For many Business Leaders and CEOs, the period before the UK Coronavirus lockdown on 23rd March 2020 was a period of growth and general business optimism.
Many of us would have been planning for a final quarter and the closing of a successful year. Thoughts then would have likely centred on final successful Brexit negotiations and sustaining the previous year’s growth. The rapid global spread of Coronavirus took many by surprise, with few companies having a specific pandemic mitigation strategy, nor the experience of what was to come.
As the UK lockdown begins to ease, we are looking at what we have (versus what we had) and our business plans for the short, medium and long term.
I have certainly been reviewing how the businesses I’m involved with need to plan and most importantly change to succeed in this new business environment.
So, what might we do differently, considering the enormous impact of Coronavirus?
In many cases, our tried and trusted organisations had worked well in the past, scaling up and down to manage demands and performance. An unprecedented drop in UK GDP has and will continue to create shock waves in households and businesses alike. The Governments furlough scheme will have acted as a shock absorber for both but clearly, there is no immediate reset button and we will simply not be returning to what we had before the outbreak. Businesses need to skilfully create a new organisation which can quickly perform, speed recovery from this unprecedented period and most critically be capable and ready to flex and scale to growth because growth will surely come again. How and when the recovery will happen remains uncertain so this organisational development will be challenging. How we engage with and motivate our employees will be key to its success.
Digest: Create an organisation which can perform in this new business environment while being able to scale, at speed, to new growth opportunities. A flexible, engaged workforce will be key.
The new employee
The speed and extent of the Coronavirus would have taken many employees and employers by surprise. Despite the many painful impacts, employees and employers will have learned a lot too. Work can be done remotely, teams can work successfully across physical distances and barriers, working away from an actual business premise doesn’t mean a “Friday afternoon at home”. Technology has proven how it can work to great success in delivering greater collaboration, digital transformation and new business efficiencies. If our employees have found success in working in new ways themselves, how do we harvest those successes and bring new ideas into our businesses post lockdown? Through this change, how do we manage for a new type of employee and performance?
Digest: Many employees will return to work with a new perspective. They will understand the economic challenges but will have also experienced new ways to work. Extracting those ideas and strategies will accelerate business recovery, engage existing and new employees, improve capabilities and potentially reduce costs.
With so many unknowns (will there be further lockdowns, what will future employment levels be, how fast will economies recover, when will the UK return to growth, how will Brexit resolve….to name but a few), managing employee performance will be critical to a fast recovery. Enabling our employees to work and engage in new ways, rewarding the right behaviours and outputs will all be differentiators in producing a fast recovery. How we manage and the managers we employ will need to adapt to these new factors.
Digest: Managers will need to create new performance criteria and be prepared to engage employees in new ways to work as individuals and teams. Existing managers may not have these new skills so manager performance and skills acquisition will be of equal importance and require investment.
Zoom (in the video calling sense) has quickly become a verb as well as a noun. Zoom has done a good job of enlightening businesses and consumers of just how accessible and flexible this kind of technology is. Despite some early security concerns, Zoom itself and of course the infrastructure upon which it works, scaled and performed well. Many other products have similar experiences, Microsoft Teams a good example scaling widely through
businesses. No doubt Zoom, a free service to consumers and businesses alike caught the imagination of how easy and effective this type of communication can be. The lockdown has created a large audience (of all ages and demographics) who have begun to understand the real capabilities of technology and collaboration.
Digest: Technology continues to evolve at pace. Understand the capabilities of technology, how it can scale in your business and how it can be employed to drive greater collaboration and performance. Use technology to bring teams closer together and to drive new performance.
In the past, recessions and periods of business stress have created many new businesses and successes and I believe the same will be true of this Coronavirus shock. There will be industries and sectors which, post Coronavirus, will likely boom: Stay at home economies, 5G and digital infrastructure, Digital Transactional products, Online shopping and Medical security to name a few.
Where I believe that this recovery may be different from those in history is the opportunity it provides for every business to reorganise and plan as to how their business can be different in the future.
How we all embrace these unprecedented challenges as an opportunity to learn from our employees and customers and to see how our future business models can improve is an opportunity for us all.
Despite the pain, this may be a period we all reflect upon as being a transformational opportunity we all grasped, embraced and benefited from.
About the author
Gary Fowle is Founder of private practice consultancy Sammamish. Previously, Gary was a Vice President at Microsoft, leading their OEM device strategy for the United States.