In this time of crisis and with a future that seems more uncertain by the day, a future-back approach becomes vital in charting a course through recovery, readiness and renaissance. Yet, more than creating a vision of the future, this is about companies confronting their inherent inability to adapt so there is enough agility in their operating model.
In thinking about the future, no one truly confronted the probability of such a pandemic, even if common sense and science said it could happen. What this experience has taught us, or should teach us, is companies need to be ready for anything. Adaptability is the new norm. Future-back thinking gives companies the tools to build the muscle necessary to adapt to whatever the future may hold. It’s not about predicting the future; it’s about making the company fit enough and ready enough to manage the risks and seize the opportunities in any scenario.
Transformation needs to be viewed through the lens of three dynamic value drivers
If leaders take a future-back approach to their companies’ transformation journeys through this challenging time and view it through the lens of the three dynamic value drivers — humans at center, innovation at scale and technology at speed — here’s what they may see:
- Humans at center. Companies that are the most human-centric and have the deepest engagement with both their customers and employees will propel though recovery, readiness and renaissance faster and stronger. In times of crisis, humans want to know they matter and they are being cared for. For customers, this means listening, understanding and adapting to shifting behaviors, values and needs. It means higher degrees of personalization, predictability and authenticity. For employees, it’s about the depth to which they feel cared for and that leadership is thinking about their health, wellbeing and productivity. The most connected customers and employees will always lead companies to the future, just as the most engaged customers and employees have been there in the past to propel companies through cycles of change.
- Innovation at scale. There is no shortage of opportunities for innovation at scale during this crisis. Under a traditional model, companies move from ideation to minimum viable product to prototype to pilot and test to commercialization. Companies today simply don’t have time for that. Traditional manufacturers may want to pivot from making automotive parts to making ventilators, or from making vodka to making hand sanitizer. Sadly, they may have neither the capability nor the capacity to do it as quickly as the market needs. The startup economy, on the other hand, is finding ways to quickly pivot. It’s not waiting for a viable product, prototype or pilot. Companies are pivoting on the fly and getting the product to market.
- Technology at speed. Large incumbent companies often have to manage against the constraints of multiple, complex, outdated legacy networks and systems. In response, they are taking a two-speed approach that focuses on the immediate needs of the day-to-day, while incrementally investing in new digital technologies to take them into the future. This crisis has highlighted for many organizations they were underestimating the speed of technology and underinvesting in the technologies and tools that will enable them to operate in a digital world. Companies need to transform so they can deploy technology at the speed at which their customers and employees need it rather than as fast as their legacy systems will allow. The faster companies can apply technology, the faster they can create an advantage.
Leading companies will find the balance among the now, next and beyond
As companies navigate through this unprecedented crisis, they have, in many ways, the same fundamental choice we have as individuals. The one thing we can control in times like these – faced with externally imposed and unanticipated change – is our response. Do we retreat to what’s familiar? Do we focus only on the short term? Or, do we see this as an opportunity to reboot and rebalance?
We talk about this latter path as the transformative mindset. Although there will be a tendency to amplify the now and focus exclusively on resiliency, leading companies will find a way to balance building recovery, readying the company for what comes next and planning for renaissance in the period beyond the pandemic. They’ll embrace the opportunity to reimagine the transformation journey in a way that puts humans at the center, innovates at scale and deploys technology at speed. In doing so, these companies will improve their agility and their ability to adapt and emerge even stronger.
The future we desire depends on the choices we make today. Most of these choices will be difficult. But difficult becomes impossible if companies use old formulas in a market where the winners play by new and rapidly changing rules. The future will be written on the back of today’s choices. Companies need to choose wisely.