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Charlene Ashley | Business agility during crisis

Published:Sunday | August 9, 2020 | 12:18 AMDr Charlene Ashley - Guest Columnist
Dr Charlene Ashley
Dr Charlene Ashley


The global COVID-19 pandemic has hit large and small businesses hard, and decision-makers are grappling with possible solutions.

COVID has forced upon entities the outright imperative to be agile from top to bottom as the daily ebb and flow wreaks havoc on many businesses' bottom line.

The management concept of ‘agility’ has become an absolute essential reality and is now establishing itself as the great equaliser. From small corner shops to large global enterprises, agility is the dominant prerequisite, and adopting it effectively will make the difference in how businesses will survive in the ‘new normal’economy.

For many enterprises, agility has always been a key driver of their successful operations.Their ability to accurately and rapidly assess a situation, and, in turn, pivot quickly, putting systems in place to do so with seamless ease, can be ‘make or break’ the business in the most profound sense.

For those businesses that lack the ability to be agile on multiple levels of the operation, it can be the literal end of the road.

With the shift in focus to more fundamental human-centric health and socio-economic concerns, our leaders, businesses, and industries as a whole must now learn to become more dexterous than ever.

Easier said than done, right?

There are a few lessons that offer strategic direction and will help businesses to manoeuvre and survive the pandemic.

An augmented workforce can work faster and smarter, allowing for focus on value-added activities so that business can be more customer-centric. Using people alone in the workplace is rapidly becoming an antiquated concept, and COVID has sped up this reality. Intelligent automation is a reality, with many global entities moving towards, for example, robotic process automation or RPA.

Companies that redefine their strategic workforce planning and level of output that go beyond human productivity are able to multiply customer value and company output, thereby generating increased income, putting more funds into the economy, and creating new jobs.

Reimagination and ideation

The ability to think, plan, and execute in a clinical fashion while abandoning old orthodoxies is the key to realising transformation. Reimagination is about thinking through the ideas, experimenting quickly, and scaling up. It is about pleasantly surprising customers with possibilities that they never thought were possible.

The gut-wrenching estimates from the World Economic Forum reports must force decision-makers to take a cold, hard look at their organisation’s adaptability, or lack thereof, and implement ‘concerted strategies’ for a multitude of scenarios, including the ‘highly unlikely’.

Developing an ‘idea bank’ can insure against worst-case scenarios.

Crisis amplifies flaws. Being digitally focussed changes the way in which a business operates. It affects the speed of responses to customers and clients, the efficiency at which you can not only respond to customers, but anticipate and track their requests, orders, concerns, and complaints. Even larger than that, it offers a way of reducing operational expenses significantly.

There is a delicate balance between design and scale that directly changes the way a business operates. Since COVID, companies have been scrambling to implement digital solutions for customers and employees. Many companies that had lagging digital-transformation projects now wish that they had completed them as COVID has forced many to learn how to work remotely without sacrificing efficiency.

The right tech approach

Identify the right platform, data, and technology. Over the past months, and for the foreseeable future, businesses have been working to simplify digital payments and operate online. It is not just about selling online. It is about building an ecosystem for customers to connect their needs.

You could be a small restaurant or a large enterprise, the ability to reimagine your business as a platform is key. If you haven’t dealt with how your business can sustain itself, not only during this present COVID crisis, but if and when there is another pandemic, you are, essentially, putting your business at risk of losing it all.

Explore the future in a different way. Businesses that are of the opinion that the world will return to business as usual are at a huge disadvantage. While many of us and many of our leaders talk about living with COVID-19, very few do something truly effective about it. This is the sad truth even for companies with abundant capital.

This is due to a combination of factors, including a lack of imagination, not understanding industry dynamics, and not being agile in their responses or not knowing where to embark amid the litany of looming future issues.

Adopting agility will help businesses to thrive during a crisis. The focus must be on reimagining and restrategising to not only survive, but succeed after COVID-19.

Dr Charlene Ashley is an international business strategist and behaviour consultant.