2019: The biggest buzz of the century was humming far and wide, spreading to the remotest corners of the world. Organizations the world over hurled USD 1.2 trillion in a race to tame the digital transformation wave the business world was trying to ride.
2020: a handful (13%) of business strategists succeeded in doing so.
While we can comfortably build our excuses around COVID-19, history has its shreds of evidences. PCs, smartphones, Netflix, e-commerce, gig works, AI, virtual employees, digital printing and an unending sweeping list of surprises wherein top strategists horrendously failed in predicting and addressing abrupt changes. It took us more than a decade to figure the immense potential of a simple consumer-friendly interface, Mosaic browser.
COVID-19 has shown a mirror. An unprecedented war that is prodding us to question our acclimatization to languid ways of functioning, of us becoming comfortable with a fleeting sense of false business stability. While it has rattled almost all businesses, few have emerged as heroes, showing unparalleled resilience and flexibility and even shocking performance.
In this article, we outline the prominent lessons from these survivors on what, how and why they did what they did and most importantly what we as business strategists can do to emerge as winners the next time such crisis emerges.
“It’s amazing how slowly habits change, where people get stuck in the ruts of doing things, and then you have a shock like this that can change everything,” - Erik Brynjolfsson, director , MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy
We’ve talked about the slumbering progress of businesses on the digital transformation front earlier in this article. But here’s the wider scene after the big blunt of COVID-19:
Consumers too did their due. They altered their habits at an astonishing speed.
Global banks witnessed a steep surge in digital transactions.
Telehealth became a preferred choice for global healthcare providers.
Buying online became a new normal.>
Video conferencing apps like Zoom, Webex, Skype and Teams saw a massive uptick in their use.
Readiness was half battle won. Those who were actively pursuing digital transformation had their easy way out, others not so much.
The best strategists have the power to extract the brightest opportunities from the grimmest challenges. And no, we are not exaggerating. While the above bright examples can be taken as happy chances, here are a few more strategic examples that were agonizingly built to succeed.
They recognized the crises early on
Time buffer made all the difference. It gave cushion to brace for the jolt. Armed with ace strategies they were ready to take the challenge head-on.
Baidu launched a fight pneumonia app to give real-time information and online medical advice. Over 100,000 doctors responded to millions of inquiries on it. Their “call-bot” made automated calls to collect health status from masses.
Universal Pictures moved its launch of animated adventure “Trolls World Tour,” ahead of its schedule.
Artists and art companies switched to live-streamed performances.
Mint.com launched its AI venture, Vital, to manage overloaded hospitals.
That brings us to the question: How soon is soon enough? Accenture’s short term tactical plan for dealing with abrupt crisis sets the timeline.
They built the right innovation culture
Businesses that had ingrained healthy innovation culture early-on cashed on it. They swiftly switched to contingency plans.
Distilleries like 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company, Scottish brewery BrewDog and Pernod Ricard began manufacturing surgical masks and hand sanitizers.
GM, Ford, and Tesla began producing ventilators..
The umbrella organization of behemoth fashion brands Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Givenchy, LVMH, switched to mass-scale production of hand sanitizers..
A social video platform, Kuaishou, offered its services for online education..
Deliveroo, a delivery app in the UK, launched a “non-contact drop-off” service..
Blue Apron, the food delivery service, offered boxed ingredients to make home-cooked meals for USD 60 per box. Its stock jumped 500% up..
Jumping Jack taxes, an app based tax consulting venture, witnessed a 40% boom in business..
Biofourmis, a tech startup, created a remote monitoring system with biosensors and an AI to help with early coronavirus diagnosis.
The Strategy Institute’s 4M model (Map- Model-Master-Manage) lays the foundation for the swift groundwork for innovation.
They empowered people
COVID-19 saw the reinforcement of trust-based cultures across big and small organizations.
A study by Gartner found
The change was welcomed in most cases and average productivity shot up. The internet is flooded with stories of delivery, healthcare and administration employees going above and beyond their KRAs to help their customers. Organizations that empowered their IT and HR functions to take on-spot decisions on policies, process and IT technology capabilities geared up for change faster than their peers.
While COVID-19 may have stirred the speed, but change management is not a coronavirus story. It is a Future of Work story because we see disruptions as the new normal in times ahead. Here’s how business strategists can address them better:
Weave a Network of Teams
McKinsey advises organizing a network of teams. The complexities of the crises demand that experts from multidisciplinary fields come together to gather information, identify solutions, implement those solutions and refine as they move forward.
“A network of teams consists of a highly adaptable assembly of groups, which are united by a common purpose and work together in much the same way that the individuals on a single team collaborate”-McKinsey
Take a 360-degree approach. Assess from different viewpoints, anticipate the possibilities and act. Involve decision-makers. Every true transformation is people-powered. Success without inclusion is impossible.
Encourage collaboration and transparency
In routine challenges, the instincts may be to control information and decision-making, but around abrupt crisis a delayed action can be your best bet to fail.
Collaboration and transparency can remarkably speed up the process. Promote psychological safety encouraging people to openly discuss concerns, questions and ideas. While experience is useful for decision making in known situations, for situations where no previous reference point is available, unifying people for a single aim and outlining questions they can investigate can expedite the process.
Keep a reality check on your confidence
A crisis is the best time to forge leadership . Leaders must not seem to display excessive confidence else they may lose people’s trust. Instead, displaying trust in the organization or the team can build collective motivation. Use facts to convey ideas and refrain from depending on intuition. Provide frequent updates, convey what you know, don’t know and what you are learning. Be consistent, clear and inclusive. Establish why, how and what for your team and recognize contributions.
COVID-19 has ruffled global systems. Revenues dried up for airlines, tourism, oil and gas, investment banking, traditional retail, sports, entertainment and cinemas. And small businesses were hardest hit. But history proves humanity has evoked its best under gravest challenges. World war I demolished monarchies and colonialism; introduced labor laws and a desire for better living; accelerated research, and World War II introduced women to businesses.
Is COVID-19 our lesson in agility? Only time can tell.
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