South Africa finds itself on the cusp of level-3 lockdown, with statistics relating to job losses and the shrinking economy keeping most business leaders awake at night. While it is still difficult to tell what the next several months will bring, there are some broader trends and scenarios that can help to inform your future planning.
Welcome to the beginning of the next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa: adaptive management.
Together with business resilience, adaptability will become a competitive advantage. Adaptability will depend on being able to quickly and effectively pivot, flex and grow your capabilities with the resources already at your disposal.
In a Forrester study, Invisible resources are the secret weapon for growth, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, JP Gownder, shows that it is possible to innovate to enable business success, while cutting costs at the same time. Technology, in the form of intelligent software that increasingly leverages artificial intelligence, could help leaders access a variety of internal and external resources that are powerful and useful, but that lie out of sight, to cut costs, drive innovation and delight beleaguered customers.
According to Gownder, these “invisible resources” can be physical, digital or human, and could be:
- Resources that exist internally but are underutilised;
- Those that exist internally but are unavailable; and
- Those that exist as software but aren’t yet mastered.
Digital innovations can bring these invisible resources into plain sight – for example, using Chunker, the Airbnb of warehouse space, to lease out unused space on a just-in-time basis, or creating an internal marketplace for real-time skills uptake and job tasks using software like Hitch.Works or ActiveOps.
Between layoffs, some staff working from home, some returning to the office, and investments in automation, this phase of the pandemic will be defined by the difficult decisions executive teams will need to make. As your business strategy shifts, you’ll need to meet the needs of the business at the same time as addressing the human needs of your organisation.
Since layoffs can be counterproductive to business goals, and harm the employee experience (EX) of remaining workers, in another Forrester report, Three adaptive workforce strategies for Covid-19, Gownder gives the following advice:
- Redeploy talent inside your company. Adaptive companies understand that talent is an asset they should continue to invest in rather than merely move off the books. They redeploy employees who may be “invisible resources” to take on new challenges – for example, the US state of Hawaii is moving idle state employees to help process a huge influx of unemployment claims.
- Focus on other forms of cost cutting. This is most often the first focus for business leaders. However, even non-layoff cost-cutting is not without pain and negative effects on EX. Involving employees – for example, crowdsourcing that gives employees an opportunity to come up with their own cost-cutting ideas – will have a more positive EX outcome.
- Offer post-employment assistance. Even though layoffs aren’t always avoidable, they can always be done with empathy. Severance packages help departing employees but also buttress trust among remaining employees. Employee assistance programmes provide counselling and support, especially with the ever-present threat of Covid-19.
How your management team handles tough workforce decisions will define your brand perception and how your remaining employees feel about you as an organisation. You will need to employ thoughtful transparency and tremendous empathy.
Culture is an incredibly important part of a work-from-home strategy, especially at this moment. Employees are under immense pressure, with many working long hours. Outside of work, lots of employees are caring for family members, some of whom are sick. This is a make-or-break time for your employee experience. By prioritising flexibility and empathy, firms set themselves up for success now and in the future.
At Forrester, we believe that engaged employees, supported by empathetic leaders, situated in an organisational environment that motivates the workforce to become customer-obsessed — all of it backed by the tools and technologies to manage that workforce strategically — will be a differentiating factor in determining not just which companies survive this current crisis but which ones go on to create the employee and customer experiences of the future.
For the past decade, Forrester has been delivering deep insights into how people interact with technology, how their behaviours and expectations change, and how companies should respond. Our Technographics data, based on rolling, annual, global demand-side (not supplier-led) research surveys, provides a wealth of information on which business leaders can rely for dependable, forward-looking advice.
Complimentary resource: Since it’s more crucial than ever to understand how your customers (and employees) are behaving throughout their changing journeys so that you can adapt, listen to the complimentary webinar Virtual Customer Journey Mapping.
- Joan Osterloh is authorised Forrester Research partner for South Africa
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