The Age of Disruption continues.

By Chris Locke

March 31, 2021

2020 saw the surprising combination of the global pandemic and technology advances which resulted in a “decade in days” adoption of digital. As we come to the end of March 2021 we continue to see a normalisation of the disruption.

In 2020 we saw an unprecedented change across all industries experienced at a global scale and at a speed rarely seen in living memory. For example, in the UK alone four in five (81%) nightclub venues closed by Christmas 2020. The travel industry has seen a 70-90% drop in air and intercity travel compared to the previous year leading to a much larger knock-on effect around the world. According to preliminary estimates, Italy alone could lose £6.4bn ($8.3bn) in tourism revenue due to coronavirus. In the US, the restaurant industry lost nearly $120 billion in sales during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic alone.

On the other hand, there are certain industries that have seen a boom.

  • Ten years in 8 weeks for an increase in eCommerce deliveries. Right now online shopping makes up 16.1% of retail sales worldwide, but that figure is estimated to rise to 22% by 2023, according to eMarketer
  • 20x participants on videoconferencing in 3 months. It is expected that 25-30% of the US workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. In the UK, 60% of the adult population worked from home during the Coronavirus lockdown, with 26% planning to continue permanently or occasionally after lockdown.
  • Disney Plus in November 2019 had more than 50 million subscribers, a target that rival Netflix took seven years to reach. 

So how do you take this new reality of massive disruption and adapt your people strategy that aligns to the new strategic needs of the business? The first step is to recognise the need for greater agility across the organisation. Companies need to be able to pivot, maximise opportunity, be driven by customer needs, enable innovation to come from all areas of the business, and create a new framework that prioritises speed of decisions through data-driven evidence that allows you to double down on viable ideas quicker and kill projects faster. Or simply put, working like a startup.  

This advice is different from the old adage of “act like a startup.” There is no faking it until you make it in today’s new normal. Many companies are going to have to make fundamental shifts in their DNA. Between COVID and technology advances, we’ve officially hit a global acute adapt-or-die moment. Few organisations will be able to weather the current conditions without making significant changes. Making the assumption you are one of them could be signing your death warrant.

The second step is to recognise the evolution of key skills within your organisation to address this DNA change. Complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity became the top 3 skills required for survival in the 2020 Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum and these three skills will continue to gain focus. The challenge for all organisations will be around instilling these core competencies at scale to drive speed for resilience and adopt startup creative thinking as a business as usual approach.

Disruption can mean opportunity

A few months into 2021, do the prophecies made in the new year continue to unfold? Yes, organisations that lead the recovery will be focused on these elements:

  • There are no silver bullets but scale remains important. We were reminded in 2020 that there is no such thing as an easy one size fits all solution. But as we look to return to a new normal as vaccines take hold, there are steps that organisations can take to make themselves more flexible to meet the impact of change. Organisations need to think big. You can’t limit agility approaches or test-and-learn cultures to just small parts of the business. When strategic plans can be impacted on a daily basis complex problem solving and creativity need space to counter the disruption. As process-driven jobs continue to be automated and value commoditised, there is no better investment than an organisation can make, in its often largest and most valuable asset, it’s people, than to strengthen its startup thinking skillset at all levels of the organisation to weather the impact of change and create flexibility into strategic and tactical approaches across the business. This means teaching people how to think, create and operate with the skills, tools and mindset of an entrepreneur.

    In a MIT Sloan Management Review article early in the year authors Tucker J. Marion, an associate professor of technological entrepreneurship at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business in Boston, Sebastian K. Fixson an associate dean of innovation and the Marla M. Capozzi MBA ’96 Term Chair of Design Thinking, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Greg Brown, senior director of Worldwide CAD Business Development at the global software company PTC shared that “For more than 10 years, we’ve been studying the impact of digital design and product development tools on organizations, their people, and their projects. We’ve found that the competencies companies need most are business-oriented rather than technical. That’s true even for brick-and-mortar companies that are trying to become more digital.
  • Always be building ambassadors. Resilience through upskilling, reskilling and considered outskilling for an empowered workforce at scale. As also reported by the World Economic Forum: “The double disruption caused by automation and the pandemic is likely to displace 85 million jobs by 2025. Among those set to remain in their roles, 50% will need reskilling by 2025.” The impact of the pandemic and increased automation is going to continue to rumble through organisations and industries. 2021 continues to be the year you start or double down on empowering and supporting your talent at any stage of their employment journey with you to become innovators and creators of new value. This isn’t just about doing the right thing, this is about good business. By empowering your organisation and employees at all stages of their life cycle, you create more powerful and loyal teams that can grow with the business, stronger communities and local economic strength as well as drive industry innovation. Don’t let employees just go, let them grow.
  • Speed of innovation is critical. Learn to manage risk and be comfortable with failing fast. Again, we can’t say this enough, don’t just get stuck focusing on the technology transformation. What is ultimately more important is the skills and freedom you give your talent to be able to take advantage of the technology transformations that you are doing not be left behind or your business stuck because of them. There is an opportunity for learning from entrepreneurs in high-tech startups, and that’s their ability to be risk-tolerant. It’s time that intrapreneurs, or innovators in established companies, followed in their footsteps, by learning how to not wait for things to be”right”, being able to pivot fast and be much more agile. Being built for speed of innovation opens the door for powerful outcomes from improving the lifecycle and value of your existing products and services lines as well as launch new ones at pace successfully meeting the evolving needs of your customers.

Discover how ASPIRE can help your talent across your business learn and implement startup first approaches, building new critical skills.

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