Shift

FUTURE NORMAL

by Kevin Abraham

I’m sure that I’m not alone in trawling the internet looking for well-informed useful insights into business strategy coming out of Corona. Not surprisingly, planning for immediate survival is a priority for most organizations. But there is also a need to think about how the Corona moment will affect our thinking as businesses going forward. A lot has been said, but I’ve drawn almost exclusively on an article by Dina Gerdeman, for HBS, which has asked business academics how they see the ways in which Corona will affect business thinking in the future. Here are some of the concepts, which I hope will serve to open the floor to further discussion. It is by no means a comprehensive list:

Develop trust-based cultures:

There is going to be a critical need to inform strategic initiatives to deal with serious execution challenges. One of the key repositories for that kind of insight is the workforce itself. If the organization’s culture is such that company leaders are unwilling, or unable to hear the voices of their workers, serious strategic mistakes are more likely. So this is a time when senior management should be thinking about how to develop, or improve a “we are listening” culture, which encourages input from the people on the ground.

“The coronavirus challenge, like any crisis, provides senior management a huge opportunity to develop a trust-based culture rapidly or, conversely, if not handled with an organization-wide honest conversation, to undermine their ability to develop a trust-based culture for years to come.” [Michael Beer]

Help customers to be more helpful:

Corona has highlighted the old adage that organizations can do better if they create conditions where customers are able to be more helpful. There has been a surge of communication from organizations engaging in matters Corona. There will be an opportunity to build a greater sense of partnership between the company and its customers.

It is likely to require more engagement with a view to  “Identifying concrete ways in which customers can be helpful, providing clear instructions about what they can do, and designing transparency into why their partnership will make a positive difference for everyone involved…” [R.W. Bluell]

Remote work will become strategic:

I recently wrote that one of the consequences of Corona would be the disruption to business travel, and face to face business meetings. As a response, companies would have a greater appetite for remote business engagement. In addition to that, we have seen an unprecedented move towards working remotely. This is going to be one of the key changes that business and service providers will need to incorporate into their planning going forward, not least because it has all kinds of benefits. It will require some organizational restructuring, though:

“[Successful] remote companies have well-established processes where people are socializing and no one is feeling isolated and falling through the cracks.”  [P. Choudhury]

Remote teams work together creatively: 

An interesting idea coming out of remote working is a shift away from centralized structures to much more flexible, decentralized systems where teams can be set up quickly, with relevant expertise, from different locations, as particular challenges arise. “It is unprecedented to have a large cohort of people all over the world start working remotely at the same moment. This current case is even more remarkable because it is moving so quickly. Businesses may be able to …act in more agile ways, as a result.” [Amy C. Edmondson]

Standard operating practice will change:

History shows us that practices taken up during serious disruptions are likely to continue afterwards if they improve SOP. We’ve already seen a drastic reduction in travel, increase in work from home, and other changes that may remain in place after Corona has ended. [Joseph B. Fuller:]

Supply chain managers will need to rethink controls:

If it has been previously enough for supply chain managers to focus their attention one or two levels down the track it is likely that there will be far greater responsibility for implementing systems and disciplines to track and control more deeply into the chain.

Flaws in the way supply is managed has been a key issue emanating from the widespread disruptions caused by Corona. “The surprising length and complexity of many supply chains will be illuminated…” along with their inadequacies. [Stephen P. Kaufman]

“The magnitude of the shock means after they recover from the chaos, many will start thinking about diversifying their risk and trying to develop alternatives in other countries.” [Willy C. Shih]

Employees and buildings will be healthier:

Corona has brought environment and hygiene into sharp relief. The heightened awareness of elements affecting health and wellbeing, are likely to drive demand for systems that can cope. This has already resulted in social adjustment, but could also lead to physical changes to the workplace.

Buildings will need to become healthier, and more protective of the people inside them:

“Building owners (and their investors and lenders) in all sectors will have to both outfit their buildings to measure components of public health and also respond to their occupants doing their own assessments.” [John Macomber]

The best leaders will break out of silos and improve workplace culture:

Corona has made it clear that business has a stake in contributing to problem solving outside the ambit of their particular enterprises. It could take on many forms. Stimulus to drive the growth of more local and regional suppliers for example, or engaging in providing solutions to inadequacies of public health, Internet access, education, and so on.

“Companies with the strongest stakeholder and partner orientations are best able to survive and transcend crises, because they can plan together, gain local knowledge from each other, and draw on good will to get back to business quickly when the crisis abates. Civic engagement and social responsibility [must] go from nice-to-have to essential.” [Rosabeth Moss Kanter]

Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal, writing for Mckinsey, describe Corona as a schism that defines a break between the period before and the new normal that will emerge in the post-viral era: the “next normal.” They believe that there will be “a dramatic restructuring of the economic and social order in which business and society have traditionally operated.” A little intense, but whatever the future holds, the shock to business brought about by Corona is huge, and will certainly change the way business thinks about business. Perhaps we should be discussing what that might look like, sooner rather than later.

[Acknowledgement: How the Coronavirus Is Already Rewriting the Future of Business. D. Gerdeman. Beyond coronavirus: The path to the next normal. Sneader and Singhai]

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