Coming Out Stronger

RBL’s recommendations for leading through a crisis and positioning your organization for success.

RBL recognizes the power of people working together around a united goal. We have synthesized our thoughts and options that we are confident you will find useful. We believe we can all come out stronger. 

The world we find ourselves in today is unprecedented in our lifetimes. The global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the almost simultaneous shut-down of the global economy, the shift to virtual working environments, and the ambiguity about how long it could last is unprecedented. If ever there was a truly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) time, it is now.

In health-related industries, leaders are trying to meet urgent demand for medical care, testing, protective equipment, and new treatments. The life-and-death nature of the epidemic has presented challenges in balancing employee and customer needs for safety and protection with the need for ongoing services in many industries. In other areas it has shifted work to homes where many have to balance multi-generational care-giving without the usual support systems. Some industries (technology, digital payments, telecom, and paper and cleaning products, for example) grew exponentially overnight. At the same time, others like hospitality, transportation, and oil & gas saw demand almost vanish.

There has never been a more challenging time to be a leader. Leaders struggle to navigate uncharted territory while balancing the needs of multiple stakeholders. All these pressures exacerbate uncertainty and demand immediate attention. We have seen two approaches from leaders: ambiguity amplifiers and ambiguity absorbers.

For the past several weeks, we have challenged leaders to become ambiguity absorbers and we have argued that there are five key elements of a plan to absorb ambiguity and point towards a better future during this unprecedented time. To continue to support leaders around the globe, we have assembled some resources to help you do that more 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.

The RBL Group

© April 2020 The RBL Group. All rights reserved.