The pandemic has shaken things up and jolted us out of our comfort zones. With the world seemingly turned upside-down and our routines thoroughly disrupted, it’s no surprise that we are rethinking the many big things in our lives – from the way we live and work to the role of our companies. Driven by either necessity or inspiration (or a combination), individuals as well as organisations are seizing the moment to pivot.
So, this week, my message focuses on reinvention in the times of coronavirus. What can business leaders do to retool their organizations? Given that polarization and disruption will be pervasive, what can we do to remain relevant and thrive?
The business environment feels threatening and unpredictable – even though the need of the hour is to take risks and explore unchartered territory.
While the pandemic has opened up a unique window for reinvention, it has also made it more challenging. The business environment feels threatening and unpredictable, which can trigger conservative thinking – even though the need of the hour is to take risks and explore unchartered territory. In a personal capacity, too, you may find yourself struggling to balance the ‘need to survive’ (dealing with financial uncertainty, caring for loved ones) with the ‘desire to thrive’ (making significant changes in your behaviours).
Still, those who manage to overcome these obstacles and strike out in a renewed direction are often richly rewarded. Take the example of Netflix during the last global recession. At the low point of the downturn in 2009, the then-DVD-rental company introduced a brand-new service: unlimited streaming. They quickly gained 3 million subscribers – and the rest is history. In fact, back in 2009, a Kauffman Foundation study found that more than half of the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list were launched during a recession or bear market. Which means that even in today’s environment, many companies will leverage this volatility to leapfrog the rest.
Even putting aside the prospect of a big future payoff, companies still need to reinvent themselves – just to stay in the game. With ‘pivot or perish’ as the current mantra, the need for rapid transformation has never been more pressing. Here are seven recommendations for leaders seeking to reposition their business during this time of tumult.
1. Map the journey
In an excellent piece, noted global author and strategist, James Allen lays some useful steps that you can consider. As James mentions,
Create a small group of highly trusted leaders to scope out the direction and the outstanding issues. Accept the ideas and challenges of outsiders, including the most trusted customers and partners. Then map the journey (the direction of travel and the unknown parts that require testing), set the compass (the values that guide them) and agree on the fellow travellers (the who, when and how of bringing others into the process).
2. Hone in on emergent needs and behaviours
Some of your products and services have likely seen a sharp reduction in demand. In coming months, they might even become obsolete. At the same time, fresh needs are emerging among consumers around health and safety and social and environmental purpose. When looking to generate breakthrough solutions, work towards redefining value around these core concerns.
3. Look closely at the world around you
In order to identify new markets, perhaps even shape them, you need to observe the marketplace closely. Tune in to the conversation and listen to what customers, partners, co-workers and industry peers are talking about. What are the new problems that need solving? Where are the gaps? With digital engagement at an all-time high, there are so many ways to get in touch with the on-the-ground realities of your industry. Make the most of them.
4. Carve out thinking time
Dedicate time in your calendar for reflection, ideation and brainstorming – on your own, as well as with colleagues. Yes, it will be tough with everything else that’s going on right now, but reinvention demands focused time and effort. Use these hours to step out of the same-old familiar frameworks and dream up big, bold ideas. Push your thinking beyond what is to what could be.
5. Repurpose existing resources
With current budget limitations and resource crunches, the ability to reimagine and redeploy is key. In an article for Medium, Navi Radjou, leadership advisor and co-author of Jugaad Innovation, says that more than a fancy new business model, what you need is a new mental model – one of frugal and agile innovation. Drawing lessons from the popular Indian concept of jugaad, Radjou explains why this mindset is uniquely suited to the COVID-19 crisis:
Jugaad is a Hindi word meaning the ingenious ability to develop rapidly a simple and effective solution with limited means in a situation of constraints. Jugaad is creative resilience that transforms adversity into an opportunity.
Do you have existing offerings or capabilities that could be leveraged to meet new needs? Making the best use of what’s already available is at the heart of frugal innovation. While there are numerous examples of manufacturing plants being adapted to make sanitisers and ventilators, don’t forget that expertise can also be repurposed.
6. Explore partnerships
Reinvention could entail co-creation with partners, especially for smaller and more specialised businesses. Consider the possibility of combining competences to build something new together. This is a great way of making the pie bigger for everyone involved.
In order to maximise the value of your knowledge and capabilities, Radjou advises separating the ‘know’ from the ‘how’ – a good first step to imagining new collaborations.
For instance, if you used to sell food and beverage products, you can leverage your deep knowledge of nutrition to build a digital platform that enables agrifood entrepreneurs to create and sell online high-nutrition products to your health-conscious customers. And if you are a transportation firm, rather than continue moving people and objects with your own assets, you can use your supply chain expertise to help other companies optimize their logistics networks.
7. Don’t snap back to your old ways
Many companies that I have spoken to have found new levels of energy, flexibility and collaboration in the organization. Many leaders are discovering that their organizations can now do things in a matter of weeks that used to take months or even years. They have found it liberating to shed some of the bureaucratic processes and unnecessary meetings. Many companies are experimenting much more. New behaviours are being forged. As we look forward, do lock in some of the changes that you have made and make this renewed agility the new way of working.
Whether reinvention is a choice or a necessity, there has never been a better moment to retool our organisations. Use this time wisely to redefine the direction for your firm. Prioritize the key areas that you want to focus on. And commit to moving forward and quickly, to emerge stronger.