“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
James Stockdale, Vietnam prisoner of war
This is true in most situations, but it seems particularly relevant in the face of COVID-19. We know humanity will get through the pandemic, and that the disruption offers significant opportunities to do things better and build a positive human future. But we must also face the short-term harsh realities.
Most organisations quickly embraced this short-term view. As governments restricted people’s movement to contain the virus, organisations mobilised response teams to understand the implications on their workforce and supply chain. But it soon became clear that the situation was evolving too quickly for ‘scenario + response’. Organisations needed to understand the likelihood of scenarios.
Epidemiologists have helped here by explaining the spread of the virus. That’s let response teams get slightly ahead of the curve, taking decisions based on what’s likely to happen in the coming days instead of responding to issues after they arise.
As many organisations now have strategies to maintain critical operations in the short-term, it’s time to consider the medium-term actions that will move organisations from ensuring survival to preparing to thrive.
In the medium-term, as we move past this crisis, organisations can look to use the unprecedented disruption to their advantage. New working practices, adopted out of necessity, can offer sustainable value in the future. Two examples of this that many organisations have adopted are results-only work environment (ROWE) and more digital operations:
There are many similar examples of changes made in response to the current crisis that will deliver value in the future if maintained. The challenge is in embedding those changes as the ‘new normal’ rather than temporary reactive measures. In our experience, that comes down to focusing on three actions:
As we emerge from this crisis, we’ll all reflect on our responses and review what worked well. But research shows it only takes around two weeks for people to comply with perceived organisational norms. So, within a couple of weeks, people will have eased back into the old ways of working and lose all the transformative responses.
Now, as we continue to respond to the pandemic, is the time to review what’s working and consider what you might want to retain. Don’t wait to do this after things have started to return to normality: producing a report into the lessons learned while we’re forced to embrace different approaches will highlight the opportunities to retain helpful new practices and behaviours.
The supply chain for operations includes resource of all types – time, money, physical space, expertise, manpower etc. As organisations consider restarting operations, projects will often look to mitigate perceived supply risks by over-resourcing. It’s the business equivalent of stockpiling toilet paper.
Such behaviours will put stress on the supply of resources, resulting in performance dropping below pre-crisis levels. So, in the medium-term, it’s vital to look at the organisation’s value streams and understand how the system works so you can manage resources as you re-scale operations.
Most of us intuitively understand that performance increases when people feel a connection with their organisation.
But remote working can put a strain on people’s sense of connectedness. So, organisations need to take immediate action to maintain that connection. In our experience, putting purpose first and communicating openly has a significant impact.
A clear purpose is an anchor that helps you sense-check your plans, make good decisions and organise what you do. By putting your organisation’s purpose first, everyone will be able to trust decisions and feel connected. And open, continuous discussions that clearly share essential information give everyone a full understanding of what’s happening, letting them connect with the reasons behind decisions.
In the long-term, as we all settle into the post-pandemic world, organisations will need to quickly reassess and clarify their strategies. Having embraced the jolt of the pandemic, there will be new capabilities to exploit as we answer new demands. And people will need to understand how that impacts the strategy communicated before COVID-19 hit.
Business leaders should consider not just ‘how to do what we do a little bit better’ but ‘the Big Hairy Audacious Goals to which we could collectively commit the organisation’. It’s these big ambitions that can be the catalyst for sustaining the focus, urgency and engagement many organisations are seeing through the crisis.
In the wake of COVID-19, it will be an organisation’s ability to recognise the opportunities it faces that differentiates it. By quickly moving from short-term reactions to proactively embedding new ways of working in the medium-term, organisations can capture those opportunities and thrive in a post-coronavirus world.
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