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For years, business leaders, tech companies, analysts and consultants alike have promoted the idea of being “ready for anything.” Was a global pandemic such as COVID-19 on the radar?
Sure, but not like this. Interestingly, the World Economic Forum — Global Risk Report 2020 (15th Edition), written in late 2019, registered a pandemic risk as tenth in terms of impact, and outside the top ten for the likelihood of actually occurring.
As in Spencer Johnson’s classic change management tale ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ we look at the challenge of surviving and thriving in a business world of disruption and shifting goalposts.
Now that we’re dealing not only with a pandemic but with the economic aftershocks, that ‘Cheese’ has certainly moved. While juggling supply chain impacts, the strain on infrastructure such as telecommunications, online systems and data centres, not to mention an increase in cyberattacks and data fraud, who has time to step back and process the situation?
The Tactical Response
The immediate impact of COVID-19 saw organisations scrambling to put their business continuity plans into action. IT professionals worked tirelessly to establish remote working capabilities for entire businesses, and to introduce staff to collaboration technology. Scaling cloud capacity became an urgent investment.
On the plus side, the sheer agility of modern technology has been evident. Even as recently as two or three years ago, the rapid response would have been far less effective for most workplaces.
And if any boardroom questioned the benefits of realistic IT investment before, those who listened to IT leaders will now be thankful. Modern technology has been the lifeline for businesses in every sector.
However, this hasn’t come without cost. Larger planned digital transformation initiatives have been put on hold while the COVID-19 impact is assessed. Smart leaders will take time to reflect and to revisit strategic plans with their key partners.
This is essential for any organisation to accelerate beyond the current situation when the time comes.
Mindfulness and the Change Response
A quote from Warren Buffett springs to mind when we consider the COVID impact:
‘Only when the tide goes out, do you discover who’s been swimming naked.’
While you manage your response, it’s important to recognise that you will be impacted by those in your supply chain with a weaker business continuity plan response.
As your suppliers, customers and competitors are hit with the shockwaves, so too is your organisation. When your people, processes and technology are pushed harder, fault lines will appear.
Leaders need to be mindful, taking regular time with your trusted internal and external network to assess how the situation is impacting strategic direction. Capturing what is or isn’t working can help you to fine-tune a more agile plan for facing an uncertain future.
Seven COVID Survival Questions Your Business Must Answer
When meeting with your leadership team and trusted partner network, there is much to consider. From human impact and employee wellbeing, to charting a new course in an uncertain world, the current situation will draw on all your collective strengths.
To help structure your discussions, I would like to share the seven key considerations to focus on, driven by an OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act) mindset.
1: How well did our business continuity plan hold up to the impact of COVID-19? Consider how well the plan was executed, where gaps existed, and whether the response was sufficiently rapid and coordinated. Use this discussion to build a more resilient response for the future.
2: How well are our systems coping with remote working? Consider any system or process changes needed to create a more modern workplace. After the initial rush, what supporting technology should you use to help make the switch to remote access more effective?
3: Did our policies and procedures work well in these exceptional circumstances? The reality is that almost all organisations will find places where documents written pre-COVID-19 didn’t make perfect sense when a change of this scale happened. Even at Business Aspect, we’ve had to tweak a few policies that didn’t perfectly fit the needs of our workforce. We frequently revisit which governance controls need greater clarity or adjustments.
4: Was our communication and change management all we needed it to be? Spend some time with people in different roles, and identify whether your team felt informed, connected and supported. In a time of such significant and sudden change, some people may feel left behind. Check whether collaboration tools helped or hindered staff through this process. Identify where additional training may help — vendors like Microsoft have some exceptional free training resources to help users to get to grips with their collaboration tools. We should never forget that technology is about people: when users feel confident with the technology, they can better process their feelings around the changes they are experiencing.
5: How well did our cybersecurity posture cope? Making a sudden transition may have meant taking a few shortcuts, and the security implications must be addressed urgently. Think about whether your risk management and privacy position worked well, and whether the organisation’s risk appetite has changed. Consider if additional security expertise is needed and whether anyone in your trusted network may have valuable input.
6: In what way did we have to adjust our existing enterprise architecture and digital delivery? In your immediate response, you may have made on-the-fly decisions that enabled your business continuity, and now is the time to review how this will feed back into your future state architecture. Pay attention to what data can be captured, how it can be analysed and what value it can add going forwards. By combining your captured data with other sources, you stand to get a better, faster understanding of the new business landscape. This may be your greatest opportunity for competitive advantage going forwards.
7: Did our wider digital ecosystem and our internal digital culture change? Consider how this may change your future state positioning on the value chain. Observe how your team is changing in response to the situation, and notice which people respond more positively to change and who needs extra help. Monitor this as you move through the COVID-19 aftershocks.
Finding Your New Cheese
If previous change management focused on the world shifting and posed the question ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ today’s leaders must find a whole new cheese and navigate towards it. We must let go of the notion that everything will go back to normal — because it won’t.
As leaders, we must engage our teams with vision, momentum, hope and energy towards building a new normal. Perhaps the worst thing would be to revert to previous ‘business as usual’ models that do not suit the current environment. Your customers have changed, and so must you.
Instead of clinging to the old, it makes sense to use the Lean Start-up model of capturing ideas, then building prototypes to quickly test and learn in an evolving market. Measure initial results through effective data capture and analysis, then feed this intelligence back into your strategic response.
While tempting, hibernation is not a valid option, and it is critical to avoid bias and the ‘this is how we have always done things’ mentality.
The economic recovery may be slower than we would all like, but starting to plan and implement your future state now will make sure you are ready to capitalise on new opportunities.
While these times are challenging the best of us, they also provide an opportunity to learn and grow as a leader. It is a time to build greater personal and organisational resilience and to refocus on your core purpose.
Support and sustain those around you, check in with your team, and find ways to embrace a deeper digital culture. And of course, don’t forget to reach out to others when you need support for yourself.
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