(Our 3 step approach to navigating through the crisis)
Business performance, leadership and agility are being put to the test across the entire global economy. The virus, the lockdown and the economic shock are a unique 1-2-3 punch which will leave no organisation unchanged. Everyone is having to adapt to dramatic changes, without clarity on how long, how strong and how enduring any of them will be.
We’ve worked up close in recent weeks in public and private sector organisations working to get through the crisis, proving again how having the right focus and awareness, agile resources and a cohesive team makes all the difference when it matters most.
Everyone is under pressure, and our clients have needed to move quickly and boldly, both to tackle the immediate challenges and reshape for the longer haul. The ‘treatment plan’ to ensure an organisation’s health varies wildly – some have to bunker down, some pivot, reshape or expand their operations. Whether it’s watching the day to day costs, building new facilities in a hurry or figuring out new ways to reach customers, we’re shoulder to shoulder with our clients, helping get the right organisational tools, knowhow, mindsets and skills into place for these unique times.
In organisations public and private, large and small, the value of great leadership, sharp decision making and the right mindset & ways of working is higher than ever – they’re vital assets for both the crisis response and what comes next. We’re proud to be helping organisations get by and get through – to weather the storm, and bounce back stronger when the time comes.
We've been using the language of Secure, Stabilise, and Thrive; 3 simple steps to navigate through the crisis.
In the first few weeks and months, the focus is on making the right changes to Secure the heart of the business – to try to protect as much of the critical resource and performance as possible.
It’s a difficult and anxious time. Those suffering a sudden drop in revenues or shuttering their operations – like airlines, transport systems, tourism and manufacturers - are trying to work out how to put a cocoon around their people and assets, to maintain their currency and resilience so they’re healthy enough to remobilise as soon as things change. Working through ‘hard’ elements like cost reductions, shutdown plans, financial commitments and new Government schemes would be enough, but it sits alongside the high emotional and psychological strain of trying to mitigate the consequences for the organisation’s people and customers.
Even those who find their work in demand are being pushed a long way past normal. The soaring demand levels, sudden leap in criticality and the moral imperatives that have come into play for organisations like public services, logistics, utility networks, and grocers, are bringing significant, high profile challenges for whole organisations.
They’re trying to find ways to deliver with huge constraints on their people and practicalities, to scale up to unprecedented volumes, and prevent any of the spinning plates from hitting the ground. Most often than means a small, scarce core of people and resources are being put under high stress, potentially for a long period.
Across the board, the priorities for ‘succeeding’ – in whatever form that takes – through this first phase are clear. We’re helping leaders and their teams build the responsive, informed and far reaching controls they need to understand what’s going on in the business, to come up with the practical steps needed to protect core resources, and to quickly implement their decisions on a day by day basis. For many organisations, this isn’t a one off change – as medical conditions and understanding evolves, as policy waxes and wanes and as people’s behaviour adapts,
Taking the right actions early on is about priorities, coherence and pace, and we’re helping some of the best leaders as they go to extraordinary lengths to support their organisation’s and people’s health, livelihoods, security and ability to be productive enough to get through the early phase.
When the rate of change starts to slow, organisations are looking to move on from immediate crisis response and Stabilise around a new ‘business as usual’ which can be sustained while pandemic conditions are still in effect.
Chances are, a lot of the pre-crisis forecasts, financials, customer data and delivery models may need to go in the shredder. In a few short days or weeks, many organisations need to tear down and rebuild long-established mental and physical approaches, using a wholly unorthodox and limiting set of business, customer and operational assumptions. It puts enormous pressure on the organisation’s ability to quickly make sense of what’s happening on the ground, judge what’s momentary and what’s going to be true for a while, and to come up with answers to challenges and conditions the organisation has never faced.
Implementing whatever solutions get figured out then has to happen ‘on the fly’ - new ways of working, cost models or logistics infrastructure are all being rolled out at breakneck pace. With no time for controlled experiments or pilot programmes, no track record or data to prove it’ll work, and not much clarity on how long it might have to hold together, organisations are being forced into intense testing under ‘live’ conditions.
Complicating matters, this is often when some of the ‘not urgent’ stuff, which was previously sidelined, can return to the fore. Following through on urgent changes made early on to an organisation’s people, finances or commercials takes much longer than the decision itself, necessary business sustainment activities like maintenance, audit and compliance become more problematic the longer they’re left, and for some, putting the right assurance, security and legal / commercial protections around their crisis response actions is a time-consuming imperative. Stakeholders’ patience will also eventually run out without engagement, dialogue and some view of what your plan might be, and sometimes unintended consequences start to rear their head and necessitate a rethink.
This may not be a one off adjustment – as medical conditions and understanding evolves, as policy waxes and wanes and as people’s behaviour adapts, the requirements and constraints will evolve. This phase can become cyclical, with iterative changes that continue for some time - stabilisation measures succeed or don’t, you ‘fix on fail’, or diagnose what happened and learn from it, adapt and try something else. In some ways, this can be established territory for those who’ve embraced agile methods for innovation or product development – but with huge stakes and potential consequences as they are applied to the whole enterprise.
For a lucky few, already geared for creative destruction or inventing from scratch, this stage can play to existing strengths. Newer tech companies, close-to-customer B2C services, VCs, brokerages and even military rapid response types, imbued with a just-do-it mindset, a willingness to take risk and the collective self- confidence to ‘move fast and break things’, can find they’re able to innovate at pace and quickly move to a new baseline.
For most organisations, though, it can feel like tearing down the castle and rebuilding on sand. Without the tried and tested ways to fall back on, and no means to verify or trust the new lie of the land, leadership teams can feel they’re reengineering on faith and then trying to run their organisation on not much more gut feel.
We’ve seen that successfully adapting your core needs a real focus on the organisation’s foundations – not getting lost in a huge range of downstream areas. We’re helping time-strapped and highly pressured leaders marshal their judgement, intellect and energy, and focus it on reshaping the bedrock of the organisation - the balance sheet, the organisation itself, the product and service set and the partnerships.
Under strong time pressure, it’s vital to work decisively through scenarios, options, varied perspectives and the ground truth on resources in each area, rapidly testing and challenge to make sure that in these fundamental areas the organisation cuts in the right places, rethinks in the right places, and creates as much coherence and certainty as it can for its people and stakeholders.
In parallel, we’re helping mobilise lean, high performing and agile capabilities which can excel at finding the right signals in the noise, support the decision making with fast learning and feedback, and drive changes at pace so the organisation has the flexibility and responsiveness it needs.
The changes that are being catalysed will have an enduring effect in every sector – changing importance, relevance, size, value, structure and priorities in sometimes startling ways. Some organisations will be overwhelmed, unable to Secure their business against the stresses of crisis, or to find a Stabilised model which works in new conditions.
In many areas, that change and disruption will, however, open up new opportunities at some point. Whether because lockdown conditions drive new demand for a product or service, stimulus financing accelerates a major expansion project, reduced volumes reveal a new lower cost way to operate, or social support priorities demand new public agencies, many organisations will see the big shake up creating new market spaces or chances to create value.
Those in a position to stabilise themselves rapidly, can capitalise as the crisis subsides. If armed with a (relatively) strong balance sheet and resilient core business - and with a watchful eye for the risk of crisis ‘aftershocks’ – organisations at every level can act quickly to fit customers’ new priorities, competitors’ new vulnerabilities and new connections between markets. Acquisitions, consolidations and portfolio strengthening are a central focus, as is moving quickly to extend leads in strategically valuable skills and technologies, transitioning to new revenue models better suited to changed behaviours, and accelerating capability roadmaps and market position shifts to take advantage of competitive changes.
Some of the seeds sown during the crisis will also grow up strong. Significant amounts of market, offer and organisational development have happened in a very short space of time – from the shift to widespread virtual working to cost restructuring to product and service sharpening – and some have set a new bar for organisations’ efficiency or effectiveness.
Organisations in many sectors are looking for ways to keep the best of the ‘crisis’ mode and build around it as they reemerge. Direct to consumer retail and digital media have turbocharged channel shifts, logistics companies have become critical industries supporting vulnerable people as well as running huge volumes in their existing fields, industrial manufacturers have demonstrated a stunning ability to refocus and deliver into unrelated markets like healthcare, and collaboration software and tools have developed new operating models and capabilities to meet vast, unforeseen demand. Some of these will prove to be temporary factors, but organisations need to be clear eyed about where their new ways of working and innovations are for life, not just for Covid.
Strategically, operationally and culturally, starting to evaluate options for the future is an empowering place to be. After a period of risk and uncertainty , leaders and teams find themselves keen to reassert some agency over their organisation’s future, make the best of a difficult time, and focus their energy on how to strengthen positions and prospects.
Successfully seizing opportunities to Thrive plays to many senior leaders’ strengths around judging timing and risk taking, but in a fragile period, bold and positive can’t seem cavalier – the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ has to be right, communicated and supported. In a range of different contexts, we’re helping leaders make the careful, measured judgements about when the organisation is healthy enough, its people are ready enough and there is a compelling opportunity to move forward.
Making sure there’s a meaningful, value adding opportunity that strengthens business fundamentals and delivers for stakeholders is critical - most leaders are especially keen to avoid missteps in any area of the business at this time. We’re supporting organisations to clearly think through their insights on the re-emergence from crisis conditions, have a careful view on enduring volatility and risks, make a thorough analysis of the emerging opportunity and reaffirm their decisions on what really matters for the longer term.
In implementation, we’re supporting them to put a strong plan in place to maximise the organisational , financial or strategic benefit on offer – and the clarity, cohesion and decisiveness across the team to see it through.
Different sectors and companies are moving through these changes at their own pace. The complexity of Covid’s consequences, the effect of mitigation actions by Governments and the unexpected market responses have created varying timelines and priorities that companies have to navigate in their own way.
All the organisations we’ve worked with over recent weeks have had their own mix of challenges, and everyone didn’t start in the same position – whether by chance or design some have more of the characteristics and capabilities they will need in these times than others.
As we’re seeing across the economy, some struggling firms have found Covid the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but for some organisations it’s been the shake up that helps them get back on their feet or find a new way. For others it’s a rocket booster that’s propelling them at pace – even if they’re not sure where it’ll land.
What’s been clear to us is that most organisations can do a lot to put themselves in the best position. Dealing with ambiguity and change puts emphasis on qualities of leadership, culture, decision making and flexibility , on the organisation’s willingness to make and trust its own judgements, and its ability to coherently, insistently motivate itself and its key people to see it through.
We’re really proud to be helping organisations of every stripe put in place the actions, capabilities and thinking they need to succeed through this unique era. We’ve helped with huge building projects, focused team support, rethinking cost models and strategies and everything in between.
We’re using our existing knowledge and toolkit, coming up with some new ways to make change work in these conditions, and keeping an eye on what else we can use from across the globe and our industries. Whatever it takes to make sure our clients and friends stay in robust organisational health over the months ahead.
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