How Business Leaders Can Overcome COVID-19 Challenges to Fuel the Rebound

COVID-19 forced businesses to adapt to remote working and meet customer demand online. And many leaders took bold and decisive action to ensure their organisations survived and stabilised.

But the crisis has also created long-term challenges for the C-Suite – ones they must tackle head-on if they are to set their businesses up for a successful recovery. 

Digital delivery of services is a top priority. Lockdown restrictions have driven customer expectations of digital services to new heights, and employees expect to be able to collaborate with each other instantly, whether they are working from home or the office. 

Leaders also face the task of creating a successful company culture when employees may be operating from different locations. 

Addressing these challenges is far from easy, but if CEOs invest in the right technology, their organisation will be better able to adapt and grow.

By doing so they will not only build more agile and high-performing businesses but will also claim part of the £232bn opportunity revealed by our recent study with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) into the impact of digital investment. 

See through the eyes of consumers

Consumer behaviour will never be the same again. 43% are shopping on their mobiles more regularly than they were before the crisis, with 93% intending to continue post-pandemic, according to the PwC Global Consumer Insights Survey.

Now is the moment for leaders to evaluate their customer-facing services, interrogating and testing them as if they were consumers.

And adopting a consumer-centric mindset could have rich rewards, as Samsung UK and Ireland has shown since the pandemic struck.

Its leadership team invested in the online experience by building video chats into the customer journey. Visitors to product webpages could engage with a “human helper” capable of providing friendly advice on a purchase, replicating the in-store experience and contributing to a significant increase in conversion rates.

Levi’s is another business that, despite the enormous challenges of global COVID-19 lockdowns and store closures, has taken bold steps to invest in its eCommerce processes, modernise systems and improve its omnichannel experience.

The financial management company, Workday, offered its workers a one-time cash bonus to help them through the impact of the pandemic, expanded its childcare benefits and provided free meditation and mindfulness resources.

The clothing retailer has shifted investment towards data and AI and has seen its online sales increase by 93% in a single month. CEO, Chip Bergh, is bullish about the future, stating that the business is “ideally positioned to win in the post-COVID world.”

If leaders can build this kind of customer-centricity into every business decision, they can set up their organisation to rebound stronger from the pandemic.

Creating a culture that allows everyone to flourish

Many organisations, such as the Civil ServicePwC and Deutsche Bank, are shifting towards a hybrid working model – one where employees can operate from multiple locations, including from home and the office.

But with a distributed workforce, some people worry about how the C-Suite can maintain a sense of unity and identity. How can an organisation create a sense of belonging, particularly among new joiners and graduates with no experience of the workplace, without everyone being in the same building?

MITSloan analysed Glassdoor reviews of company cultures during the first six months of the pandemic and found the best-performing businesses excelled at communication, integrity and transparency. Leaders who were proactive in setting out organisational values were able to maintain a sense of unity despite the majority of their staff working remotely.

As well as clear and engaging communication, a strong culture is also about action. The financial management company, Workday, offered its workers a one-time cash bonus to help them through the impact of the pandemic, expanded its childcare benefits and provided free meditation and mindfulness resources. This had the effect of not only positioning the C-Suite as a compassionate force but reinforcing corporate values and strengthening a sense of unity.

By taking visible and decisive action, and communicating with integrity and transparency, leaders can create cultures in which everyone can flourish. This will prevent new joiners from feeling “left out” and stop the development of siloed cultures between office and home workers.

A new approach to leadership

Having survived and stabilised, leaders now face long-term cultural and operational challenges as they look to rebound from COVID-19.

But these obstacles are not insurmountable, and I believe they should look to the future with optimism.

By prioritising customer-centricity and firmly setting out company values, CEOs can strengthen organisational unity, drive customer acquisition and grasp the £232bn opportunity before them with both hands.

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