The pandemic has been a wake-up call, wouldn’t you agree? While businesses have always been aware of the “unexpected” and the “unlikely”, today those terms should be part of your plan and forecast. For many businesses, it has been a season of pain, increased costs, and too many issues unresolved. For a few lucky others, it has offered an unforeseen windfall; one that organizations have struggled to capitalize on. Either way, executives are having to accept that pandemic-induced changes in strategy, management, operations, and budgetary priorities are here to stay.

This presents an enticing opportunity for executives who can manage complexity and drive competitiveness by tying digital transformation to business priorities — while others are still waiting for things to “go back to normal.” Truth be told, organizational complexity remains the biggest hurdle to progress. More than twice as many executives mention it as a barrier today as in the past, including employee burnout.

To that end, 78Madison has identified five key epiphanies emerging for the post-pandemic business landscape, offering new perspectives on digital transformation, the future of work, transparency, and sustainability. Together, they provide a playbook for proactive leaders who understand that perhaps the old ways are no longer going to carry the load.

Epiphany 1
Digital transformation was never just about the technology
During the pandemic, some adapted, and some didn’t. But want to survive post-pandemic? Adaptability is now a mandatory business competency, and an accelerated pace of change has become normal.

For perspective, before the pandemic, many organizations seemingly distrusted their own technological capabilities and doubted the skills of their own workforces. Yet, in the blur of the past two year’s pandemic-induced reactions, those anxieties have largely vanished. Executives have become more trusting of what technology can do, and they are pushing ahead with digital transformation.

It’s not that new tech was suddenly discovered and implemented; rather, the tools already at hand were deployed to fuller potential. Previous barriers to implementation were unceremoniously shoved aside, and those who moved first saw nearly immediate results.

  • A shift to more cloud-based business activities
  • Accelerated process automation
  • An adjusted approach to change management
  • Permanent changes to organization strategy

The benefits long extolled by technophiles have become more broadly embraced across organizational leadership. To stack the deck for success, organizations need to be sure their people are as capable, resilient, and adaptable as their technologies for the long term.

Epiphany 2:
The human element is the key to success
While executives plan to expand almost all tech competencies during their future digital transformations, most agree that the secret to success lies in human resources – a focus on employees and customers, such as workforce training and customer experience management. Finally there is a clear recognition that “improved customer service” can no longer sit at the bottom half of the list of benefits that executives seek from digital transformation.

As well, consider the fact that if executives are at all conflicted about how they’re connecting with customers, they’re doing even worse with their employees. While workforce safety, skills, and flexibility are important, employee satisfaction has been deprioritized. Executives recognize that their employees have been under intense pressure, and they contend that employee well-being is among their highest priorities. Indeed, employers significantly overestimate the effectiveness of their support and training efforts and need to get better quicky to survive.

Epiphany 3:
Traumatic stress has hijacked corporate strategy
Executives are tasked with defining their organizations’ vision. But it can be hard to focus if they are continually putting out fires. While workforce safety and resilience, cost management, and organization agility emerge as top priorities for the short- and longer-term, the pandemic has amplified old business fears and introduced new ones. The result? Executives are enamored with the priority of the day! For example, now that executives seem to be focused on internal operational capabilities, their attention is being taken away from the customer service experience at a time when it could be critical.

Executives are saying everything is important. Perhaps everything except improving the customer experience – the one thing that can help drive performance and growth when the competition is lost in the fog. The quicker organizations can begin focusing of the “total picture”, rather than just internal struggles, the better their overall business results will be.

Epiphany 4:
Some will win. Some will lose. But few will do it alone.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not impacted all organizations and industries equally. This situation mirrors what some economists have described as a “K-shaped” consumer environment, where some thrive, and others languish. Consider Amazon, which is up 78 percent in 2021. Its rise helped offset declines by more than half of the other companies in the consumer sector. Or look at Apple, which is up 60 percent and is now bigger than the bottom third of companies in the S&P 500 combined. The Amazons and Apples of the world may be examples of successful solo players, but most businesses need partnerships and ecosystems.

The critical distinction here is that scale alone doesn’t predict above-industry performance. Large enterprises that can operate with agility have been the ones to remain steady (in a troubled sector) or outperform. The melding of size and flexibility is the defining characteristic of those poised for success.

In this time of disruption, it’s not a surprise that many, perhaps most, organizations have doubled down on their core — the operational improvements and workforce enhancements that may best address a returning crisis. And yet, executives must keep these hard-to-reach goals in their sights if they are sincere in their desire to increase competitiveness. These efforts are where tomorrow’s innovations and growth will come from. But approving and allocating resources for them will be scrutinized more than ever.

Epiphany 5:
Health is the key to sustainability
Before coronavirus, sustainability strategies were largely centered on environmental issues: the risks to planetary health from pollution, climate change, and the like. Consumers were increasingly choosing products and brands that demonstrated authenticity in these areas, inspiring passion, and allegiance. Regulators were echoing those concerns and priorities, as well.

Yet, faced with a human health crisis, environmental sustainability became joined with issues of personal safety. Consumers have been wearing disposable masks and gloves and opting for more individual packaging than ever. To protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus, they’ve been receiving delivered goods to avoid going out in public. These actions seemingly pit protecting human health against protecting the planet.

But organizations need to be aware that consumers’ passion for environmental issues remains. In fact, health and safety have been conjoined in a new, expanded, and more complex definition of sustainability. New burdens are already appearing for corporations, as they must make good on existing sustainability goals – reduced carbon footprints, more efficient waste management, or otherwise—while simultaneously meeting new health-and-safety requirements. People and planet are inextricably linked, and ongoing organizational strategy must reflect that.

This may be among the more challenging – and critical – implications of post-COVID-19 business. Meeting this bar will require not only new practices and new materials, but also new kinds of data and efficiency. For example: What is the environmental cost of meat spoiling or being discarded versus using more plastic to make it safer? How do we enable supply chains and last-mile delivery to get what businesses and consumers require, without being needlessly wasteful? More sophisticated questions are coming, and leaders will be expected to provide more nuanced and educated answers.

What do you think? What are some of the steps your company is taking post-pandemic?

Joe Bouch
CEO, 78Madison

78Madison is a full-service marketing communications firm – advertising agency – in Central Florida, offering over 38 years of experience. Our role, on behalf of our clients, is to create “obsession-worthy” messaging that consumers will choose to connect with on a deeper, emotional level. We are doing work for amazing clients across the country, and are ready to assist with strategy, branding, creative, media, PR, digital, web, social and more. We invite you to a conversation.

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