Beyond survival: reimaging your ‘new normal’, disrupt or be disrupted

29 April 2020

Jonathan Stone , Partner, People Advisory, Talent & Performance |

COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity for organisations to redesign themselves for long-term success. By focusing on their core purpose, their customers, optimising operations and engaging staff, they can become leaner, fitter, healthier businesses.

But for that, organisational leaders must look up.

Why now is time to change, not panic

It’s human nature, when faced with a survival situation, to batten down the hatches, retreat to the castle, push aside anything that does not seem immediately relevant to ‘survive’. But this approach could lead to some organisations trailing in the dust of their counterparts, who see that the fight for survival is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become, simply put, better.

A simple analogy

We’re going to refer to a simple analogy throughout this article that perfectly exemplifies today’s message. When people first start learning to juggle, they typically focus on catching the balls - that is, the outcome, or the result. Very soon they are running around chasing after these balls, dropping as many as they throw.

The secret to juggling is the throw. By mastering the throw, so that with each toss the ball lands perfectly into the palm of the opposite hand, one can catch far more balls with far greater precision. Great jugglers start with the method, and the result follows.

Bringing us back to business

When we are under pressure, we risk focusing only on outcomes for our shareholders - short-term fixes and knee-jerk reactions that may save the bottom line today, but cannot be sustained forever. However, you can create a business far less likely to drop the ball if you identify what in your company is the ‘throw’ - changes that can be made that create greater short- and long-term results.

We will discuss specific tips on how to think about your organisation’s throw later in this article. For now, we have to explain why this should take place in the short-term, not later.

Why you must consider these changes now, not later

Again, the survivalist in us may suggest that it’s best to put off making major changes until COVID-19 calms down and there’s more time to think, plus more money to spend. But this would be like waiting for your company to be infected by the virus before sending everybody home. It’s catching, not throwing.

Time is not on your side. Already businesses around the world are shifting gears and transforming. At BDO, we’ve heard from numerous CEOs and government leaders that they are achieving things in two or three weeks that they had been previously talking about for two or three years. Businesses that never thought they could have enabled workers to work from home, universities and teachers are offering courses online, major pharma companies are working in collaboration like never before. Even humble distilleries are now producing hand sanitiser.

The coronavirus pandemic is horrible, and its damage has wreaked havoc on people’s lives and livelihoods. However, now is not the time for retreat, but innovation, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where the barriers to change have come down and people (customers, stakeholders, employees - everyone) are demanding change.

Those who can’t transform may risk being left behind when this is all over.

So what can businesses do to innovate and transform?

CEOs of companies large and small face two key issues that they must overcome:

  1. Focusing on the result
  2. Taking it all on themselves

We’ve already discussed the dangers of focusing on the catch rather than the throw. But thankfully, overcoming the second challenge can help with the first. Here’s what you need to consider:

1. Start with your people

Don’t take everything on yourself. No one can do it all. Now is the time to stand up in front of your organisation and show some situational humility. Instead of “Everything is fine,” say “We’re hurting, but together we can get through it.” Your people are your best source of innovation, and if you can tap into that energy, that imagination, you can make fast, positive and effective change - quickly.

Quick tips:

  1. Connect employees to the core purpose of the business. From helping people with disabilities to connecting people to great food, whatever the purpose of your company, make sure employees know it and are on-side.
  2. Include your employees. Talk with people up and down the business. Foster a culture of feedback and discussion so that they can be a part of reimagining what the future might look like.
  3. Embrace the new normal. Your new culture should embrace continuous improvement. Better never stops, and the more effective you are at changing, the more resilient your business will be to future disasters.

2. Clearly define your company’s value

How does your company create value for new and existing customers? If you can clearly define this value proposition - your company’s ‘throw’ - you will be better placed to find new ways to meet that value. Perhaps this will involve new digital technology, or just a rethink of existing processes. Either way, it will be innovative, on-message and highly effective.

Quick tips:

  1. Know your how your business creates value for stakeholders and shareholders. Ask yourself what are the most critical activities required to deliver this value, and what activities now become redundant?
  2. Reinvent yourself. With how you create value in mind, you can begin to consider how to reinvent the delivery of these activities so that they create greater value.
  3. Don’t forget your workforce. Now is the time to focus on labour based productivity to build resilience and engagement within your workforce.  What new skills and capabilities are required or no longer required? How do you transition your workforce, do you need to buy, build or move talent?

3. Reward the behaviours you want to see

Finally, consider if you can use rewards and recognition to encourage the behaviours you want to see in your new innovation-focused organisation. Your business needs value-creation activities in the short-term, and they must also become a part of your ongoing processes so you continue to maintain resilience in the face of future disaster. Rewards could help engrain these into people’s minds now, so that they become second nature.

Do you need help?

We know times are tough. It’s easy to discuss thinking about more than ‘survival mode’ and another thing entirely to live it. Short-term cash flow may be your top priority now, and that’s OK. But soon will come the time to start thinking beyond stemming the blood flow towards not only healing, but becoming fitter and stronger.

If you need someone to talk to, someone to help you with your business and discuss possible ways to not only access short-term cash flow, but improve and foster future improvement, give us a call. We’re here to help.

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