Lessons Learned from the Novel Coronavirus
By Hari Abburi
If there’s one thing the global business community has learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to ebb, flow and unfold daily, it’s the outright imperative for companies to be agile “from top to bottom.” In fact, agility is rapidly establishing itself as “the great equalizer,” asserting its unbridled authority over which companies – from global conglomerates to mom and pops – will survive another day.
While business agility has always been a key driver and benchmark of notably successful operations, now more than ever it’s become abundantly clear that a business’s ability to rapidly and accurately assess a situation and then pivot quickly and with relative ease in response can be a deal breaker in the most profound sense. For many companies, lacking this agility ability, on multiple, if not all, levels of the operation, is the end of the road. Below, are a few observations on some of the hard lessons learned amid the pandemic and some strategies that can be applied. This includes the three key elements of agility: intersections, interfaces and insights.
Lesson 1: Not working at the speed of the customer
A crisis amplifies flaws. The pace at which the coronavirus has not only magnified, but also accelerated the damage these flaws create, has been eye-opening and replete with lessons to be learned.
Today we see mid-sized companies scrambling to activate digital tools with customers and employees, but not realizing that interface tools are just one element of agility. Being digital is a delicate balance between design and scale that directly changes the way a business operates. Even companies that have had digital transformation projects under way for some time have now realized they just aren’t “really” digital to the extent needed.
Operating at the “speed of the customer” requires a deep understanding of where your customers and their experiences lie, though without any boundaries – of industries, technologies or expertise. New customer buying habits and expectations are being created right now. The businesses that are analyzing these emerging trends and modeling out the long-term implications will adjust faster to industry’s – and the global economy’s – new normal.Lesson 2: Not having a ‘globalized’ market mindset
We often hear that we live in an interdependent globalized economy. But situations like the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed the vulnerabilities and negative impacts of the closing of geographical borders, countries prioritizing their own needs and leaning hard on multinationals to function nationalistically in their own homelands.
However, the problem and the solution are the same. No single company, or country, has all the expertise, experience or skills required to function at the speed of the customer. Hence sharing, trading and ongoing learning are the key necessities to promote a stable and healthy globalized economy. The key reason we have start-ups disrupting large traditional players, or being valued as much as those that have been in existence for multiple decades, is that access to knowledge, skills and capital is truly global.Lesson 3: Not Identifying the right platform, data and technology
I hear many arguments on how and why large players have access to technology due to their deep pockets. While true, many traditional businesses have demonstrated the value of platform thinking whereby they build an ecosystem for their customers to connect their needs despite dissimilar services. This could be your local street corner bakery or an Airbnb.
The ability to imagine your business as a platform is key. Otherwise, if you haven’t dealt with how your business can sustain itself if and when there is another pandemic, you are essentially risking losing it all. This time it was unexpected. Next time, businesses should be better prepared. Those who aren’t will suffer a greater toll.Lesson 4: Not building an augmented workforce strategy
We can expect COVID-19 to spur huge changes in Robotic Process Automation and intelligent automation. Yes, humans doing it alone is rapidly becoming an antiquated concept. Objectively speaking, augmented workforces are smarter – they learn fast, focus on value-adding activities and are overwhelmingly customer-centric.
I believe that there will be a mix of four to five bots or virtual assistants per employee in all types of companies by 2025. Almost 30 percent of every job has some level of automation potential. If companies can redefine their strategic workforce planning to beyond just planning productivity with humans, they will multiply their customer value while actually creating more jobs in other areas of the economy.Lesson 5: Not thinking about the future in a different way
Those business leaders who believe we will return to “business as usual” are at a huge disadvantage. COVID-19 will have permanent consequences on the future of every type of company in every type of industry. While many leaders talk about future, very few do something truly effective about it. This is an unfortunate truth even of enterprises with abundant capital. This is due to a combination of factors, including a lack of imagination or not knowing where to start the journey amid a litany of future issues that loom large.
The ability to think, plan and execute in a clinical fashion is the key to realizing transformation. This is not to be confused with a rigid plan. Rather, it is about thinking through the ideas, experimenting quickly and scaling up. It is about surprising customers with possibilities that they never thought were possible.
All told, the World Economic Forum reports the global economic slowdown is projected to cost the global economy at least $1 trillion in 2020 – and that’s aside from the tragic human consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the UN’s trade and development agency, UNCTAD. Such a gut-wrenching estimate should be motivation enough to take a cold, hard look at your organization’s adaptability – or lack thereof – and think-tank concerted strategies for a multitude of scenarios – even those that are “highly unlikely but in the realm of possibility.” ?
[Hari Abburi is a global executive and consultant to Fortune 500 firms for The Preparation Company.]