Dear Dr. Jana,
I hear Northern Territory is allowing restaurants and swimming pools to open and that other states are about to relax their social distancing rules. How fast are we going to get back to normal, or do we need to prepare for an economic depression?
Although it’s pretty clear we are headed toward a recession, I don’t think it will become a depression. However, getting back to “normal” is a different issue. I’ve been speaking with a lot of graduates of our programs, and most are holding their own, and some are even growing! In short, for those who have used this time effectively, the “new normal” will be different – possibly even better than the pre-pandemic “normal”. I outline three positive outcomes of the pandemic, below.
Capitalising on Three Positive Outcomes of the Pandemic
In spite of all the Australian government has done to shore up the economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is predicting that Australia’s economy will decline 7.3% this year. It could have been worse, but it’s a long way from the 2.7% growth that was expected at the beginning of 2020.
A crisis presents both danger and opportunity. While the pandemic has been a dreadful experience for the country and tragic for those people who have lost loved ones, it has provided opportunities for companies to innovate, sometimes radically, and much faster than before the crisis. Here are three outcomes that have been achieved, with unprecedented speed, that will define the “new normal” for companies in Australia and around the world.
1. WFH is now an accepted practice. A mix of WFO-WFH will be the new norm
Before the crisis people were expected to “come to work”. Since the CoVID-19 lockdowns, 40+% of Australian workers, categorised as “knowledge workers”, have proven they can easily work from home. The “new normal” is likely to be two days in the company office, two days in a home office, and perhaps one day traveling each week, or some combination thereof.
The flow-on effects of this mix of WFO-WFH will impact the numbers of cars on the road, traffic, public transport, numbers of new office buildings that will be built, inclusion of an office in the design of new homes – all having a positive impact on mental health, productivity, and even climate change.
2. Fast broadband/Wi-Fi is a national imperative, but so are basic management skills
Now that we have proven we CAN work from home, what are the inhibitors for making WFH as productive as WFO? There are three: high speed internet; clarity of roles, responsibilities, expectations and accountabilities; and good communication among team members.
a) High speed internet
We have long talked about the need for faster internet, especially in regional Australia. Empowering our regions with high speed broadband and Wi-Fi is clearly a national imperative for Australia. If people can work from anywhere, why not live in the regions, rather than the suburbs or within commuting distance of cities? However, until all of Australia has access to high speed internet, this is not a realistic option. Hopefully this problem will be fixed soon.
b) Clarity of roles, responsibilities, expectations and accountabilities
Working at a distance from each other requires managers to be more diligent in clarifying roles and responsibilities for tasks and activities, as well as expectations and accountabilities for when the work will need to be done. It means alerting each other to problems that have cropped up, as well as new opportunities on the horizon that will impact teams.
c) Good communications among team members
All this means good written and verbal communications between managers and their teams are critically important, and more communication is better than less. Managers need to build the muscle of execution in their teams, regardless of whether they are WFO and/or WFH. So, holding them accountable for high performance, achieving deadlines, and working collaboratively – and celebrating successes with virtual coffees, or wine and cheese or birthday cake – is key. Good managers will continue to over-communicate and celebrate wins with their staff long after CoVID-19 lockdowns have passed.
3. Deliver value to customers, remove the friction, and cut out the unnecessary steps in processes
Some of your customers will have money to spend, but right now everyone is being very careful about where they spend and what they buy. People will look for value, and you need to focus on offering “value” to your customers, even more than variety. And it’s not just what you think customers value but discovering what they actually do value.
Remember those five questions we teach in the Clinic: Who are you? Who is your customer? What do they value? How are you measuring that you are delivering that value? And what’s the plan to deliver more value to more customers? Peter Drucker’s Five Questions are as important today as they were when he wrote them. Those companies that understand what customers value will be the ones to lead us out of this recession and back into positive economic territory.
Think about the airlines. If we are ever going to be comfortable flying again, we’ll value:
- Easy check-in without having to stand in line with other people or needing to talk with someone who gives us a paper pass.
- Bag drop off without standing in line and having to talk with a person who gives us a paper baggage receipt.
- Security check-in without having to wait in line with other people crowding around (or those with artificial hips and knees having to go through “pat down”)
- Preventing passengers who are unwell from entering the airport or boarding the flight
- Air circulating inside the plane to be clean from virus and pathogens
- Hearing how the airline or airport is making sure that neither we or our bags are being exposed to viruses when traveling on that plane or through that airport.
In order to really understand what customers value and then figure out how to deliver that value to the customer, company executives need to get their teams to (1) ask their customers, (2) listen to their customers’ comments, and (3) “get inside the head of the customer “, i.e., understand the experience from their customer’s perspective. Offering value will require rethinking and stripping out all the unnecessary steps and touchpoints that are not really serving customers but are actually irritating customers. One reason I prefer to fly QANTAS is they figured out how to use digital systems to enable frictionless check-in and bag-drop (which saves me time and hassle – and I really value that.) And I suspect that one reason QANTAS will be able to come through this crisis has as much to do with the fact that they deliver what customers value, as the past business decisions they have made.
So, for these and other reasons, I think the pandemic has accelerated the speed with which companies have taken action on innovations they have been thinking and talking about for some time, e.g., transitioning to the cloud so files are available to any employee regardless of WFH or WFO; using a low-cost technology to determine new sites for putting up more digital transmission towers; rethinking the customer experience; cutting out the unnecessary steps and offering something customers will value when they begin buying again. And that accelerated speed of innovation is one reason why I think we will only have a recession and will be able to re-bound faster than other countries.
Innovation and concern for the commonweal (shared benefit to the community) have always been hallmarks of Australia. As someone pointed out to me, the Australian Coat of Arms includes the Kangaroo and the Emu – and neither of them can step backward. So, let’s all go forward as quickly as possible and flatten the recession, just like we flattened the CoVID curve!
Ask Dr. Jana your questions on company survival and growth. Submit your questions via email to Dr. Jana and she’ll answer in her ‘Ask Dr. Jana’ column.
Learn more about the programs delivered by the Australian Centre for Business Growth.