In April, we released an article called “Exploring the Disconnected Employee and COVID-19”, where we examined practical and strategic solutions to help organisations accelerate their recovery post the COVID-19 pandemic from a business and people perspective. Indications from both views showed that sustaining the business is now a function of prioritising people while simultaneously focusing on strategic, financial, and human resource goals.
“Welcome to the New Normal”. We are going to hear this statement more often in the days, weeks, and months to come. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted business as we know it and has left everyone with questions on how to survive. The magnitude and unprecedented nature of this event mandates business leaders across the globe to take immediate, and in some cases, radical actions. As corporate entities proactively protect their employees and businesses, they need to look beyond their focus on hard infrastructure and also begin addressing other critical areas of the employee value chain. This must also be linked to the overall business strategy for it to result in a win-win situation for all stakeholders. For organisations to survive this difficult time, they require a robust strategy that incorporates the welfare of the employees, clients, and the overall business.
Right before we went into the lockdown phase in Nigeria, we conducted a people pandemic survey to identify the experiences of both businesses and employees. Based on our findings, the following are what we believe can help organisations navigate these challenging times successfully:
Focus on Operational Excellence and Liquidity Management
With 44% of our survey respondents indicating that their companies are currently battling the realities of reduced cash inflows, organisations are faced with some unpopular decisions. Business leaders can conduct an extensive diagnostic of their organisational spend to identify opportunities for savings and process improvement. This will enhance organisations agility and create fluid and optimal ways to operate. What this translates to for business leaders is the need to be proactive rather than reactive in reimagining their strategic objectives.
The immediate focus should be on carrying out a detailed review of revenue streams and ‘cost bleeders’ (every single line of cost must be reviewed). Operations transformation provides you with new areas for value creation, cost optimisation, improved ways of working and sustainable performance improvement.
Review your IT and Digital infrastructure
While 62% of respondents from our survey stated that their business operations were disrupted, technology-driven and pure digital services organisations in the telecommunication and e-commerce industry are experiencing significant returns. This is as a result of a more captive audience for the services that they render. This interestingly enough ties to the fact that 47% of respondents believe that their services can be rendered virtually showing that most organisations in Nigeria are not operating full-fledged digital services when they should be. This should inform organisations to take a closer look at equipping their people with policies and tools to work remotely to keep up with the needs of an ever-growing digital world. This observation has reinforced the emerging ideology that every company should first see themselves as a technology company that offers the relevant goods and services required to survive in the new normal.
To achieve this, organisations will require a strategic shift towards an enterprise-wide digital transformation. A step that can begin with a digital readiness assessment. Organisations must assess their current IT infrastructure capabilities, processes, and protocols to ensure they can support remote working which will allow for existing and new services to be rendered virtually. While doing this, It is important to safeguard your data by ramping up cybersecurity and implementing data security protocols. Effective business continuity, process automation leveraging a human/robotics workforce and an overall water tight security architecture must be factors in the digitisation of work that most organisations are going to move towards.
Implement a Fit-For-Purpose Talent Management Strategy
For organisations to gain traction on their recovery journey and thrive in unprecedented times, there is a need for a more customised approach in re-evaluating talent management drivers. Performance management must become more objective and heavily linked to both the short and long-term profitability of any business. At this time, a Performance Management System (PMS) that cannot identify and reduce the headcount of low performers is more of a liability than an asset. Clear career and succession management practices must be communicated to employees. Also, nonmonetary rewards must be activated to promote employee engagement and motivation. These will deepen the vision for employee growth within your organisation as a means of managing the psychological stress currently being experienced by most employees.
Prioritise an Online and Microlearning Talent Development Strategy
Organisations need to identify the critical skills required to deliver a refocused business strategy. Business leaders should also review the efficiency of their learning delivery platforms and channels. To adequately measure the effectiveness of any new learning plan, companies need to go beyond just tracking the number of employees who complete assigned online courses, but also find out what employees are learning and how they are building the skills and competencies required to support the organisation to remain competitive. Companies must go beyond the traditional methods of learning and introduce more blogs, games, quizzes, podcasts, simulations and videos to stimulate learners.
The average human attention span has reduced drastically over the years. Studies show that the average adult has a maximum learning attention span of about 20 minutes. What this means is that the only win-win solution for both employers and employees alike is Microlearning. It is more convenient, gives employees more control over their time, and learning can happen in bits and bites, rather than in massive doses. Combined with simulation and gamification, organisations that employ these new approaches will witness significant improvement in employee engagement, motivation, and collaboration both within teams and cross-functionally.
Implement A Customised Change Management Process
With the new normal, organisations must ensure that change management is part of the overall strategy. It is the responsibility of business leaders to ensure that their change management initiatives are in alignment with a refocused business and people strategy. Policies that drive remote working, work from home (WFH) and IT support, for example, would need to be revisited and possibly re-written to accommodate the new normal. Organisations must also ensure that change management decisions are data-driven to maintain high levels of objectivity. Digital Culture Assessments (DCAs) should be a critical driver of employee IT practices as we are in a season where technology adoption is no longer an option but a required culture for businesses to survive and thrive. This is why a fit-for-purpose IT infrastructure based on a robust DCA is critical. Effective change management must be driven by a robust governance framework that will create the relevant structures across all vital paths.
Execute Communication Plans
The New Normal calls for leaders in organisations to engage with staff differently. Leaders must be deliberate about messaging by keeping communication about ideas brief and succinct while opening channels for clarification and support when needed. In addition, leaders should communicate with the managers who will deliver messages to other employees, so that they know their role, what is coming and when. It is necessary to reinforce the psychological contract of non-impacted employees through communication and change management initiatives. If necessary, implement a robust exit management programme where required. If you cannot avoid dismissals, do it in a way that respects your employee’s contributions so that those who leave maintain goodwill towards the company.
In times of crisis, there is no such thing as over-communication. Messaging should be constant and frequent. Employee touch points must be vertical and horizontal, cascading across the organisation with deliberateness, speed, and consistency. Multiple channels should exist, the selection of which is dependent upon the significance of the message and the core audience to be reached. As uncomfortable as it might be, key concerns should be tackled head-on. This will help separate fact from fiction and ensure that the narratives are always controlled.
Focus on Sustainable Innovation
The ability of an organisation to innovate and pivot is critical at this time. Organisations should take a broader view of the goods and services they provide and focus on areas that match current customer demands. In addition, they must establish how the pandemic has shifted customer expectations and how products and services will be consumed in the future. Responses from our survey show that despite the urgent need for innovation in the wake of the pandemic, organisations are not creating new products and services and simply not thinking outside the box. By repurposing services and incorporating technology, businesses can position themselves to offer services that are in demand at this time—for example, educational institutions digitising content and offering online classes. We have also seen automobile manufacturers starting to make ventilators and fashion designers, focusing on making Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). By doing this, your organisation can repurpose existing resources to meet the client’s new needs or even branch out to a new market segment. The additional services rendered at this time could become an integral part of your business in the new normal.
The world is currently faced with a lot of uncertainty which makes planning very hard. It is vital to be proactive in making informed decisions based on your unique situation that can sustain your business in the long run.
People Pandemic Survey, pcl (2020)
Course Duration and Its Impact on Learner Attention Span, Jessica Mautref (2019)