Maybe you’ve had a similar experience…
You call your doctor’s office for an appointment because the nagging pain in your foot, back, or some other body part, isn’t getting any better. They say, “Of course, how’s Tuesday at 10am?” The difference now, though, is that Tuesday’s appointment will be virtual — held via a secure videoconferencing link.
Is it the same experience as going into the office? No. But, depending upon your particular ailment, it’s surprisingly effective, much more convenient, and less expensive for all concerned.
Interestingly, it took a worldwide pandemic for telehealth applications — long explored but little used — to increase from very limited to nearly 100% in some services.
This is just one example. Over the past six months, many long-evolving trends have suddenly accelerated. Indeed, McKinsey notes that we have accomplished ten years’ worth of ecommerce penetration growth in just three months.
Something else has accelerated in recent months: the pace of decision making within organizations. Apparel companies, seeing a sudden shift in the market, altered production from shirts to masks. Full-service restaurants that had never before offered takeout, were suddenly rolling out online ordering, delivery and curb-side pickup.
In industry after industry, things which would normally take months were being accomplished within weeks, or even days.
How Fast Should You Move?
I am not suggesting that you shift to making all decisions at this same, intensive pace. That would no doubt lead to both poor choices and organizational burnout.
That said, recent months have demonstrated that we can — and, I would argue, should — be moving much more quickly. Staying agile and rapidly responding to market changes is valuable — even absent a crisis situation!
Keep in mind as well that you are not alone in your space. Your competition is seeing all of this unfold, too. It’s worth considering what the impact on you would be if others in your field suddenly began moving much more quickly.
Here are some things worth considering:
#1. Is your strategy focused and clear, and do all your people understand it?
A clear organizational focus serves to guide decision making.
Things like understanding which of your offerings are most valuable, which audience segments are most profitable, and where/how you are uniquely different from your competitors, gives you a practical framework to work from. Part of what contributes to a longer decision-making process is an inability to agree on which areas should have resources allocated to them and which should see them taken away.
During “ordinary times,” organizations tend to gradually add to product lines and service offerings without removing the lower performing ones. The additional offerings can increase complexity and cost without bringing true advantage.
Contrast that with what happened at Proctor & Gamble during the early days of the pandemic, when toilet paper was in short supply. P&G (and others), in its scramble to get more product to market, reduced the variety of product versions and package sizes by half. Many of the eliminated varieties will not return post-pandemic, as organizations realize that more focus and less variety will serve their markets more effectively.
#2. Are your internal processes and culture defending established routines without good reason?
Over time, organizations develop routines covering any number of methods and procedures, whether that concerns how they are organized, who they hire, how they communicate, and more.
For example, companies often have established processes in which each individual step may have been added for a reason that made sense at the time, and is now simply baked in. While often defended (implicitly or explicitly) as “that’s the way we have always done it,” faced with market changes or new competitive pressures, these processes may no longer be justified.
Several years ago, I led an advertising department for a major retailer where production of a weekly advertising circular took 14 weeks from start to time in market. Much of the delay was due to merchants not providing item samples on a timely basis, as well as complications in how we approved printing. By connecting all parties into the process, and adding some disciplines, we were able to shave four weeks from the timeline and save millions of dollars in late fees in the process.
The point is, your ability to move quickly may be hampered by your own, homegrown methodologies.
#3. Are you paying attention to just the negative side of the ledger?
Often, organizations evaluate potential changes in the marketplace or new initiatives through a negative lens: What can go wrong and how can it hurt us? While there are plenty of good reasons to consider these scenarios, it is risky to let that mindset dominate. It needs to be complimented with “What can go right?” thinking, in which the positive benefits that might occur are given equal consideration.
In another previous job (I’ve had many!), my efforts to revamp my department’s pricing model were met with significant resistance at first. There was concern about the potential loss of business from such a change. But when we considered the benefits — both to customers and our production operations – our leadership team became willing to make modifications.
By the way, if you see an opportunity for change, it may be worth creating a small experiment to test the idea in a few locations or in a simplified way. This avoids significant downside risk while providing the opportunity to market-test a new concept.
Over the past several months, many businesses have had to jump through hoops and make significant, sometimes painful changes in very short order. No doubt, as the world continues to evolve in unpredictable ways, additional quick changes will be needed. Under these circumstances, it’s natural to wish for a return to “the way things used to be;” you are not alone if you feel that way.
Bear in mind, however, that it need not be all or nothing. There exists a wide range of possibility between the lumbering, analysis-paralysis of the past and the breathless pace of crisis management that we now live with.
Choosing a point in between — significantly streamlined and accelerated, but not overwhelming — provides a great opportunity to leverage the learnings from this time, and to make your organization more agile and responsive to changes in its environment.