If one thing is certain right now, it’s change. Every day the rules and guidelines set up to manage the COVID-19 crisis are changing – and with them, the business environment. So for your business to keep working, you need to build in flexibility at every level. Here’s what I think companies should be doing to make it through a crisis.
Develop and implement flexible working policies
We’re already getting much better at implementing flexible working policies – which, to be frank, we should have been doing anyway – and making the most of new technologies. Being able to work from home is often critical to employees with, for instance, childcare needs or some disabilities. Many businesses will emerge from this crisis more open to remote work, many employees more eager to be given that option.
This sudden need for working-from-home solutions gives companies a golden opportunity to try out different approaches, figure out what can and can’t be done outside the office, and streamline the process for the future.
Actively seek new ideas and innovations
Now more than ever your company needs to be agile. I know this word sounds like overused Silicon Valley jargon by now, but it’s actually a simple, common-sense concept: being able to adapt to new situations quickly and effectively. It also encourages innovation through collaboration and an open exchange of ideas.
As Raconteur notes, being agile is vital for future-proofing any business, at any time. The article quotes Emilie Colker, the MD of London-based design firm IDEO, who says business leaders need to really listen to their teams. “Some of the brightest ideas come from the most unexpected places”, she says. “Your people are your power and unlocking their combined potential should be your number-one priority.”
Don’t automatically follow pre-set paths through the crisis
Right now many business leaders are focused on mitigating the short-term effects of the global crisis. This is stressful, draining work, and you might find yourself slipping into well-worn grooves such as revenue recovery plans which helped in previous economic dips. But this situation is (as I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times) unprecedented. The situation today might be very different to the one tomorrow – let alone next week, or next month, or next year.
To be blunt, it may feel more comfortable to follow familiar paths and rigid strategies, but it’s just not smart right now.
McKinsey outlined nine possible scenarios for the next year or more. The most optimistic involves the rapid control of the spread of COVID-19 and a strong policy response, minimising long-term economic damage and leading to a strong growth rebound. The least optimistic… well, you can probably guess. Either way, you need to have contingency plans in place.
Act quickly, but don’t be afraid to abandon approaches which stop working
Many businesses are having to completely rethink their strategies at the moment, and time is of the essence. McKinsey gives the example of a car rental company, who very quickly pivoted to target new demographics and assure customers of stringent new safety measures. These steps helped them recover most of their lost revenue. As the article notes, “before the crisis, the company took up to three weeks to launch a campaign; that is now down to two to three days.”
Business leaders are having to create and implement strategies which may need to be adapted – or even abandoned – quite quickly. We’re often working with very little data right now, so it’s not the time to be precious about your ideas. This one isn’t working? No problem, let’s try that one instead.
Being adaptable and quick to respond is key right now. You need to show your employees and colleagues that you can act fast to protect their safety and their livelihoods. You need to empower your people to think creatively and share ideas. You need to assess what’s still working, and what isn’t. And you need to ensure you’re making the most of digital and analytics tools.
The great news is, implementing all this now and developing these skills will help in the long run too. Though the shifts may be particularly seismic at the moment, change is here to stay.