When we look back over this COVID-19 period what will we see? What will we have learnt? How will it shape our future success?
The challenge we need to lean into is this: How can we use this unique moment in time to hit the reset button? To become more resilient? To grasp the opportunity? To reinvent and reshape? This opportunity is open for all to seize – current winners and so-called ‘losers’ alike.
I am seeing six shifts emerging that have the potential to shape future success. In part, they have always (or should have always) been on the table, although the focus has been sharpened and accelerated given the COVID-sized shock we have experienced.
Shift 1: New ways of working
We have proven that we can work more flexibly and utilise technology in ways that are efficient and effective. We now need to consider the optimum mix when it comes to working from home and working together at the office or factory. We can’t forget the value of face-to face collaboration and ‘by chance’ interactions that can spark new ideas and innovation.
Importantly, productivity gains that were achieved need to be backed in. You did more with less – now think about how that can be sustainably embedded in new ways of working. To me the Pareto principle should apply – focus on the 20% of activity that will generate 80% of the value.
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Shift 2: Acceleration of digital and data
Those businesses that were already ahead of the curve in utilising technology to reinvent both their customer experience and operating model were early winners. Think Bunnings, Kogan and others.
These types of innovators will continue to invest. Poor customer experience and inefficient processes need to be tackled head on. Laggards now need to seriously invest in digitisation of their business model and customer journey. And this needs to be underpinned by data analytics that drive decision-making.
When we look back in five years, this time will be seen as the tipping point for digital transformation. Those who ignore taking action now will not survive.
Shift 3: Quicker decisions, faster prototyping
We surprised ourselves by how quickly we could make high-quality decisions and implement them with speed. Because we had to. Our collective health required it.
So, how can we guard against falling back into old ways of assessing risk, identifying opportunity and making decisions that strive for excellence rather than perfection?
Specifically, how can we more rapidly test and prototype new market offerings? Those in the startup world are experts at this. The concept of minimum viable product needs to become part of all businesses’ toolboxes.
A great example of recent speed-to-market is those businesses, including my favourite gin brand Four Pillars, that were able to repurpose their manufacturing and supply chains to produce PPE and sanitiser products. Check out Zinc Protect as another example.
What capabilities could you use to reinvent and reimagine your offering? What systems and processes can you change to embed new ways of thinking, new ways of decision-making and new ways of taking action?
Shift 4: Balancing supply chain, building ecosystems
The historic drive for cost advantage and efficiency caught out many businesses — either due to border closures or supplier operational shutdowns. Supply chains weren’t as resilient as they could have been.
We now need to reconsider how supply chains are structured and, in fact, the type of relationships we want to have with suppliers. Forging true partnerships will be key – and not just in name.
Ecosystem-style business models, where there are mutual interdependences between customers, suppliers and even competitors, should be on the agenda. What platforms do you have, or could you be part of, to change the competitive dynamic?
I believe the shift to ecosystem business models will be accelerated due to the digitisation of businesses paired with the need to have more resilient supply chains.
Shift 5: Importance of trust
As a society we experienced uncertainty and stress. People looked for the facts and didn’t always get what they needed. Trust in brands and institutions has been eroding for many years. Will this accelerate? Who can people trust as they look to the future? It’s worth noting that the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 identified ‘my employer’ as the most credible source of information in relation to the COVID-19 crisis.
Certainly, in the medium term at least, the brands and businesses that built trust, by truly helping and providing value to their customers (and staff), will have firmer foundations for the future. Being clear, consistent and transparent in how we communicate and engage with customers needs to be a guiding principle in how organisations face the market.
Taking friction out of relationships, wherever possible, should be the goal. Being focused on solving customer problems, rather than just selling ‘stuff’, will build trust and pay back in loyalty.
Shift 6: Authentic and adaptable leadership
There is no doubt that many businesses have seen people, at all levels, step up or step forward. Some individuals may have seen JobKeeper as an invitation to stay on the couch — and for the employers of those people, I suggest you leave them there. For many, though, their ability to be adaptable, lead with authenticity, communicate clearly and build trust has been inspiring — at all levels of the organisation.
Many boards and CEOs will now need to assess the bench strength of their team and decide if they have what they need to grasp future opportunities. Is the capability set suited to the next phase for the organisation? If not, they need to move swiftly as soon as possible.
Adaptability, in a fast-changing market and economy, will be a core capability for future leadership success, as it clearly was during the crisis period. The market for talent that is authentic, adaptable and able to drive change will be fierce.
But, we need to take a breath
There is one consideration, especially over the next few months, that we need to keep front and centre — potential fatigue. It has been a stressful time for many and the amount of change that has occurred means that generating sufficient energy to enact the needed changes may be a challenge. So, we need to enable teams to recharge as needed before rushing headlong into the next phase.
A future-facing lens
Most fundamentals of society and the economy won’t materially change in the medium term. Customers will always seek value. Employees will still look for workplaces that value their contribution and build their capability. Shareholders and investors will look for sustainable returns. However, the lens they see through has shifted.
Sustainable growth will come from those who seize the opportunity to leverage these and other shifts — to hit reset. To reset how they go to market, how they deliver value and how they lead their teams.
It’s time to rethink the future! To grasp the opportunity that this point in time provides. To change. To become more resilient. To grab hold of future growth.
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