Post COVID Operational Imperatives-Vinay Dixit , Lloyd Mathias

The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing about significant shifts in consumer behaviour, the business landscape and government actions. In our previous article (https://www.businessworld.in/article/The-Post-Pandemic-CompanyWhat-The-Corporate-World-NeedsTo-Change/08-06-2020-194652/), we had offered perspectives on strategic shifts that companies will need to make to succeed in the new environment. In this article, we share some operational actions that companies could consider to strengthen their position in the future. Firstly, companies should use this opportunity to make costs as variable as possible. In this era of constant disruption, the typical approach of building high upfront fixed costs in the hope of longer term success is fraught with risk. There are several ways in which they can achieve this in the current situation: 

* Review the role of fixed office space and strike the right balance between working in office versus working from anywhere. The need for working in office will remain as it plays an important role in team building, effective and efficient communication, even strengthening bonds around water coolers. However, the relative ease with which most companies were able to move to remote working has left several of them pleasantly surprised. 

There’s no reason why a part of an employee’s work cannot be consistently done from elsewhere, thereby reimagining the form with just images of receipts sent directly from mobile phones, with a five per cent receipts check audit. This helped reduce the headcount required for “checking”, reduced the time required by employees to submit their expenses and significantly improved the morale of the team. Companies should keep in mind cultural and mindset elements when designing some of these processes to achieve optimal team performance. 

Secondly, companies should find ways to develop and maintain Organisational Memory Banks. With employment durations generally shortening across most industries, often organisational knowledge gets lost over time. As an example, when Covid-19 hit the world, several companies in Hong Kong went back to the processes and knowledge that they had built during the SARS epidemic. This was also followed quickly by the government and the broader population – the use of face masks, regular hand sanitisation, minimising social contact – all these elements helped contain the impact of the outbreak. Companies quickly formulated A & B teams and through distributed working hours and working days, were able to ensure that operations were kept on track while minimising contact between various teams. There are three specific actions that companies consider towards building Organisational Memory Banks: 

* Develop Business Continuity Plan (BCP) Manuals, and more importantly, keep them updated. Often companies develop plans when faced with a crisis, but with the passage of time, these are relegated to storage and knowledgeable team members move on to different roles or to other companies.

* Ensure that Scenario Planning is a key look outwards and not become internal company centric. Having discussions of potential scenarios and the range of responses that the company could take also makes for an inspirational conversation that allows leaders to be prepared for many eventualities. 

* Build a Knowledge Management System as a key investment within the company. In many situations, especially in companies operating across a range of geographies, there are excellent initiatives, but they fail to get widespread visibility and adoption because of lack of formal dissemination mechanisms. Consulting companies have been at the forefront of element of ongoing operational discussions. This forces executives to constantly such knowledge management – all the team members are actively encouraged to publish (both internally and externally) regularly. It helps codify the learning and future client engagements can strongly leverage insights from the past as good thought starters. 

Finally, Business Agility needs to become a way of life for companies. They must recognise that dynamic times are here to stay, and they need to develop the “Agility Muscle” across the organisation. This is not only to enable the company to stay resilient in times of crises, but on an ongoing basis. The biggest challenge in this endeavour is changing the mindset of the organisation. Leaders need to shape the narrative from “scarce resource competing for a share of a pie in a zero-sum game”, to that of “plethora of opportunities where collaborating with partners towards improved services and solutions” can unlock significant enthusiasm among the teams. 

Transparency of critical information across the company, regular experimentation and iteration, appropriate technology tools, flexibility in resource allocation and the ability to develop partnerships and ecosystems are some of the key drivers of this agile mindset. One of the tools available to companies in this journey is the Balanced Score Card (BSC). Many companies have benefited from the process of developing and managing business through a BSC system. While some elements of the BSC, especially those relating to sustainability, resilience and agility, need to be updated, its implementation brings tremendous clarity and alignment across the organisation. The impact of Covid-19 on lives and livelihoods is unprecedented. However, crises present opportunities. Boards and CEOs should not “let this crisis go waste” and bring about time-bound, significant changes in culture and behaviours that sets the company up for success. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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