• Shohreh R Aftahi, PhD

Rethinking the organization



A leading retailer began to consider how to launch a curbside-delivery service back in 2019. Their discovery and planning took over 18 months. When the COVID-19 crisis hit the United States, their curbside-delivery service went live in two days. There are many more examples of companies that were positioned well to engage their customers based on their current needs.

In dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, organizations have been forced to reinvent themselves and work in new ways. The shift in the operating model is mostly the focus of this progress. Clear vision, goals, focused teams, and swift decision making have replaced corporate bureaucracy. As we move into the post-COVID-19 era, leaders must commit to not going back to bureaucratic thinking. How you rethink your organizations will go a long way in determining your long-term competitive advantage.

Specifically, you must decide who you are, how to work, and how to grow.

Who we are. When facing a crisis, priorities become very clear, very fast. Strategy, roles, personal ownership and accountability, external orientation, and leadership that is both supportive (transformational) and demanding (transactional)—all are distinct priorities. The way the employee and employer have agreed to work is changing fundamentally. Companies that have adapted well all share a visible characteristic; they all have a strong sense of identity. There is a shared sense of identity and purpose, performance culture between the leaders and employees. Everyone in the organization knows what the company stands for, the governing values beyond shareholder value, and how to get things done right.

How we work. It is evident how small, agile teams built with urgency to deal with the COVID-19 emergency made important decisions quicker and better. What organizations have learned cannot be unlearned; specifically, an organization that is flat and delegates decision making down to a vibrant network of teams is more effective. They rewire their direction to make decisions faster, and with much less time chasing information than before. In a world that is chaotic and unpredictable, companies that can institutionalize decentralization of this kind to be agile and effective will realize a definite competitive advantage.

Organizations have also realized the importance of matching the right talent to the most serious challenges, regardless of hierarchy. Human capital has always been the first cost factor for organizations. In today’s environment, there is more substantial cost pressure; successful leaders see the value in simplifying and streamlining their organizational structures. There is a premium placed on character and results, rather than on expertise or experience when selecting individuals for leadership opportunities. Experience has proven a better way to go through the selection process when critical roles are linked to value-creation opportunities and leadership roles that are much more flexible and allowing new leaders to rise from unexpected places. However, this works if the talent is already within the organization. To hire and keep top talent means hiring the best candidate considering the “whole person” and not just the resume. Companies that include job benchmarking and behavioral assessments in their hiring process have created a data point to identify the best talent for the job. It is also vital to create unique work experience and committing to an improved emphasis on talent development.

How to grow. Post-crisis, organizations must answer central questions about growth and scalability. There are three critical factors they must consider:

  • The ability to entrench data and analytics in decision making

  • Creating learning platforms that support both individual and organizational innovative experimentation and learning at scale considering the organization as a living system to develop system thinking; and the cultivation of a corporate culture that fosters collaboration and value creation with others.

The organizations that are making the shift from closed-loop systems and transactional relationships to digital platforms and networks of collectively beneficial partnerships have proved more flexible during the crisis. Technology is not a specific business; it is every business; every business needs to have a deep understanding of its customer, which is enabled by technology.

By understanding and interpreting the insight data generates and by linking previously unconnected goods, services, and customers—technology is revolutionizing how organizations relate to their customers. Creating digitally enabled ecosystems promotes growth and allows for swift adaptation. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, companies that moved all its employees into a virtual operating environment have experienced an increase in performance, while those that did not have been plagued with additional stress, employee dissatisfaction, and turn over which has led to decreased production. It is easy to imagine who is better positioned to succeed in the post-COVID-19 crisis business environment; those that create an environment where everyone shares in value creation, and strategic partnerships are encouraged and deliberate.