COVID-19 forced companies to become faster. Now it’s time to make that newfound speed permanent.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the most successful business leaders were those who redeployed talent, launched new business models, improved productivity, developed new products and shifted operations. Like at the engineering company which designed and manufactured ventilators within a week, good leadership has been about making good decisions at record speed.
Writing for McKinsey & Company, Aaron De Smet, Daniel Pacthod, Charlotte Relyea and Bob Sternfels say it’s now time to switch from the “adrenalin-based” speed of the coronavirus pandemic to “speed-by-design”.
RETHINKING WAYS OF WORKING
“An organisation designed for speed will see powerful outcomes, including greater customer responsiveness, enhanced capabilities and better performance, in terms of cost efficiency, revenues, and returns on capital.”
- Speed up and delegate decision making. Hold fewer meetings with less decision-makers in each. Either restrict attendance to those with a vote or invite all those who’ll be responsible for implementing decisions, but cut the number of people with a vote. Don’t waste time preparing elaborate PowerPoint presentations for each meeting. Instead, stick to brief one or two-page documents or spreadsheets.Embrace the mantra “quarterly is the new annual”. Making decisions on a quarterly rather than an annual basis is faster and allows for greater flexibility. Delegate “non-mission-critical decisions”. “That means tolerating mistakes that don’t put the business at risk; a slow decision can often be worse than an imperfect one.”
- Don’t micromanage execution. Frontline employees must be empowered to act without being told what to do. This means populating teams with individuals with the requisite skills, and ensuring every team member knows “what needs to get done, by whom, when, and why”.Begin meetings with a statement of objectives and end it with a list of actions and who is responsible for taking them. Provide incentives, track milestones and direct rewards to the best-performing individuals and teams.
- Cultivate extraordinary partnerships. “The rate of technological and business model innovation alone makes it nearly impossible for any single organisation to do everything itself.” During the coronavirus pandemic, Prisma Health and Johnson and Johnson worked together to produce a ventilator-expansion device, authorised for use by the Food and Drug Administration. Prisma Health designed it and Johnson and Johnson built and distributed it.Strong partnerships are built on trust. Embrace open-source innovation and ensure all partners are involved in everything from strategy to execution. “Trust allows the parties to integrate their systems and processes, enabling them to find solutions, make decisions quickly, and execute efficiently.”
- Flatten the structure. “Rigid hierarchies must give way to leaner, flatter structures that allow the system to respond quickly to emerging challenges and opportunities.”Stop “feeding the beast of bureaucracy” and prioritise action.The old structure of bosses and subordinates, with its preponderance of middle managers, must be replaced with “a dynamic network of teams” with the mindset and skills to make quick decisions and execute without hesitation.
- Unleash nimble, empowered teams. Research by McKinsey and the Harvard Business School suggests that companies that embraced agile transformation before COVID-19 have reacted faster and performed better during the pandemic. If the pandemic hasn’t already forced your hand, now is the time for an “agile transformation”.An “agile” organisation comprises small, cross-functional teams with a “specific mission” to bring about outcomes that matter to employees and benefit customers. These teams must have the freedom to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
- Make hybrid work, work. Remote working is no longer the preserve of “born virtual” Silicon Valley companies like GitLab and Mozilla. Everybody has now had a taste of what it’s like to work from home and interact with colleagues digitally. This is unlikely to result in the end of on-site working, but we will see the rise of hybrid working, a balance of remote working and on-site working.Benefits of hybrid working include access to a broader range of talent, increased flexibility, increased employee satisfaction, lower real-estate costs, and increased productivity – but this new way of working must be carefully managed. What jobs can be done remotely? What jobs are better done on-site? How can your company strengthen its “social cohesion” and cultural values?
- Field tomorrow’s leaders today. The coronavirus pandemic has allowed CEOs to see for themselves “who can make decisions and execute rapidly; who is able to take on new challenges and lead in the face of uncertainty; and who has the grit to persevere.”To maintain the momentum you have built during the coronavirus pandemic so far, it’s vital to identify leaders of the future, and put them in positions where they’ll have plenty of opportunity to develop.
- Learn how to learn. “Skills can and do expire. Organisations need people who can continually learn and adapt.” You too must focus on strengthening the skills required for “learning how to learn” in order to build a “hybrid” workforce.The US Navy’s latest littoral combat ships (LCS) – minesweepers and submarine hunters designed to operate in the shallows – carry out a uniquely varied role, but are crewed by just 40 “hybrid sailors”, whose primary skill is the ability to adapt and learn quickly.
- Rethink the role of CEOs and leaders. The C-suite must change too, ditching “command and control” and, instead, focusing on “building and unleashing winning teams”.“The future requires leaders to act as visionaries instead of commanders – focused on inspiring their organisations with a clear vision of the future, and then empowering others to realise the vision.”
See yourself as an enabler whose job it is to align action with purpose and communicate clearly in order to build trust.
“Even well-run companies may find that they need to reinvent themselves more than once.” Now is the time for leaders to recognise that there will be no return to pre-COVID-19 norms, and to act now to reinvent their organisations for speed.