We are working with clients to identify actionable insights that will help them move forward in the aftermath of COVID-19. Managing the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak is uniquely challenging, but past events showcase how crises can be used as a catalyst for positive change. Despite our uncertain futures, we believe that it is possible, ultimately, to come back stronger than ever.
The COVID-19 outbreak had disrupted our economy with startling speed. Businesses across the world face unprecedented challenges in adapting to a new world and navigating the uncertainty of a pandemic future in the wake of recent losses.
Given that it is impossible to know what happens next, planning for the future might feel like a tenuous, if impossible, task.
However, there are pathways businesses can take to develop resilience and even use this current crisis as a catalyst for positive change.
Lessons of the past help to inform our approach. Although the global scale of the current crisis is unparalleled, many businesses along the Gulf Coast – including MDRG – have a wealth of knowledge on adapting to crisis situations, stemming from their experiences following Hurricane Katrina.
In MDRG’s case, the disaster served as a catalyst for reducing technological vulnerabilities (e.g. establishing remote access to servers) and strengthening social bonds between employees.
As we navigate the challenges of COVID-19, this experience has informed how we continue in the two most important objectives of our business: 1) supporting our employees and 2) supporting our clients and business partners.
Currently, our approach for building resilience and using this crisis as a catalyst for positive change is characterized by four steps:
1. Foster Connection.
Connections with employees and clients is the crucial foundation for navigating uncertain futures, especially as COVID-19 threatens the social fabric of our economy. In our third week of tracking human emotional responses in our COVID-19 survey tracker, we identified overwhelming feelings of isolation. For the present, this trend is troubling for humanistic reasons. In the future, this trend will be detrimental to successful economic revival.
Countering this trend requires us to recognize the emotional and social needs of employees and clients that are sometimes overlooked in business-centric organizations. We must take care to recognize that our professional relationships are more important than ever.
During times of crisis, we must take exceptional care to ask others – employees and clients alike – how they are, and how we can be of assistance. Supporting others in this capacity creates mutually reinforcing resilience.
Fostering connections is more than literal social interactions. Work in isolation can be imbued with meaning and purpose that is socially relevant. This requires a clear understanding and connection over shared goals within an organization. Practices for bringing employees together over common goals depend on the nature of the organization. For some smaller companies, the process might be more informal and collaborative. For larger institutions, goals might require explicit communication from leaders. Regardless, companies have an opportunity to connect their employees to a greater purpose under the current circumstances.
For MDRG, fostering stronger connections amongst employees means not just holding a weekly happy hour and connecting over lunch via Zoom, but also focusing on a significant and meaningful question: how this crisis will impact life and consumption practices in the United States? Over the last few weeks, our teams have been engaged and connected through our shared focus on this question, which serves to imbue everyday tasks with a sense of meaning and relevance. An example of some of our work focused on this question is available here: “Insights for the Future”.
As we recommend in the next section, asking questions is not just a means to bring people together, but a vital part of preparing for the aftermath of COVID-19.
2. Get Curious.
Given the radically altered state of society, businesses must adjust to meeting needs that they perhaps never imagined or anticipated.
Now is the time to ask questions, the most pertinent of which include:
•What new expectations and habits will govern customers’ decision making and behavior?
•How can my business best serve customers during and after COVID-19?
•What long term changes will my business need to adapt to?
For instance, we have partners in the world of banking that seek to understand the future role of physical branches in American life and society. Specific questions they have include: How do consumers feel about re-entering public life following the curtailment of social distancing measures? What expectations will they have of businesses in order to feel safe in public areas? How can businesses most effectively address consumer concerns about re-entering public life?
In anticipation of our client’s needs, we have begun the process of tracking changes in consumption patterns through our COVID-19 survey tracker. Findings produced from this tracker can provide businesses with a general understanding of some of the changes that are taking place, and act as a starting point for some to consider which questions they should be asking. Our last wave of results is available HERE.
3. Honest Assessment.
In order to effectively leverage the insights identified by “getting curious,” business leaders must also make an honest and thorough assessment of internal structures: teams and overall organization, and external environments: clients and competitors.
Leaders must critically examine their capabilities and identify what must be done to apply lessons learned from research and analysis. As the conditions of our external environment changes, the structure of our internal organizations must also change.
For some, these changes will have been anticipated. For instance, healthcare organizations have long pursued telemedicine as a potential cost-saving alternative to in-person visits. Now the existing infrastructure for telemedicine has been rapidly expanded to meet the needs of patients staying at home.
Other organizations will be required to change in ways that we never could have imagined. For instance, fitness centers and gyms must radically rethink how they conduct business. They must adapt to serving fitness communities in a world in which proximity to others is dangerous.
For MDRG, the environmental conditions of the COVID-19 crises have forced us to refine our approach to agile research. The last few weeks have required us to identify new efficiencies in order to keep up with the rapid pace of change without sacrificing the quality of our findings.
Planning for an uncertain future is no easy task, but it does become more feasible when you have strong relationships (step 1), insights to guide you (step 2), and knowledge of how your organization can most successfully apply those insights within its current environment (step 3).
Strategic plans from the recent past need to be revised. Horizons are different – plans must be set for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and Q4. Plans must also remain flexible and open to change based on new insights or changing conditions. Businesses must remain focused on their relationships, asking questions, and taking stock of their circumstances in order to plan effectively for an uncertain future.
Through our work, we aim to enable our business and our clients to return stronger than ever in the aftermath of COVID-19. Though the magnitude of the current crisis can easily provoke feelings of powerlessness, we believe that strong perseverance and ingenuity can help businesses overcome the current situation at hand.