As the pandemic’s impact settles across our world and morphs from crisis to a chronic condition, real differences are emerging between organisations and their performance to date.
History shows how, amongst the carnage of major disruptions, many of the most successful companies in the years that followed were the ones who had the capability and agility to spot and then build for newly emerging opportunities.
So, what are the tell-tale signs of the well-adapted and perhaps the reverse in the Covid era?
A simple test is to look at where management focus is. Has the organisational focus been able to progress from the hygiene factors required to meet the essential functions to operate, and to move up the pyramid of needs to ones of considering opportunity and the future?
- Many are stuck at the bottom because their infrastructure has not been able to adapt
- Others are in the foothills because they haven’t had the control systems necessary to manage a newly dispersed workforce
- Some have been able to adapt rapidly to a new operating model and are already configuring for the future.
At the most basic level, some organisations have really struggled because so many of their delivery systems are not suitable for dispersing to remote locations. Legacy systems only accessible via mainframe terminal emulations, constraints on VPN or workflow and processing systems where security and validation requirements all make operation outside the corporate infrastructure really, really hard. In India, where there was a direct and immediate prohibition on being in offices, it meant some operations had to close completely and have been struggling to recover ever since. Others, however, already operated to a virtualised environment, some had business continuity plans involving laptops and remote working as a solution, and were able to be up and operating with relatively little drama after the first few days.
Beyond enabling your processes to operate and the people to operate them, the biggest challenge has been knowing what’s happening operationally. How much work do you have right now, who are busy and where do you have surplus capacity? When your employees are dispersed, how do your team leaders know what’s going on when their systems and processes for control relied on their presence and experience? Here there are some huge differences with some organisations only operating on a patchwork of lag information from incomplete data sources after weeks of lockdown. By contrast there are other organisations whose control system of work and capacity was data-led, structured, and robust enough to not miss a beat as the resources and the processes were reconfigured.
As processes become established and basic control over work and capacity is in place, attention then turns to risk as new and sudden changes inevitably bring exposure. There are the fundamentals required to secure and sustain well-established compliance requirements, but the winners are the companies able to invest time and expertise to identify and counter the as yet un-recognised threats and issues flowing from the rapid transition. When books are written about the great failures of the Covid Crisis, you don’t want to be the case study!
We see already how the pandemic is changing perceptions of team effectiveness and location. International travel is unlikely to be a casual affair, few are missing the daily scrum of a daily commute and early consideration of the practicalities of health and safety requirements are daunting for any business. Firms operating in control are now considering what it means for their people and the world of work. What is it about the new order that can shape and amplify purpose, provide challenge development and growth for individuals? If health and safety regulations preclude the water cooler moment, what are the ways groups can associate and provide the camaraderie or performance that high performing teams deliver? There are both challenges and opportunities ahead and some companies are already working on their roadmap for the future.
David Brailsford rewrote British cycling history based on his approach of targeting every 1% marginal gain he could identify. Presciently, one of these even included hiring a surgeon to teach the team how to wash their hands and reduce the chances of catching a cold. Targeting the 1% sounds great but, organisations have to have a high level of control capability to identify and realise these. To achieve results emulating Zara and their clothing supply chain or mirror other miracles of logistical optimisation, the precision of control required to make these work is incredibly demanding. Ultimately optimisation is the elimination of contingent capacity such that your organisation is delivering the best result it can within current constraints. The winners are out there – working on the 1%, but there are many others carrying 15 – 20% contingent capacity just to survive the ebbs and flows of normal operations. They can target the one percent but like a golfing novice spending a fortune on expensive clubs, getting the basics right is still the biggest challenge for the vast majority of operations.
Then there are the organisations who have the platforms from which paradigm shifts in markets or technologies can be built. These are the companies with the level of control which gives them the brain-space to identify opportunities and the focus to make them possible.
Is there a common thread across the winners? Evolution and history both reinforce the message that when the environment is shifting rapidly, situational awareness is the single most valuable commodity. Timely, accurate data and a coherent, forward-looking decision-making process is a consistent feature in organisations thriving amongst the noise.
We see organisations at all stages of their ascent of this pyramid. If you’re still in the foothills watching your peers in other companies approach the summit, then it’s time to invest to accelerate your journey.