Within a week, most of the UK closed - schools, universities and non-essential shops temporarily ceased operations in response to the Government’s order. However, three weeks on, it’s apparent that British business hasn’t shut up shop and companies are choosing survival by adapting at a pace faster than has ever happened before.
Projects which would normally have taken years or decades to deliver, are taking weeks and in some instances, days. We have all seen the time-lapsed footage of China’s ability to build its coronavirus mega hospital within a week, and London’s ‘Nightingale’ hospital will admit it’s first patient, less than a week after the project commenced. Universities have quickly moved their entire course curriculum online and gov.uk has responded rapidly by using its multi-faceted resources to build the online platform which will administer millions of furlough payments within days.
The speed at which we’ve seen business deliver change has been remarkable. Partly underpinned by lack of alternatives but partly (and importantly) driven by a sheer force of will and a desire to cope with the ever-changing situation we find ourselves in. To coin Darwin, our survival is based on our ability to adapt.
What has emerged in recent weeks is that company politics have been thrown out of the window. There is simply no time to waste on point scoring. Programmes of work which would have seen resistance or taken time to gain buy in, are being fast tracked as logic trumps emotion. Just think of how frequently businesses have always justified the need to be in an office, with how quickly their workforce is adapting by converting kitchens, conservatories and spare rooms into home offices overnight. Whilst business changes like this would often be done slowly and in pilots for fear of negatively impacting collaboration and culture; many companies are recognising there is no alternate solution. They are now increasingly supported by technology and relying on increased human contact to remain connected and retain tacit knowledge which will be essential as the economy starts to recover.
During economic downturns, recruitment is often seen as an activity which can be put on hold. This crisis is no different, however now more than ever, companies require exceptional leaders in critical roles. Alongside the usual behaviours, a series of super-skills is emerging. These include the ability to forge relationships and create connections remotely; essential to rally a workforce under high stress behind a common goal. Being able to effectively collaborate is now critical. Even the supermarkets have tossed aside their usual rivalries to share distribution facilities and staff in order to keep the country fed. Similarly, critical thinking is essential. Decisiveness is always important; and there is also a need for people able to examine the alternative options and question whether the forward plan is correct.
As executive search consultants, we speak to leaders from fast growing start-ups to Plc’s and everything in-between. The theme emerging from these conversations is; now that business is demonstrating it can deliver and change at pace, will it ever go slow down? Yuval Noah Harari sums this up perfectly in his recent article in The Times “temporary measures have a nasty habit of outlasting emergencies”.