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Binomial is an innovation consulting firm helping clients be disruption-ready

The Coronavirus has halted business-as-usual, but is there a silver lining in this? (Part 2)

Tay Kae Fong

April 1, 2020

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

As this is written, countries around the world are struggling to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic with many imposing travel restrictions and border controls. Companies have implemented work-from-home arrangements, while governments are working out massive stimulus packages to deal with the economic fallout. What might leaders do to stay ahead?

Previous part: Part 1 (Getting out of the crisis together)

Part 2: Be first out of the gates

What would you do if you had all the time in the world? Well, you kinda do now … with BAU slowing down, don’t miss this opportunity to leap ahead.

lapsing light on the road at night
Photo by Jean Gerber on Unsplash

Stay ahead of the rest

At this point, the consensus is that we will get over this pandemic, and it is a question of when. On the business front, we expect a downturn or recession in the coming months, but if your business makes it through, consider this:

What if you could be first out the gates when the recovery starts, and reap the benefits of the pent-up demand?

In the past, many of our clients lamented that they cannot find the time or manpower to focus on the innovation, strategic planning or branding work that they agree are paramount to their long-term success.

89% of US and UK executives said that innovation is “as important, if not more important, than cost reduction to their company’s ability to achieve future growth”.

Yet, the enemy as we’ve been made to believe is business-as-usual (BAU) — Everyone is too busy getting BAU stuff done to think about the future.

With BAU slowing down, don’t make the mistake of just hunkering down till the crisis is over. It’s not enough to survive, you want to thrive when markets start to regain momentum. Companies that use the downturn to go beyond cutting costs to also focus on innovation are the ones to thrive afterwards.

During the 2008 financial crisis, American Express went beyond cost-cutting to invest in its loyalty program and embrace digital technology, amongst other innovations, and its stock has risen more than 1,000% in the decade since then.

In short, when the pent-up demand drives the rebound, you want to be ready to take advantage of the spike and stay ahead of the rest.

team working together at office
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Long-term strategic plan + short-term execution plan

To stay ahead, you need to plan ahead. This is a good time to review (or define) your long-term strategy towards your BHAG, key must-wins in the mid-term, and objectives to prioritise in the short-term.

Clarity around future plans will show immediate returns in terms of helping your people make sense of their work, especially since many are working from home without the easy opportunities to have the short in-person conversations, ask quick questions, or do check-ins with their leaders.

Apart from ensuring everyone is pulling in the right direction, communicating the plans can also keep morale high and help the team see beyond the current doom and gloom.

With the strategic plans in place, execution plans can then be drawn up more easily. We like the Objectives & Key Results (OKR) methodology which is enjoying a resurgence thanks to John Doerr’s efforts and book. It is a trackable system that allows for aspirational objectives . More importantly, it ladders up (and down) to connect and align the entire organisation.

a pen laying on an open notebook
Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui on Unsplash

Invest in the right innovation

Cost-cutting is not carte blanche for pausing everything, even if there may be a strong urge to be conservative. If your goal is to be the first out of the gates, then you need to be innovating and planning for that scenario.

At Binomial, we look at innovations by whether they are evolutionary (refinements) or revolutionary (moves the needle), and whether they are front or back-end innovations.

Front-end innovations focus on better addressing customers’ Jobs to be Done with your products, services, customer experience, and business model. It’s about getting immersed in your customers’ world to create a better offer for them.

Back-end innovation is the domain of digital transformation to increase organisation productivity and effectiveness. In this current crisis, it’s also pressing to relook at your supply chain to build more robustness into this area.

Finally, there is the upskilling of staff, a perennial favourite during downturns. With learning and development, relevance is key and we encourage companies to combine that learning with doing.

stickers sticked on the canvas
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

And when it comes to combining learning with doing, consider setting up an innovation program. This may sound counterintuitive because most companies set up innovation programs during good times, and shut them down when the going gets tough and shareholder pressure increases.

However, we think now’s a great time to innovate and be disruption-ready. And it doesn’t have to be difficult. You can start small with a short-term innovation project, or go big with an innovation lab or accelerator program.

a man standing and staring at the night sky
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Good for business, good for the planet

Finally, we think the slowdown is a great time to think about the bigger picture of how your business can create a positive impact on people and the planet. The crisis has shown how fragile our interconnected world can be and that business is only part of what’s important.

While we’re facing a medical crisis this time, it won’t be long before we face an environmental crisis (if we’re not already facing some aspect of it), so let’s take the opportunity to find more responsible ways to grow when the good times return.

We hope our thoughts have been helpful for you to view the current crisis in perspective. The next 12 months will undoubtedly be difficult, though we hope the medical crisis will peak soon with the various measures in place and recovery on all fronts will commence soon.

How to thrive in the post-covid new normal?

Download our free Report analysing the New Normal after the coronavirus crisis and understand what changes are here to stay, so you can plan accordingly.

The free Report will cover:

  • Three changes that we think are here to stay after the COVID-19 crisis
  • Case studies of what other forward-looking companies are doing
  • A leader's guide to our four-step process to stay ahead
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