The pandemic has been a great opportunity for radical transformation – of ourselves and our businesses. Here are some playbooks for an organisational change
Ask yourself the existential question: Why did you begin your business in the first place? What value did you deliver to customers? Are they still your customers?
Many of us have been witnessing, reading, and hearing about the massive opportunity that the post-pandemic era is unleashing. In fact, many in the industry believe, half-jokingly, that the pandemic has done much more to usher in digital transformation than all the combined efforts of vendors, CXOs, and technology honchos. After all, the pandemic has got us all scurrying home, enabling us to work endless hours, deliver incredible productivity and innovate more than ever before. Many frontline workers have been re-skilled to manage requests that come over digital platforms, whether it is from the neighborhood grocer or the restaurant around the corner. We have also learned a new way to dress: a nice shirt and a tie, over a lungi or a pair of shorts, what we proudly call the “Pandemic Collection”. Thank God we were never asked to stand up to mark our attendance. It would have been quite a photo-op.
There have been many lighter moments when the acronym ‘WFH’ has stood for many different things, including ‘work for home’. Picture the guys kneading flour furiously, whilst attending virtual meetings and debating new product plans, desperately trying to keep the pressure cooker whistles off-limits. We certainly have had interesting moments, including keeping at bay the neighborhood dogs who were vying with each other to get their bark through many a meeting. Among the many positive sides, we were all greatly relieved when our family doctors became adept at telehealth and everyone embraced it as the new way of getting treated. My own experience was very positive and the outcome great.
As our customers scramble to win in the Brave New World, a question that I am often asked is to share playbooks that one can lean on for ideas that can help serve the changing needs. This is a very profound question indeed. Many gurus have often advised that we should never miss a crisis. As we look ahead, how do we rethink our own business? What goals should we set for ourselves? Where do we begin? There are many questions that need good answers.
Revisit core purpose
Perhaps, the best place to start with is to revisit one’s own core purpose. Ask yourself the existential question: Why did you begin your business in the first place? What prompted you? As you engaged with your first set of customers, what value did you deliver to them, what did they treasure the most? Importantly, are they still your customers? Handsome is that handsome does. Over the years, you would have built many skills, as an organisation. Are those skills good enough to take you into the future? As customers embrace the digital, are you going to be left behind, left out; feeling lonely in the cold, licking your wounds, and reflecting on the past glory? Or have you arisen and awakened yourself and your teams to innovate furiously? Yes, innovate!
Many people confuse innovation with the ability to come out with a crazy idea that no one else has thought of before. There can be nothing further from the truth than this. The ability to out-execute an idea that has originated elsewhere can lead to success. The ability to commercialise this idea and take it to market is the single most important ingredient of success. Many successful innovations have been built around ideas that someone else mooted first but then became a rage, thanks to the execution efforts of folks whose names today have been written in golden letters in history books. We see what is happening in mobile phones all the time. The firm that comes up with a new feature is not necessarily the one that generates the greatest value. Others are able to market, package and communicate better, capturing a larger part of the value chain.
If we have to win the digital war, it is imperative that we double down and spend even more time with existing customers. Each one of them needs to transform.
Reflect and ponder
I also suggest that you reflect and ponder over what you have been doing over the years. Which of your solutions and processes has created a high customer impact? You would build various methodologies, frameworks, and templates that have helped you steal a march over your competitors and have been and greatly valued. What endeavors of yours have allowed you to scale, enabled you to create repeatability and differentiate? Can any of these be repurposed for the future?
Listen to the customer
There is nothing more important than being close to your customer. It is easier said than done. Even though the COVID period, organisations that have demonstrated top quartile performance continued to engage meaningfully with their customers. Smart vendors were inviting them to online webinars, bringing them into fireside chats with their own employees, and hosting regular virtual meetings, sharing ideas and best practices on an ongoing basis. I have heard many organisations lament that they were not able to have regular physical meetings with customers and had lost touch. The smarter ones were embracing digital channels as if there was no tomorrow, to “up” the game.
There is no better therapy for a business than to listen to its customers. We all know how hard it is to acquire new customers, yet are guilty of totally under-serving existing ones, particularly those that we have had for a long time. We take them for granted. If we have to win the digital war, it is imperative that we double down and spend even more time with our existing customers. Each one of them needs to transform. Whether it is their existing core processes, which are undergoing scrubby robotic process automation or new digital channels that are being built to serve customers in new ways or a re-architecture of supply chains, there is a lot of activity underway, many things under construction. Are you a part of these rapid transformation projects? Sometimes you may get overawed and think that you do not have the wherewithal to serve their needs, but on deeper introspection, you will soon realise that by re-skilling your workforce and by partnering with a set of new technology firms you could win. If you are an expert in IT infrastructure and have built data centers, you could, as a next step, partner with the hyper cloud providers to offer migration services to those very customers. There is not an iota of doubt that each of your customers will have a game plan in place to move workloads to the cloud.
OEMs that got you thus far may not be able to get you to where you want to be. Many young firms offer differentiated solutions. What you have, they do not.
It is also high time to revisit your partnerships. OEMs that have got you thus far may not be able to get you to where you want to be in the future. Many young firms are offering differentiated solutions. What you have, they do not. You have customers and market access. This is like oxygen for them. These young firms could be the perfect fit for you. Relook at your ecosystem, critically evaluate the stack that you want to build expertise in to serve your biggest and brightest customer, and get ready to make the Big Bold Moves.
The time to change is here and now!