The Covid-19 pandemic surged at a time when great transformation was already under way, and the pace at which the business landscape is changing has accelerated tenfold in 2020. A recent survey conducted by Chief Executive in collaboration with Myrtle Consulting Group found that half of the CEOs who participated in the study believe Covid has further increased the pressure for transformation at their company.
A changing competitive landscape, innovation, business contraction/expansion and macroeconomic forces are all examples of triggers that have motivated leaders to make change within their businesses. Historically, these triggers often occurred individually; Covid-19 has created a unique climate where all factors have not only converged at once but also suddenly. The result: a spate of unprecedented change across geographies, businesses and industries; a simultaneous shock to both supply and demand.
But if the current environment has stressed the critical importance of businesses transforming and adapting to a new world, it has also laid fresh obstacles in its path. One of the top concerns of business chiefs with regard to transformation is limited capabilities and resources—well ahead of cost and ROI. Not all that surprising considering the context of social restrictions, high unemployment and absenteeism, and an increasing lack of skilled labor to accomplish new goals.
In a time of limited resources, particularly in an all-hands-on-deck moment such as the one we are experiencing today, CEOs should consider making use of their external partners to help them carry on their change initiatives seamlessly. External support can bolster internal expertise and capabilities and scale the needed human capital to make changes happen faster. They can also provide needed perspective at a time when leaders could get myopic in the face of so much change and evolving priorities.
While most companies are looking at ways to cut costs rather than add new expenses amid so much uncertainty and volatility, many CEOs undergoing transformation say this is one area where putting things on hold or even regressing can be detrimental to the business’s future success.
Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, says crises like the one caused by Covid-19 should not become an excuse for stopping the progress of organizational change. “If it really is transformational change, it has to be an imperative,” he says. “You can adjust the levers. You can adjust the schedule. You can adjust the scope. But in theory, if it’s an imperative, you can’t really not do it.”
Reckford, who’s leading the global nonprofit through full-scale transformation, says that while there were certain elements of his organization’s original plan that the constraints of Covid-19 have made harder to accomplish, there were also some that were sped up as a result of the crisis.
“We were able to do some organizational changes that would have been very difficult in a non-crisis,” he says, noting that he has also used the urgency of crises in the past, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, to learn about scaling. “The crisis gave us freedom to do things differently, take those lessons and share them around the world.”
He and other CEOs share, in our just-released white paper, how they are overcoming obstacles to transformational change in this environment and give some advice to other business leaders looking to create sustainable organizational change.