How innovative thinking can help managers lead companies out of a crisis

  • The pandemic’s impact on management
  • Challenging times call for remarkable innovations
  • Visions and predictions for the future of management
  • Closing thoughts

From the start of the imposed lockdowns and social distancing measures, organisation’s leaders have had to find ways to manage staff members working remotely from home, using technologies for video-conferencing, virtual documents and many other kinds of tech. Could company leaders – having discovered that remote work can actually be more productive than working from shared brick and mortar offices – be more open to innovation in order to protect their companies from future disruptions once the pandemic subsides?

The pandemic’s impact on management

From the start of the pandemic, leaders and managers have been forced to adjust their priorities and expectations in accordance with the new developments. According to a recent survey of business executives conducted by Textio, 90 per cent of respondents said that the pandemic has made them more thoughtful about how they communicate with their teams. Furthermore, nearly half of respondents said that supporting their team was now their top priority. While some of the changes brought about by the pandemic will likely only be temporary, others – like remote work, for example – are almost certain to remain a permanent feature of the work environment moving forward, forcing companies to rethink their operations and accelerate their digitalisation efforts. In fact, as many as 75 per cent of executive leaders are already investing in technology to ensure that their teams are connected, reveals a recent KPMG survey. About 70 per cent of respondents said they were redesigning their offices and expanding work from home policies, while 80 per cent were reevaluating their corporate purpose. To respond adequately to the demands of the new, increasingly remote workplace, leaders will have to adopt innovative technologies like artificial intelligence, IoT, cloud, and blockchain, enabling their companies to prosper in the post-pandemic period.

Challenging times call for remarkable innovations

When disaster strikes, it’s largely up to leaders to take up the responsibility and come up with the solutions to challenges their companies are facing. Here’s some interesting examples of innovations that saved the day.

Pivot your business

Like most apps that are free to use, the world’s leading digital streaming platform Spotify also depends on advertising for a significant portion of its revenue. So, once businesses decided to cut their advertising budgets due to the pandemic, Spotify had a serious problem to deal with. Thankfully, the solution practically presented itself. With people largely stuck at home due to nationwide lockdowns, the company realised that the best way to address the shortfall in revenue and attract new users was to pivot to a new business model, signing exclusive deals with numerous celebrities to offer their podcasts through the Spotify platform.

Recognise new opportunities

The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly harsh on the travel industry, which was practically brought to a standstill with numerous safety restrictions that have been implemented to reduce the spread of the virus. The vacation rental company Airbnb, for instance, saw the number of new listings drop by nearly 80 per cent at one point. To help its hosts – for many of whom their homes represent the main source of revenue – survive this difficult period, Airbnb decided to implement certain short-term measures, including two separate funds to help cover some of their costs. Recognising an upcoming shift in demand and people’s growing need to shelter in place, the company also introduced a new feature that allows guests to book a place for a whole month or even longer. This turned out to be a great idea, as long-term stays now account for almost 50 per cent of all bookings on Airbnb.

Reposition for future growth

As more and more businesses switched to remote work to keep their workers safe, the demand for digital communication tools like Zoom and Slack skyrocketed. To respond adequately to this sudden increase in demand, Slack decided to expand its online training tools and launch live, personalised assistance to help make the transition to remote working for their new clients a smooth experience. “COVID-19 has created an opportunity for us and others to become more agile, to take on changes that once seemed daunting, to reimagine organisational culture, to rethink work plans and productivity, to learn from and rapidly correct mistakes, and to reposition for future growth,” says Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield. “Perhaps most important, Slack has refocused on our core goal – to help our customers work more efficiently and more productively.”

Visions and predictions for the future of management

The coronavirus pandemic has forced managers and leaders across the world to embrace digital technology. “It’s not about the tech industry in its narrow sense – it’s digital tech becoming much more pervasive across all industries and entrepreneurial activity getting that amplification because of software and digital tech,” explains Satya Nadella, chief executive officer at Microsoft. “Digital technology is becoming core to both how we think about resilience and business continuity as well as bringing about that next level productivity change and gain efficiencies across the industry.”

To help their companies survive the crisis and thrive in the new normal, leaders will need to stay calm and adopt a positive attitude. “Never in our lifetimes has the power of imagination been more important in defining our immediate future,” says Jim Loree, CEO of Stanley Black & Decker. “Leaders need to seize the opportunity to inspire and harness the imagination of their organisations during this challenging time.” Ellen Kullman, CEO of 3D printing company Carbon, is similarly adamant about the importance of staying calm. “With so much uncertainty, it’s easy and understandable to go into a panic mode, so there is no better time to reinforce how we are all connected to and working toward the same broader purpose,” she adds.

The way businesses operate is going to change significantly in the upcoming period. “The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed businesses of all sizes to rethink the way they operate. This global health crisis has turned business norms on their head and permanently changed the way people think about the future of work. Now companies are taking a hard look at their ways of working and what the ‘new normal’ will mean for them and their workforce,” says Tami Erwin, EVP and Group CEO at Verizon. “For businesses, the shift to remote and virtual due to COVID-19 means we’ve seen faster digitisation of data and more data created in many more places (from a distributed workforce, assets, and facilities).”

Closing thoughts

Only time will tell what will happen in the next year or so. But as it might one day soon very well be ‘business as usual’, how much innovation will we continue to see from a management perspective within organisations in the post-pandemic phase, and how many of the implemented innovations will remain in place in the long term? One thing is certain, having established new ways of innovating can bring much-needed flexibility and, ultimately, enhance the organisation’s staying power, even ensure its survival. It will be critical not to waste those innovation efforts by planning for going back to our old ways. Instead, we need to gear up and head towards a new normal.

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