Many of the executives I advise are contemplating budgets, investments and priorities for 2023 and beyond. They want to move beyond the multiple, systemic crises we’ve faced since 2020. As they do so, it’s tempting to return to the familiar. Brush off the dust, pick up the pieces and get back to it.
Yet, the business context has changed—irrevocably. So, what worked in the past may or may not serve you well in the future. Further, going back comes at a cost for your business. In short, you lose what you’ve learned. And a simple percentage change up or down in your budget is unlikely to dramatically shift the outcomes—or accelerate progress toward your objectives.
Still, there is good news.
Crisis can be a catalyst for change—if you allow it to be.
In fact, change is precisely what business and customers did to adapt to new realities of work and life. For example:
• Local stores turned to neighborhood deliveries—and discovered it adds revenue and customers.
• DIY (do-it-yourself) leaped to a new level, creating opportunities for parts or materials suppliers to add detailed instruction videos and experts-on-call to guide customers in putting things together correctly.
• Big players partnered with specialized outfits to diversify supply chain.
• Small players collaborated with unlikely folks—including potential competitors—to serve customers more effectively, thus unexpectedly expanding both scale and scope.
• Video interactions became commonplace, making it possible for nonprofits to take their missions outside their usual domain, both elevating reach and expanding impact.
• The world moved outside, encouraging all of us to use outdoor spaces more flexibly and creatively. And we liked it! Outdoor spaces remain an interesting new venue.
These changes may have been born of necessity. Yet, they spawned a host of new products, services, zoning rules, and habits that continue beyond the immediacy of the crises. Hitting rewind—returning to “normal”—negates the value of these changes and all that was gained for your business.
Recent crises accelerated trends that had already been emerging—flexibility, targeted products and services, and technology-enabled solutions to a host of questions we hadn’t even fully articulated. Businesses confirmed that big data is useful and learned that smart data is better.
Leaders also learned from the varied ways in which businesses and stakeholders responded to the crises. In the heat of the moment, different stakeholders came together to meet immediate needs – as noted above. And often, we gave people and organizations a bit of grace to solve problems.
Hitting rewind—returning to “normal”—neglects the value of these lessons and all that was gained for your business.
When rewind won’t cut it, leaders fast forward.
Of the many shifts and adaptations you’ve embraced, what will serve you well now and accelerate performance for the future?
These are the areas in which you must invest time, dollars, talent, and attention. Jettison everything else that either tethers you to the past or has lost its relevance.
Four actions my clients are taking to embed learning and fast-forward:
1. Meet customers and stakeholders where they’re at. Take the local, global and what is global, local.
2. Shift from mega centers that capture economies of scale, to distributed or dispersed sites to close the gap between your customers and your value add.
3. Worry less about work that is remote from internal hubs. Instead, build customer hubs served by workers and facilities in closer proximity. This may shift your physical footprint. It can also open new relationships, talent pools, and markets, e.g. for supply chain, fabrication, specialized skills.
4. Invest in technology and processes that make it easier for both employees and customers. Common tools and ways of working assure consistent quality and allow scale economies that are less tied to physical locations.
Above all: resist the temptation to go back.
Instead, allow the crisis to be a catalyst for change. Celebrate who and what got you here, beyond the crises. Rather than lamenting the loss of what was, look forward to what comes next.
Strategy is the set of decisions and actions that get you where you want to go.
Given that rewind won’t cut it, what is the one decision or the one action you will take to fast forward performance?