By Marbral Advisory
Is there a reason to do this online? Is there any good reason to do this in person? A few questions that will be asked by business leaders after the COVID-19 pandemic. The current crisis is reshaping society and the economy and will bring about an unprecedented shift in the way we interact and manage our business lives in the long term. The repercussions are already emerging, and a number of companies have announced they will miss their financial goals for the next quarter due to the combined impact of supply chain disruptions, resource limitations and dampened customer demand. The unknown is daunting. But a crisis moment presents opportunity. It will force business leaders to reconsider what they value and help them rediscover a new digital vision.
A Change in Our Understanding of ‘Change’
People react at different paces and levels to change. As with any major change, it is about finding balance. In order to better understand the motivations of employee and consumer behaviour, several well-known theories have resurfaced, including that of ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’. This theory comprises of a five-tier model of human needs often presented in a pyramid: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation. The fundamental premise of the theory, is that people need to have their basic needs met first, followed by their psychological needs and then their needs of self-fulfilment, to be happy or well-adjusted.
The Kubler-Ross Change Curve is another powerful model that can help us to understand the stages of transition we are seeing right now in both our colleagues and family members. The curve illustrates the internal emotional journey that individuals typically experience when dealing with change and transition. This journey consists of a number of stages that people go through: shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. What we’re seeing at the moment, is a completely different change curve to the norm; it’s protracted and heavily influenced by basic needs. People may think they’ve made it through the journey already, when in reality there is a long way to go or we’ll see a repetitive cycle.
So, what are our current basic needs? And have business leaders taken the time to identify them with their teams? Perhaps unusually, some of our most important basic needs are of a digital nature right now. People are questioning things like ‘do I have enough technology to home school and work?’ ‘Is my home set-up secure enough to enable me to still do my job?’ Maslow’s theory and the Change Curve help us to make sense of current behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic but it’s hard to determine how long this lingering state may last and what is next as we move through the subsequent phase. Hence, it is important to understand different strategies for managing change, which will form the basis for good leadership and assisting others through the transition to their new business life.
Building on wellness strategies, policies and activities has never been more vital. The leaders that forge ahead right now will be the ones that have their sights firmly set on their most valuable asset – their people. In times of crisis, leaders need to focus on engagement, motivation, physical and mental health, security and communication. In turn, they will also make progress on productivity, resilience, absenteeism and retention of staff.
Business owners are also tackling a completely different working environment. In the blink of an eye, working remotely has suddenly become mainstream. All that time spent occupied in face to face meetings is going to be questioned - could it have been dealt with during a 15-minute video conference? Tools have become far more sophisticated, with cost effective resources at our disposal. Simultaneously, we are all more disconnected and connected at the same time, whilst also learning the new etiquette of video calling as colleagues and business partners are physically isolating. If this way of working proves successful and productivity is maintained, it will no doubt become harder for employers to deny employees flexible working options in the future.
There has never been a greater incentive to invest in virtual conferences. Previously, everyone was willing to endure huge travel costs to attend. With creativity and funding now being devoted to technology, the quality of online events will rapidly evolve. Assuming travel restrictions take a long time to be fully lifted, it’s unlikely there will be the appetite to return to the old business travel model.
Testing Business Continuity Planning
This extraordinary COVID-19 shock to the system may well be the biggest test to the Business Continuity Plan (BCP). There are vital questions business leaders need to answer when planning for a crisis event and to minimise the potential impact of disaster. What if all key persons contract the virus at the same time? Can systems cope if all persons are trying to connect to the server remotely?
A carefully constructed BCP will mitigate the risks of losing important clients, keep employees engaged alongside a strong wellbeing strategy, and avoid unnecessary disruption to the business. It should prove that systems are robust enough to cope and even give certain businesses an edge over their competitors. Careful planning is especially important for SMEs, who are most at risk, since they lack the resources and income to cope easily in a crisis.
Key details to address in a BCP include vital business functions that need to continue operating, resources, descriptions of the roles of individuals and the requirement to maintain this. Considerations in planning for the next crisis event should trigger reflection, and ultimately lessons learnt. A thorough review into the BCP’s successes and failures is paramount. Analysis of each stage needs to be done to determine the probability and consequences, adding a risk management approach towards each risk. Scenario planning for those situations that were unprepared for, or undocumented, should be reflected to promote preparation for future scenarios and prevention.
Digital Transformation at Speed
In conjunction with regular business continuity management, digital solutions will play a critical role in an organisation’s response to a crisis such as COVID-19. It is essential that business leaders are prepared and build in the necessary operational resilience to survive. A strong focus should be on protecting employees, managing steady-state operations and managing growth in uncertain times. Those organisations that web-enabled their businesses are in a much better position to weather this pandemic, both in the short and long term.
“The value of digital channels, products and operations is immediately obvious to companies everywhere right now,” says Sandy Shen, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “This is a wake-up call for organisations that have placed too much focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience. Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly now, and over the long term”. In hindsight, business leaders have known this for years, but the current climate has forced this digital transformation to happen at great speed and that in itself will raise challenges and problems. It is important for business leaders not to be too reactive and still implement digital strategy and safety checks into the decision-making process.
COVID-19 will be the catalyst to push numerous digital transformations over the line, for example there are now great strides being made in digital identity verification enabling the modernisation and streamlining of the customer onboarding journey. In healthcare, the massive increase in data represents an opportunity for various data and AI specialists to develop useful solutions that will help reduce risks of contagion. From an e-commerce angle, the uplift could become permanent if people replace shop visits with online purchases. Logistic platforms are trying to match the new market circumstances by enabling retailers to scale home delivery fast. In the wellbeing landscape, firms have been turning to digital resources to support good mental health and fitness through online mindfulness courses and Apps, due to the increased demand.
The question of whether new digital solutions will generate something more lasting and profound will most likely be determined by how well a leader adapts and learns to do business at digital speed. It will also be highly governed by the ability to gain advocacy for the change within teams and develop a true understanding of the change journey that is relevant, whether it’s one of technology, people or processes. The Change and Project Management teams should be working on this now, it will be hugely detrimental to leave this work until post-crisis.
The business case to deal with a pandemic has well and truly arrived, demanding immediate action. In only a matter of weeks, the adaptation to new ways of long-distance collaboration has been impressive, with efficient deployment of new applications on public cloud or serverless infrastructure. New skills have been learnt through online marketing, business development, real-time analysis and dynamic teamwork - fundamentally changing internal workstreams. This digital space can expect similar innovations going forward. There has been wide recognition of the value of digital transformation and information technology, even amongst the self-proclaimed technophobes!
Through this tumultuous change, there is no doubt that this pandemic will have widespread and long-lasting implications, seeing a change in our understanding of ‘change’. The world is starting to adapt to its new operating model, it will be interesting to see whether business leaders can adapt at the same, undefined pace.
Marbral Advisory is a leading change management and project management specialist consultancy based in Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Portugal and Malta. Offering change and advisory services, e-Learning and training courses to help clients plan, lead, drive and embed change in their organisations.