? Have we fallen into the habit of going back to the same data sources even though we know that past performance will certainly not be an indication of future success? Are we using the right data to understand and measure the activities in our plans? Do we have the skills to really exploit data? We know data is valuable, especially in times of disruption, so are we using it to anticipate what’s next and react in real-time?
Leveraging the power of data:
- Source new data about market trends, lead indicators and consumer behaviour
- Get comfortable making decisions with only part of the picture - you need strong domain knowledge and confidence
- Get capable – implement visualisation, embrace new tech applications.
If we don’t recognise our team members are scared, worried about money, their job and the health of their loved ones, we are not listening enough. Our people may be lacking in confidence after a period of isolation and suffering loss in some cases. The best organisations communicate regularly, with openness, transparency and they tell people how it is. Shielding from a virus is good; shielding from bad news is not. Most good organisations are full of ‘T-shaped people’ that simply need to be surfaced - the vertical bar representing the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field and the horizontal bar our ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one's own.
Good people are able to be pushed hard, in a supportive way to be the best they can be. Research has shown that if you create a place of 'psychological safety', performance will be good. So, what are we doing to create teams that can ask questions, admit to not knowing something, and float and try new ideas?
Looking out for our people:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate – you can’t do too much at the moment
- Recognise, validate and nurture the deep capabilities within team members
- Support them to stretch themselves by getting creative, collaborating with them to put development on their daily to-do list.
These five factors are not new but if we get better at them then we will definitely create agility within our organisations that will mean we are better placed to respond post COVID-19 and to future disruptions.