Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a sentiment of waiting for ‘the new normal’: a changed world that will unfold around us and redefine the way we do things. Now over a year on from the outbreak of COVID-19, it’s clear that the shifts made almost overnight in response to the global crisis are largely here to stay. The initial sprint has become an ultra-marathon, with little prospect of respite from the volatility any time soon. As well as relying more on online platforms for many aspects of work and personal life, the pandemic has accelerated existing trends such as the on-demand economy and shifting consumer expectations towards higher quality and value. At the same time, the global market has been hit by disruptive business models across industries. To survive the foreseeable recovery phase, organisations must embed a mindset of continuous adaptability.


In the currently ongoing 2021 America’s Cup sailing race, the UK team led by Sir Ben Ainslie is fighting for a dramatic comeback from ‘rock bottom’ after being crushed in the World Series pre-event in December. The team pulled together a rapid response, making significant changes to their set-up and experimenting with different configurations. Since some of these modifications could take the boat out of action for weeks, they were under pressure to weigh up the potential performance gain against time off the water. The challenge they now face is adjusting to the new way of operating. Despite once again facing difficult weather conditions that hampered their performance before Christmas, the team has now made a flying start and won their opening races. This example of leadership in times of adversity contains important lessons for organizations in agility, innovation, trust, and willingness to fail and learn. Businesses that have fared well in the battle against the impact of the coronavirus have similarly built resilience through creative and responsive systems as well as careful risk management.


An entrepreneurship concept termed ‘The Pivot’ became popularised in 2009 to describe a course correction in response to marketplace shifts. As demonstrated by historic examples such as Nokia (originally a paper mill company) and Twitter (formerly Odeo – a podcast subscription platform), pivoting enables companies to achieve their goals through redesigning the business model. Today’s social distancing measures have forced many organizations to perform a sudden version of this change in tack in order to survive, as a result of their usual avenues of business grinding to a halt. Airlines including Virgin Atlantic and Garuda Indonesia began operating cargo-only flights due to the lack of commercial passengers; while Go Hotels Philippines converted their rooms into day offices. Some companies have thrived as a result of fully digitizing, such as British retailer Mothercare which more than quadrupled its online sales last year, despite overall revenue declining by 70% since the beginning of the lockdown.


Competing in this ever-changing environment requires a reframing of the way the organization creates value. There are exciting opportunities being created by current trends influencing the world of work: the predicted movement towards a hybrid workplace – with employees mixing between working from the office and home – will take a lot of coordination, but can also drive huge benefits to employees and the business including enhanced productivity and well-being, and lower real-estate costs. Remote working has increased organizations’ access to a much wider and more diverse talent pool, enabling them to better meet skills gaps and bring in capabilities for change. Technological advancements such as AI and machine learning are driving efficiencies and access to deeper insights on customers and employees. To take advantage of these opportunities, business leaders must look at the whole company ecosystem: how are markets, competitors, customers, values, and behaviors approached? How can the firm’s resources (including financial, intellectual, and human capital) and infrastructure be mobilized? Using a combination of internal and external data to understand the scenarios the company is facing, and what the business model looks like in each scenario, leaders can formulate a clearer view of the firm’s unique value proposition for the future.


Previous global and economic crises – such as the SARS outbreak and the 2008 financial crash – highlighted that decentralising decision-making to teams on the ground is key to organisations’ adaptability. Going back to the 2021 America’s Cup, Ainslie’s tactician (and former Olympic rival) Giles Scott has been designated a free role, enabling him to constantly assess the wind shifts affecting their course. The pair’s mutual respect and trust has been pinpointed as a crucial factor underpinning the boat’s lead in the race. Business leaders cannot afford to wait out the impact of the coronavirus pandemic: they must act now to align their teams and co-develop a resilient strategy to navigate these turbulent waters. A starting point could be assessing the organisation’s readiness for change, by:


  1. Identifying relevant sources and gathering data 
  2. Conducting an Organisation Assessment to create an overall snapshot of where the organisation is now 
  3. Determining future skill requirements to meet the strategic objectives.

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