To call the past year “difficult” may be the understatement of 2020. But businesses brave enough to look further into the future may find as many opportunities as challenges waiting ahead.
“Business progress and success have always been about the future…about fixing our gaze forward and capturing the opportunities hidden in every challenge and adversity,” says Ernest Cu, President & CEO of Globe Telecom, speaking at the Globe Leadership Innovation (Lead-In) Forum, held virtually for the first time in history since its inception more than ten years ago.
Joining Cu as speakers at Lead-In were Christian Besler, Chief Digital Officer of Ayala Healthcare Holdings, Inc. (AC Health); Edwin Bautista, President & CEO of Union Bank of the Philippines; Sunil Gupta, Edward Carter Professor of Business at Harvard Business School; and Peter Maquera, Senior Vice President of Globe Business.
All agreed that digital transformation was central to surviving the present and thriving in the future.
Consciously plan for the next normal
For many businesses, the digital transformation process has already been accelerated by the global pandemic.
In a survey conducted by KPMG and HFS, 59% of executives say the pandemic has “created an impetus to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives.” Although average investments in emerging technologies saw a significant dip—mainly because companies were focused on near-term survival—these budget cuts may not be permanent.
Over the next year, executives say they plan to spend more on technologies as they “reboot the enterprise and get fit for the new reality.”
At Lead-In, the consensus called for a digital transformation roadmap to guide these efforts. Regardless of the difficulty in planning amidst the present uncertainty, it’s still better to have an imperfect direction than no direction at all. The trick is to navigate from point to point, correcting course when necessary.
Business leaders can expect surprising dividends from creating a clear transformation roadmap, such as an increased buy-in from stakeholders—employees and customers.
Look for new paths and keep building capabilities
Products, as a differentiator, are no longer enough to prepare a business for the future. Companies must also explore opportunities in adjacent businesses, and pivot to business models that promote short-term survival as well as long-term growth and resilience if necessary.
Spotify, for instance, was hit by a significant drop in ad revenue as their advertisers slashed budgets during the pandemic. The company responded by creating original podcasts. Within a month, artists and users uploaded over 150,000 episodes. Spotify has also signed exclusive deals with celebrities.
The shift in strategy turned Spotify into a tastemaker, allowing them to adjust to a new reality that provided dividends to copyright owners while sidelining pure-play streamers.
Trust, empower, and enable your team
The speakers at Lead-In spoke about the shift their organizations had to make to enable employees to work-from-home due to movement restrictions imposed at the beginning of the year. Based on their experiences, helping employees stay productive, become digitally secure, and deliver results depended on three things:
Trust: Focus on outcomes rather than attendance. Also, be mindful of the fact that each employee faces a different set of challenges at home. A little more understanding and flexibility is, thus, needed.
Empowerment: Give them space for safe experimentation and failure. Accept that failure is a possibility, especially for those brave enough to take risks. The important thing is to learn, iterate, and improve—something businesses can learn from startups.
Equipment: Give your workforce the tools they need to work well. These can take multiple forms, such as actual work tools, office setups at home, and benefits to increase a sense of security for employees.
Increase your business’ agility quotient
Well-prepared businesses have a sense of urgency, to better anticipate and respond to change. They’re also more agile—faster, more innovative, and more adaptable.
Research by McKinsey supports this: an analysis of 25 businesses across seven sectors revealed that companies who had embedded agile practices within their operations outperformed and managed the pandemic’s impacts better than those who hadn’t.
A technological and cultural transformation
Digital transformations may become the norm for businesses in the next year. But, as Lead-In attendees learned, this transformation is more than technological; it must be cultural, too.
It entails a transformation of one’s business culture—from reactive to proactive, from slow-and-steady to agile, and from attendance-focused to outcome-based.
Thus, to complete the transformation process, businesses must welcome new technologies and a novel business paradigm ideally suited for the next normal.