By Hany Aly, EVP of Enterprise Business at Du

Hany Aly, EVP of Enterprise Business at Du

We’re now living in the “New Norm”, COVID is not over but we are in a world that is now being defined by COVID. What does that mean for business? For business leaders, it is a clear line in the sand where they have to make a choice about how they’re going to shape their organizations going forward. They have been forced to go beyond “business as usual” and now have to set out how they’re going to lead in this new world.  

Yet research (APCO Worldwide) on consumer perceptions in the pandemic shows that 74% of people don’t see a single company or corporate leader standing out in their COVID-19 response. I think that represents just how difficult rapid changes in the business environment can be for leaders. When lockdowns and quarantines were put in place in early 2020, there was no playbook for getting it right and it has been challenging to show leadership when there are so few answers to share with employees, customers and partners. 

In a crisis, businesses are supposed to be as transparent as possible. Business leaders should set out an action plan to get them through the crisis. With COVID-19, that has been very difficult. There have been too many uncertainties and no clear path forward for most businesses.   

As we see fluidity in action with the easing of guidelines and lockdowns in many parts of the world, and a return to lockdown in others, there is an opportunity to look at how we are going to lead our businesses into the future and find their new normal. I like to see this as not just a restart, but a reimagining of business culture, communication and short- and long-term priorities.

Here are five things that I think business leaders should prioritize post-COVID:

1.    Your Digital Future is Now

Before COVID-19, McKinsey Digital reported that 92% of companies thought their business models would need to change to become digitalized. What started off as gradual digital transformation has to accelerate. Digital platforms and services combined with robust IT security enable businesses to pivot, adapt and operate in distributed environments seamlessly. If it can be digitalized, it should be digitalized. Creating a foundation for long-term transformation will deliver dividends for many years to insulate businesses from future unexpected events.

2.    People Define Digital Journeys

At the same time, empowering workers with the right skills to adapt goes hand in hand with the transformation of technologies. You can’t have one without the other.

Business leaders should prioritize staff and organizational transformation, with special focus on rolling out virtual upskilling programs to prepare them for business in the new world. Equipping employees with an understanding of digital principles such as automation, online collaboration, cloud-based technology and cyber security give business the tools to succeed in a digital world. If a business is going on a digital journey, its important to make sure its people are along for the ride.

3.    It Isn’t Working from Home. It is Working from Anywhere

Flexibility is now a must-have and something that employees now expect. This requires leaders to really study what makes their teams tick and understand when and how to bring them together. I’ve spoken to software development teams that have thrived during lockdown. They’re productive, happier and engaged with their work. The challenge is to ensure cohesion with the wider teams and underline a shared mission. We might be working from anywhere, but businesses need to bring everyone together with shared purpose.

4.    Listening Instead of Just Waiting to Talk

Over the next six months, I think there needs to be a lot of listening happening within businesses. Employees have been living in stressful situations and the entire world has a collective wait on our shoulders. Business leaders have to listen to employees, understand their changing needs and communicate with empathy and compassion. Employees stay engaged when they feel cared for. Make the next move for the business a collaborative effort that engages all stakeholders and brings the organization together.

5.    Adaptability. Be Ready to Change then Change Again

Unexpected events are going to happen again and again. Unfortunately, we’ll need to plan for “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” well into the future. COVID-19 can be seen as a starting point for planning to manage risk in new ways and explore opportunities to insulate businesses from disruption. I see business planning for fluid future where they have numerous “Options” for getting out of difficult situations and pivoting to serve new target audiences or moving business to new locations or online. No more scenario A and scenario B. The challenges and changes will be continual.  The ability to pivot and deploy resources quickly will be the new competitive advantage.   

Overall, I recommend that business leaders use the back half of 2020 to explore their business’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to assess things that they believe are “sure things” in their business and model what happens when that assumption is no longer true. They could ask employees to do some creative exercise to look at the future of the business and where they think it should go. Ask them about resilience and what makes a team work even when working remotely.

Even though we can’t predict the future, we can engage our employees, explore who we really are as a business, and use this as an opportunity to create businesses that are built to thrive amid uncertainty. If we’re not moving forward, we’re not in the game.