Coming Out Stronger

Now, more than ever, identifying and delivering differentiated capabilities will create value and build customer and investor confidence. To help you navigate how to do that in the face of 2020’s tremendous changes, RBL has identified five key areas to focus on so that we can all come out stronger. 

There has never been a more challenging time to be a leader. As leaders continue to absorb ambiguity, they need to stay focused on building confidence in the future. Confidence in the future comes as leaders are able to confidently identify and clearly articulate how their organization creates value in a changed world and identify how to transform existing strategy, structures, processes, and systems to deliver that value in a differentiated way to customers.

With the initial wave of COVID-19 cases and the subsequent health, economic, political, and social repercussions, we argued that there were five key elements of a plan to absorb ambiguity and point towards a better future during this unprecedented time. As the ambiguity continues, we continue to focus our clients on these five areas and continue to add resources to help them do that effectively.

1. Ensure costs are aligned to the new realities in a way that cuts fat, not distinctiveness.

Some leaders took immediate cost reduction measures, and other leaders still need to realign costs to their new economic reality. High performing leaders make cost decisions based on alternative scenarios and financial modeling. This isn’t enough—they also need to filter decisions through the lens of protecting distinctive capabilities that create advantage in the eyes of their target customers. These leaders chart a course to resource allocation that positions them to emerge from the crisis even stronger than before.

When leaders take this approach to cost reduction, they must clarify the distinctive capabilities needed for their business to succeed. Armed with this intent, they streamline work based on its contribution to distinctiveness. This unleashes resources for reinvestment in the work that customers care about by reducing or eliminating other work. Ultimately the organization emerges from the crisis better positioned for the future.

For additional thoughts on strategic cost cutting see the following resources:

2. Build a customer-centric culture.

Faced with sudden economic pressures, many organizations are finding that their employees and leaders have lost their focus on the customer. Here again, the COVID-19 crisis provides a burning platform for changes that might have gone unnoticed in a less demanding environment. Great leaders ensure that even during this crisis their customers get the experience they want them to have.

As leaders build a customer-centric culture, they are able to deliver their brand promises regardless of the current situation. They ensure that customers come away from every experience believing that we have delivered on our promises. They embed brand identity at every customer touchpoint so that leaders and employees are able to deliver the right customer experience anytime and everywhere. When this happens, deep connections are forged that create stronger brand loyalty.

For additional thoughts on building a customer-centric culture, see the following resources:

3. Position for customer advantage.

The most important decisions leadership teams make are about how they position their organizations to create advantage. We believe this should be done using outside in logic i.e. start with customers and investors. Good positioning decisions are based upon what you learn from customers, competitors, external trends, and investors. Successful growth occurs when internal capabilities and priorities deliver what your customers want.

For many organizations the external reality is changing. Priorities for 2020, 2021, and beyond are under the intense scrutiny brought on by uncertainty around future consumption patterns, working conditions, and even political and demographic realities. Though there are many unknowns, customer needs will likely shift, competitors will respond in different ways, and industries will be redefined. When leading through a crisis, effective leadership teams respond by doing a thorough evaluation of how well their organization is positioned to deliver what their customers want.

For additional thoughts on refining competitive positioning, see the following resources:

4. Ensure results-based teams.

Teams are the lifeblood of every organization. Results-Based Teams deliver the right results the right way. As the current pandemic drives new priorities, teams need to respond quickly to new demands. Results-Based Teams start by ensuring they are clear about the results they must deliver. These results are typically balanced across stakeholders such as customers and employees in order to deliver project results on time and profitably. The second step is to identify how the team will operate so that these results can be delivered the right way. We have identified eight characteristics of results-based teams that ensure this: Value Proposition, Team Leadership, Role Alignment, Task Competencies, Team Processes, Trust, Team Communication, and Continuous Improvement & Growth.

For additional thoughts on ensuring team alignment, see the following resources:

5. Maintain development cadences—virtually.

For most organizations, now is not the time to let up on building leadership, organizational and strategic HR capability. In good times and times of crisis, building leaders and HR professionals that are agile and can quickly deliver on changing customer and investor expectations are a source of competitive advantage. Rapid deployment of targeted virtual learning, on a global scale, can effectively prepare leaders to know and do what customers now expect—creating customer loyalty and investor confidence. Virtual programs can reinforce the expectation of HR professionals to think and act from an outside-in perspective, to better connect HR with a change in business strategy. Development that is aligned with firm strategy and brand makes sure your people are positioned to make the right decisions and take required actions that generate confidence and results.

Remote work and social distancing present great opportunities for reinventing how to develop capability in your organization. Technology advances have enhanced the virtual learning experience to approximate, and in some ways exceed, the in-person format. The key is to find ways to shift the balance between “expert” and “learner”, and draw participants in. Structure programs more creatively so the learning and applications engage the individuals participating in the program. Connect them around meaningful questions with internal stakeholders and each other. Finally, ensure the programs offer flexibility to provide timely and relevant content to deliver on organizational objectives, providing a return on the investment benefitting internal and external stakeholders.

For additional thoughts on maintaining development cadences virtually, see the following resources:

To discuss how these ideas could help your organization come out stronger, contact us.

Dave has published over 30 books on leadership, organization, and human resources. These ideas have shaped how people and organizations deliver value to customers, investors, and communities. He has consulted and done research with over half of the Fortune 200 and worked in over 80 countries.  He has received numerous public recognitions and lifetime awards for his work. 

About the author

Norm Smallwood is a partner and co-founder of The RBL Group. His research and consulting focuses on helping organizations increase business value by building organization, leadership, and people capabilities that measurably impact market value. He has written extensively about leadership and organization effectiveness in eight books and over a hundred articles. 

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Joe Hanson is a Partner with The RBL Group and an experienced consultant recognized for his work leading businesses through turnaround and transformation.

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Erin is a principal at The RBL Group with 25 years of experience in leadership and strategic HR consulting.

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Ernesto is a Partner and Managing Director, Latin America with The RBL Group. His work currently emphasizes the development of strategic leadership, executive teams and HR practices in the Hispanic markets. 

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Mark is a consultant at The RBL Group and is a recognized expert in organization design and transformation. He has consulted with Adidas, AT&T, Merck, Pfizer, Rio Tinto, and many other top companies. 

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