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  • Adastrum Consulting


As the country went into lockdown, many organisations had to quickly adapt to new ways of working and, in some cases, implement business critical changes to keep going. While most are planning for ‘the other side’, it is difficult to know where to start as the business landscape is in constant flux and the pathway post-lockdown remains unclear. Strategy is focused on immediate customer retention, protecting staff and finance management to secure an organisation’s future but with supply chains, customer profiles and the market shifting almost daily in some sectors, there is a challenging and complex planning horizon to address.

The challenge is not just the unpredictable nature of the markets but the predictable effects of fear on human behaviour. These behavioural changes will prove difficult for leaders to manage, particularly for those professionals used to clear mandates and time-based deliverables and who draw on knowledge and experience to make intuitive judgements that mitigate risk.

The digital landscape has rapidly evolved, a recent McKinsey report showed that consumers and businesses have leapt 5 years in digital technology adoption in a mere 8 weeks. Through necessity, retail and hospitality businesses have embraced online ordering and delivery, schools have adopted the digital classroom and remote learning, and healthcare professionals have switched to telemedicine services to assess patients. Many of these adaptations are here to stay.

Wider consumer behaviours and trends have also rapidly changed. The travel industry is predicting less business travel and fewer mini breaks, with more than a third (37%) of people expecting to reduce the amount they travel. Following the fastest drop in retail footfall ever recorded, home delivery and collection services will continue as shoppers adhere to social distancing guidelines and feel safer at home. Equally, businesses are preparing for fewer commutes, with less time spent in the office and more remote working.

This rapid, and largely successful, change to businesses, people, process and technology has reframed the “art of the possible”, enabling business leaders to alter how they plan for transformation on “the other side” with the lesson that “Perfection is the enemy of progress” having been learnt by every executive. Such is the unique nature of the opportunity to implement lasting change, there is unlikely to be a facet of an organisation untouched by the possibility to reimagine customer, employee or supplier, journeys, experiences and expectations.

For many organisations, investment to develop and upgrade different parts of the business will be critical for resilience and lasting success. It is fair to say that no big system changes will be implemented while many of the staff are still in the “lifeboats" – continuing to operate from home but unable to access all the facilities of the main ship.

Continued investment in digital technology will be prevalent; accelerating the use of AI, Automation, Analytics and other selective technology upgrades whilst retiring legacy systems to increase agility and reduce costs. Supply chains will be reviewed, dual-sourcing will ensure security of delivery and, importantly, build resilience. Personal and leadership development will also be a focus area, as the value of strong leaders during a crisis has been recognised.

The progress and learning acquired in the past few months should not be disregarded but used to shape future strategy. The data and feedback that is collected during crises can be some of the most informative to drive business resilience. The extreme changes many organisations have implemented to respond to COVID-19 have reset the parameters for how they can operate in the future and identify where their true strengths lie.

For the immediate future, efficiency is not necessarily the goal, the retention of clients, staff and revenue is taking precedence. As well as investment in digital innovation and a review of processes, radical operational change will drive further focus on company culture.

One likely resulting change could lead to a complete reconfiguration of the physical office space and a change in its purpose. A lot of traditional, office-bound businesses have seen productivity spike from at-home working and are considering reducing office space and/or redefining the purpose of the office post-lockdown. Some now see the office as a valuable training ground rather than the hub of revenue generation and delivery it was once regarded. Instead, it could become a place for employees to learn on-the-job by absorbing knowledge and techniques from colleagues, or the site for developing team and client relationships through face-to-face interaction.

Over the next few months, defining how employees can be supported away from the office and how training and development can be successfully delivered virtually will be a priority for many HR teams. The pandemic has shone the spotlight on mental health awareness and employee wellbeing far more effectively than any Royal ambassadors or mental health awareness weeks have ever done and leaders will be remiss to allow this progress to recede, therefore investment in a support network that aligns with new operations is also important.

Ultimately, in terms of future transformation, coronavirus has shown us that planning for disruption is planning for the unknown. Its unpredictability has underlined the importance of leadership and developing key behaviours to guide teams through disruption and the unknown – emotional intelligence (EQ) and empathy being hugely critical to building the trust and understanding the fear in others to seeing it through.

How is your organisation planning for the future?

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