The theologian William Ellery Channing once described the struggles of human advancement by asserting that “difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage”. He was referring to the attitude one must embody to tackle some of history’s greatest global challenges: slavery, poverty, and war. Despite this sentiment being over 150 years old, I witnessed a similar conviction from modern-day business leaders when faced with extraordinary and unparalleled adversity in the last 18 months.
It became clear when I interviewed business and technology leaders for our State of Recovery Report that all of our commentators had faced similar challenges - but also learnt similar lessons. The most remarkable aspect of my time speaking to those who steered their organisations through this testing time was the resounding tone of optimism and anticipation. Regardless of their job title, organisation, or industry, the rousing determination of these business leaders to recognise and seize new opportunities made it evident that it was attitude, not digital capability, that was the catalyst for immense growth.
As seen in the word cloud above, people were at the front and centre of organisational resilience. So what of the state of recovery going forward? What will the next 18 months hold? This was summarised best by one of our commentators herself: “the optimism is palpable.”
Here are the top 5 lessons learnt from the business leaders I spoke to this year. Find out more in the State of Recovery Report here.
LESSON #1: CUSTOMERS ARE NUMBER ONE... AND THEY DON'T HAVE TO BE RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.
Many of our commentators believed that refocusing organisational strategies and priorities around the consumer separated the winners and the losers of the pandemic.
“The biggest lesson we have learnt from the past 18 months is to pivot and embrace change. We are asking 'are we replicating, or entering into new trends or are we trying to push a message or certain products?' The focus is now to offer consumers the products that are relevant and what they need at that time.” Nora Zukauskaite, Marketing Director, Ciaté London, Skin Proud and Lottie London
“The pandemic has made sure we ensure everything starts with our consumer and end-user, that we are understanding the problem that we are trying to solve.” Tarv Nijjar, Global Director AI & Digital Strategic Initiatives, Mars
“We now have a renewed focus on audience products and ensuring resilience for these products. Ensuring we are understanding the new ways our consumers consume content, such as appointment to view, and actively reacting and influencing those platforms to make them more relevant and relatable.” Architecture leader, large media company
LESSON #2: WE HAVE A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF BUSINESS RESILIENCE.
Business resilience has always been in the corporate vocabulary, but its true meaning has taken on a different form post-pandemic. Rather than the digital capability of a business defining the resiliency of an organisation, it is people who define the efficacy of these resources.
“Moving forward, it’s now about building on the learnt resilience of the last 18 months and at scale and at pace, to ensure we make the most of any opportunities.” Amanda Howard, Chief Commercial Officer, Medichecks
“To me, business resilience means how businesses respond to challenges in the future by understanding and pre-empting them. Whether it is business, social, political, or cybersecurity challenges, there is a necessity to understand the scale and complexity. We need to ask, are we prepared for these changes? What is working and what’s not?” Global technology leader, international bank
“For me, business resilience is the ability to recognise and act on opportunities as they arise which crosses financial, operational, strategic and psychological lenses, with the most important of these being the psychological. Culture and mindset can resist even the greatest of delivery in the other three facets.” Kate Bohn, Former Accelerator and Incubator Lead, Lloyds Banking Group
LESSON #3: WE ARE PRIORITISING DIGITAL CAPABILITY AND APPRECIATING IT AS AN ENABLER.
88% of State of Recovery Report respondents agreed or strongly agreed that digital maturity was directly linked to how quickly their organisation was able to respond to the impacts of the pandemic. All of our commentators explained how digital transformation has been on their radar for some time, but the urgency of this process increased with an understanding that these changes were essential and compulsory; as opposed to interesting side projects.
“The number one lasting effect of the pandemic on organisations is the move towards digital-first – whether that’s delivering services, products, or ways of working. The way we work has changed forever as we have proved that we can work and deliver, at pace, remotely.” Amanda Howard, Chief Commercial Officer, Medichecks
“We have learnt the need to truly embrace technology. It was all available before, but not embraced. We needed the pandemic. We were forced to push consumers to be digital consumers. We pivoted and embraced change by quickly amending our marketing/ channel strategies to digital.” Nora Zukauskaite, Marketing Director, Ciaté London, Skin Proud and Lottie London
“Digital retailing is becoming the norm. The successful retailers of the future will allow the consumers to shop in any way that works for them – on and offline working seamlessly and in sync with each other. What’s important is making it possible for everyone to do every job online or offline, where they choose. This will increase sales, improve ROI and profitability, and begin future-proofing businesses.” Nick King, Research and Insight Director, Auto Trader
“There has been a change in culture right from the top. A culture of collaboration, honesty, integrity, customer service, and leading by example. There is also an appreciation for the value that IT can have on organisations. As businesses have relied on tech to provide communication channels, every company is undergoing the transformation, whether business or digital transformation.” Global technology leader, international bank
LESSON #4: CHANGE CAN BE A CATALYST FOR DIGITAL ACCELERATION.
The speed of digital transformation was not only remarkable but noted as unparalleled in recent history. Many of the commentators interviewed were surprised by the agility of their organisations when push came to shove. Digital transformation timelines seem to have been fundamentally questioned, with projects usually expecting to take years or months implemented in mere weeks. The abnormal circumstances of the pandemic were the catalyst that ignited long-standing dysfunctions and chinks within the armour of organisations.
“Innovation in the digital healthcare space was fast-tracked by the need to deliver change at pace. Working as a cross-functional agile team, we developed an end-to-end digital experience in 2 weeks and ramped up our manufacturing and fulfilment operation.” Amanda Howard, Chief Commercial Officer, Medichecks
“The construction industry desperately needs a kick in the digital transformation area. The pandemic has forced this journey. Being in the office meant there was no urgency for good digital tools. We are now beginning to change a lot of systems, but it is a complex problem.” Pedro Rente Lourenco, Lead Data Scientist, Laing O’Rourke
“We were already on a good roadmap when it comes to digital transformation with a massive change in big data, AI, and different areas of digital transformation already in process. But the pandemic has forced us to go at a faster speed, accelerating this roadmap.” Tarv Nijjar, Global Director AI & Digital Strategic Initiatives, Mars
“Many of the changes caused by the pandemic have revealed opportunities for the better, and we are now refining our ways of working even further, as we look ahead to the future. Continued flexibility, agility and innovation is now key to coming out of this pandemic stronger and as more resilient service providers, employers and employees than we were before.” Stacey Hill, Director of Operations, Sky Connect
LESSON #5: PEOPLE ARE OUR MOST IMPORTANT ASSET, AND CULTURE EATS STRATEGY FOR BREAKFAST.
Transforming people management was the number one focus on organisational change, beating that of digital transformation. With all the successes and progress highlighted, all of our commentators acknowledged that they were driven by one thing: people.
“I think the main element the organisation had to particularly manage was the human one. It is not easy to feel part of a team when you’re not seeing people, and motivation could be difficult to maintain. There has been a lot of work done on the people management side, and so far results are great.” Alessandra Grossi, Global Process and Technology Optimisation, Pfizer
"Daily team stand-ups, monthly communications sessions, team awards, Friday feeling quiz, social session support by our internal ‘vibe’ team. We also listened to staff – we have done our first company-wide engagement survey with an external agency and have listened to our staff about what they want around remote working, learning and development and giving back.” Amanda Howard, Chief Commercial Officer, Medichecks
“We have introduced regular and targeted employee surveys that have helped to inform our leadership team of how people are coping, what their needs are, and how they feel we should remain agile during the pandemic, which has been really important. We have ensured that our internal communication channels have been consistent throughout, amplifying trust and transparency, clearly communicating support tools, and showing gratitude and celebrating successes. We have focused on being visible and present leaders, even from home. I’m really proud of the resilience of our staff during a really challenging period and the optimism we all have for the future.” Stacey Hill, Director of Operations, Sky Connect
Want to discover more about organisations’ journeys to post-pandemic recovery? You can download the report here.
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