Accelerate: Three imperatives for transforming organisations in a time of crisis


The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked several changes in the way we live, work and do business. The crisis has accelerated digitisation plans in several organisations. This is an opportunity for leaders to accelerate the organisational transformation needed to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

At TEMPLE Advisory, we have always shared the belief that the number-one priority of leaders and organisations must be to accelerate transformation, given the pace of change and complexity we are witnessing. This was true even prior to COVID-19, and is now more so with the current conditions.

Organisations can sail on the winds of pandemic-induced changes and harness the energies, momentum and organisational agility created to push forward much needed transformation. For many businesses that are connected to the ‘life economy’, these transformations will translate into tangible improvement in lives and sustainable communities.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela

Many organisations have made several attempts at transformation. However, the transformation journey has not always been smooth. Sometimes, the scale of transformation required becomes overwhelming – given existing resources.

In other cases, leaders lack the capacity and will necessary to sustain the momentum created. It is not surprising that only a few leaders and organisations feel equipped and confident to navigate the current crisis and emerge better. We believe that the process followed on the transformation journey is much more important than the scale of resources available for the transformation journey.

Our Accelerated Sustained Enterprise Transformation [ASET] Model presents the critical path to accelerating sustained transformations that can be followed by every organisation. In the midst of the crisis, we believe that this model is now more relevant than ever. The current crisis offers a perfect opportunity to reset, restart, reimagine and to rebuild. Below are the 3 key imperatives for accelerating transformation now and in the future, along with 3 critical questions to inspire action on each imperative.


Harnessing the power of Market Insights: Learning and Adapting

In our view, every transformation process begins with listening, sensing what is shifting in the environment, and understanding the channels of interaction with your stakeholders and how that is changing. Every business tries to understand and predict changing consumer behaviour and preferences in how they choose, purchase and access products and services.

The differences lie in organisations’ ability to accept what they are learning without filtering this with their own vision of what ought to be. You need to always come to the market with a fresh pair of eyes and accept what the market offers.

Humility, intense curiosity and external orientation allow effective organisations to actively seek the changes that are taking place around the business. The process of learning these insights, and translating them into action, prepares the business to be ahead of the transformation game.

The pandemic is an opportunity for a reset. Business models that seemed novel and sustainable have been upended by the current crisis. Do not over-emphasise the strength of your business model. Every organisation must examine the fundamental assumptions at the core of their operations.

Client case in point: learning from the changes 

During our recent strategy review sessions with clients, we often asked this question: How has the crisis changed your relationships with key stakeholders; expectations; ways of working; and business processes? We allow executives a considerable amount of time to discuss these in smaller groups, and then to share their observations with everyone on the team.

This is followed by identifying capabilities the organisation needs to build in order to effectively respond to these changes. Organisations need a learning and adaptive mind-set that enables them to revise their expectations and assumptions about how the world operates when confronted with new information.

“A learning organisation is one that understands how everything is interconnected – people, their ideas, context, history, policies, relationships, goals etc.”

Questions to consider:

  1. What are the processes for learning about the changes in your industry and markets on an ongoing basis?
  2. What changes occasioned by the pandemic will become permanent going into the future, and how will these affect the business?
  3. What are the processes for quickly translating market insights into actionable priorities for the business?

Focused and resilient in the midst of the storm: maintaining strategic agility 

Having a clear strategy has become critical because people want clarity of direction in every chaotic situation. At the core of gaining strategic clarity is the need to answer very fundamental questions: What is the purpose of this organisation? Why does the organisation exist? Where is the lighthouse that beckons the ship to shore in the midst of a storm?

Yes, you may have to take a second look at your mission. The organisation’s strategic intent and priorities must be well calibrated and communicated throughout the enterprise. Strategic agility requires a resolute conviction in what the organisation stands for, and making sure that all teams keep to that agenda while staying nimble in choppy waters and driving growth.

For most organisations, maintaining business continuity and delivery of core services in these uncertain times has been the focus of leadership. This is necessary to win the trust and confidence of key stakeholders.

However, to stay competitive and accomplish your purpose, the leader’s thinking must go beyond firefighting and survival to planning for growth. Based on the assessment of short- and long-term impacts of a crisis and the paradigm shifts it presents, organisations must identify the capabilities required to survive the crisis and win in the long-term. Clarity of purpose and well-aligned priorities enable the organisation and its leaders to make the right decisions to not just survive the storm, but win.

Client Case in Point: Developing organisational resilience today and for the future

A supplier of fire suppression services to large mining firms, challenged by the possibility of abrupt disruption to its business, was pushed to review its business operating model. We engaged the management team in a process to examine the purpose of the organisation.

The process generated insights for building organisational resilience with emphasis on honing supply chain capabilities and new paradigms for managing the business flow. Every organisation must be able to answer the ‘why’ question that fulfils the deepest needs of stakeholders and contribute to a meaningful life.

We face neither East nor West; we face forward” Kwame Nkrumah

Questions to consider:

  1. What can the organisation do to express its core purpose to stakeholders in a meaningful and empowering way?
  2. What are the core priorities or critical performance targets that the business should satisfy, given constraints posed by the pandemic?
  3. What critical organisational capabilities should be developed rapidly in order to survive this crisis and thrive in the future?

Mobilising and training the horses for war: engaging talent and empowering teams

In times of crisis, there is a tendency for leaders to feel the need to centralise control. Doing this will be creating too many blind-spots at a time the business has to be very responsive. It is important that leaders trust and empower those at the frontline to respond effectively to the emerging demands posed by the pandemic. This is what occurred naturally when some leaders were at their wits-end.

In almost every organisation, some team members thrived in the chaos and others had a ‘deer in the headlights’ situation. Achieving team effectiveness and moving forward rapidly starts with acknowledging the diversity of responses emerging from different segments of the organisation.

During our recent sessions with leaders, we often asked this question: “What has been the positive impact of COVID-19 on the business?” We find that teams are eager to share the good decisions made and new projects initiated. The answers have always brought energy to the discussion.

However, other surveys we conducted showed lower morale within segments of the same organisation. Leaders must be attuned to managing and leading individuals and teams at both ends of the spectrum. Leaders must strive to maintain the creativity, agility and productivity levels of individuals that have emerged from this crisis – while at the same time lifting the morale of those who have been devastated by the events around them.

Returning to normal may be further out in the future. Leaders have to take care of their people and support them during different scenarios of shutdown and reopening. Highly engaged and empowered teams enable the business to be more responsive to market changes and shifting demands of stakeholders. They are critical to building organisational agility.

Client Case in Point: Energising and caring for frontline staff working remotely

At the beginning of the pandemic, while working with a leading insurance business we quickly refocused a planned leadership development programme to equip the frontline leaders to become more effective in leading and supporting their teams which are working remotely. All leaders were supported to craft their Leadership Value Propositions and host leadership rallies to share with their teams. They also learnt critical skills required to be effective at the frontline – such as holding effective meetings and giving recognition and praise. These sessions had an immediate impact, as team members working remotely experienced deeper closeness, attention and support from their leaders.

“If you dont get the people-process right, you will never fulfil the potential of your organisation.”

Questions to consider:

  1. What actions can the organisation take to energise people to serve the true purpose in the most meaningful way for all stakeholders during this time of crisis?
  2. What people-processes have to be redesigned to boost morale, empower teams and release the potential of individuals whether they work remotely or from the office?
  3. How can leadership create a culture that enables individuals to focus on life-long learning, and celebrate and share the new learning and positive changes they make in the organisation?

Reset, restart, re-imagine and rebuild:

The pandemic has accelerated trends that emerged at the beginning of this century. Some of these trends could become permanent shifts over the short- and long-term. In times such as this, every leader must be very aware of his/her environment; very methodological in approach; and data-driven about the views they hold. Holding onto old-fashioned ideas and assumptions can become a drag. Leaders should always examine and allow others to challenge their assumptions about customers, markets etc., given the rapid pace of change taking place.

‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’

This is a time to reset, restart, re-imagine and rebuild. Every company needs to perform a 360-degree review of its positioning – by understanding its market, reviewing its strategy, and assessing how it mobilises and engages talent and teams. We believe answering the 9 questions above appropriately will enable every business to accelerate and sustain its transformation, even in a time of crisis.

Finally, leaders must not relent in their efforts to keep employees and customers safe while accelerating sustained enterprise transformation.

About the writers

  • Robert M. Bennin, CFA, APTD, MIoD is the Chief Learning Strategist and Executive Coach, TEMPLE Advisory. [email protected]
  • Bubune Sorkpor, Msc, Bsc is an Associate Consultant, TEMPLE Advisory

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