We’ve seen so many articles, videos, infographics, frameworks, opinions and editorials on how to ‘survive and thrive’, or ‘pivot’ during a crisis. But I’m hearing one question echoing through virtual conference rooms now: “How did we do in five weeks what would typically take us five years?”.
In some organisations, new customer communities and remote contact centres have been stood up in days, interactive self-assessment tools have been built and integrated with hospital systems, thousands of new employees have been on-boarded in a week. Engineers and academics have collaborated to reverse-engineer existing health devices and design new ones for fast 3D printing.
And we saw clothing producers make scrubs or distilleries make sanitiser. Both might sound small, but they’re significant – some of these are small businesses that launched to market completely new products based on demand at lightning speed. The yoga studios that offered online classes within days despite a lack of ecommerce experience – they diversified their income streams and formed relationships with entirely new customer bases.
The challenge now is to find the incredible projects or innovations in your organisation, and harness the new behaviours, processes and ways of operating that took them from ‘impossible’ to ‘done’.
Here’s how to find the goodness, capture it and use it to accelerate to growth post-pandemic.
1. Communicate the importance of looking back
In the haste surrounding recovery efforts, it will be so easy for your team to overlook this important retrospective process. So start talking about it now and encourage your team to think about where they have seen incredible achievement within the company or outside it.
Share with them examples of other companies’ and communities’ achievements to get them started on thinking about this, from the big ones – launching remote service centres, reverse-engineering ventilators – to the small ones – selling sanitiser, launching online yoga.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards.”
Make sure there are examples that match your company’s size, and possibly even some from your industry, and talk about the impact of these initiatives on the companies and their communities beyond ‘they answered service calls’ and ‘they sold sanitiser’. What did these changes mean in the moment? What do they mean for the future of that company?
2. Invest time and a senior leader
The importance of this initiative will be reflected by who owns it. You’ve done the hard work of getting the team invested in the project at step one but to relegate it to a junior team member now would dilute the impact it could have – and would communicate that the findings will not necessarily be heard by leadership.
Appoint an executive sponsor, ask for a plan and monitor progress in leadership meetings.
3. Use a retrospective framework
Use a retrospective framework to determine what worked, how it was different and who made the difference.
What processes were circumvented, ignored or consciously deleted, and what new processes were used?
What new tools were used and what old tools were left behind?
Who collaborated, how did they collaborate and why did the collaboration work?
Importantly, understand any new risk that may have arisen as a result of the different ways of working, and ask whether those different ways of working are sustainable – were they just the right approach for a time of crisis but too risky for business as usual? Don’t be too coy here – really push to make sure the risks are real and not just uncomfortable.
4. Celebrate the wins and the heroes along the way
Set a regular schedule for yourself to celebrate heroes as they’re discovered. Your project team will be asking various people for information along the way about what they achieved and how, so it’s important to keep everyone’s interest. Whether it’s in a weekly all-hands call or on the all-company chat, highlight those who’ve tried new ways of working or taken risks, whether they’re in your teams or they’re your partners and suppliers.
5. Codify the goodness
To make sure the new behaviours that enabled your team to move mountains continue in the post-pandemic era, they need to become part of your organisation’s processes and be embedded in the culture of the business.
“Comfort and growth will never co-exist.”
It will be tempting to just keep going. It will be tempting to celebrate the achievements – the ‘what’ – but still to get straight back to the old processes and behaviours – forgetting the ‘how’. Forgetting about how the amazing changes occured carries risk that competitors will harness their teams’ new abilities and accelerate to growth.
So take the time to consider how you make decisions, how you work, how you engage with your customers and suppliers, and how you serve society, all to make the most of the incredible work your team has done in difficult circumstances and to set your business up for growth.
Jackie Cook is Senior Director, Transformation Advisor at Salesforce.
The work.com COVID-19 Response Playbook guides leaders through a phased approach to stabilising and reopening a business, and accelerating towards growth.