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  • Adastrum Consulting


COVID-19, possibly the ultimate “Black-Swan” event, is driving everyone's digital strategy, workforce enablement and the rapid adoption of new ways of working and communicating – arguably you could claim that COVID-19 has achieved more business and digital transformation in a month than most businesses have achieved in years – necessity is the mother of invention!

Over the past month we’ve spoken to a large number of clients and contacts in our network and two themes have emerged within the different approaches being made by businesses to adapt or survive. In the words of one client, “never waste a crisis”....

Broadly speaking companies fall into two categories, the first being those that have embraced and adopted cloud technologies and agile practices (or were well on their way when Coronavirus struck) with the associated changes to their business and operating models. The second category includes those that had resisted or deferred the investment and associated change, beyond perhaps frontend websites and customer interfaces, and have large, complex legacy estates.

The first category has had the business case associated with their investment proven thousands of times over and are largely operating near normally and can focus on both their employees and customers. They can’t perhaps influence their market conditions, but they can operate near normally with a minimum of disruption and cost. In fact, for some the biggest change to their business operations has been human behaviours, including the new etiquette of turning on their cameras for conferences and extending meeting times to include more informal conversations and social interactions that would normally happen around the infamous and ever-present watercooler.

The second category of businesses are struggling to operate at anything near normal. We know of business critical, revenue-earning contact centres that have closed and large corporates with limited remote working capability or infrastructure, who have actively had to discourage any video conferencing as it kills the network they have to dial into or who have had to send staff to buy whatever laptops are available from the nearest Currys PC World. Some technology functions in these businesses have had to deliver in days what would have taken months or even years in “non-wartime” pre-COVID-19 conditions, to keep the business operational. However, they still can’t escape the fact that technology has failed the business and no doubt a number of C Suite executives will bear some responsibility for the lack of investment after the storm has passed.

The first category, after a few weeks of operational disruption and change, are entering into a new working rhythm and are starting to plan for not just the exit from lockdown but the accelerated changes once on the other side. What technology investments will they accelerate and automate, what changes do they need to make to reimagine their operating models and be even more efficient and resilient in the future? They are also considering which of the changes made in necessity will be permanently adopted such as remote working and hiring, more video interaction, less international travel, smaller office footprints and new supply chains.

The second category are in crisis management mode, fire-fighting, and, other than planning to make significant technological and business operating changes, they are ultimately unsure as to who to ask or trust to make the right call to “level them up”. They will have to make difficult and painful decisions, significant investment and changes to how they work and deliver to their customers and employees at a time of great market and economic uncertainty.

Whichever category the business is in, there will be significant changes to how they operate and how they are governed in the future, not least with Business Continuity, Operational Risk and Resilience becoming a key boardroom agenda alongside the recent addition of Cyber Security. More questions will be asked and more change and, most importantly, leaders capable of driving change will be needed. Lessons will inevitably be learnt and ‘the art of the possible’ will be truly redefined and reimagined.

Individual leadership legacies will be defined by this crisis based on how leaders in either business category dealt with the sudden and rapid disruption they were presented with. Not only how they lead, directed, reassured and supported their teams but also in the actions and decisions they took to protect the business and how they were communicated. We should all perhaps reflect on the words of The Queen, “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge”.

How is your organisation responding to the challenge and rapid changes?

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