COVID-19 has highlighted the exiting perception that we live in a world in constant beta state, demanding more capacity for innovation and adaptability from organizations.
The pandemic has disrupted our normality and even threatened the short-term survival of many businesses. It has also shone a light on unexpected needs among their main stakeholders, such as employees and consumers.
Active listening and innovation are the first links on the chain of necessary responses to a crisis that is urging us to rethink business models and reformulate the relationship many organizations have with their policy framework and stakeholders.
McKinsey recently classified these needs for adaptation within a five-phase scenario, in line with the possible phases of pandemic de-escalation.
Innovation is implicit in each of these phases: either as a means to soften the initial impact, or in terms of short and medium-term innovation to remain competitive in the so-called new normal.
The very term ‘pandemic’ (from the Greek ‘pan’–everything–and ‘dêmos’–people–) points to its impact on all of society and on each of the organization’s stakeholders. Solutions must therefore take all of them into account, along with their unique characteristics.
Collaborative innovation: a collective, coordinated response to COVID-19
When an organization listens to its stakeholders, it can understand and respond to their needs swiftly and at the right time. But if stakeholders are involved in finding such responses, they will be even more effective.
In that regard, promoting co-creation and collaboration around a 4R–four response–modelthat considers the unique characteristics of each phase in this crisis, can make the difference when offering innovative solutions and transmitting confidence in the face of uncertainty.
As in any sudden or unexpected situation, the COVID-19 crisis demanded a process of acceptance–in opposition to occasional moments of denial–prior to any possible reaction. In this first phase that many organizations have already left behind, coordination and alignment among stakeholders was essential.
Technology has helped to safeguard interests, for example by guaranteeing operations with immediate effect thanks to measures like teleworking. Likewise, an initial wave of innovative responses has enabled good team management, making health concerns compatible with work productivity.
In a second stage, many organizations have already applied more urgent internal measures to ensure their short-term operations and adapt to regulatory changes.
The least affected sectors that have adapted to the situation have been able to continue with part of their activity, despite the many restrictions. For others, the turning point is still distant, and they must therefore try to stay close to consumers and avoid a disconnection with their brand.
Organizations try to buy time by anticipating the various challenges and uncertainties that lockdown relaxation will bring. To this end, they seek to mobilize available resources and talent to the extent possible in their surroundings: they become open to external collaboration to shorten reaction times and offer more personalized responses.
With the new normal in sight, companies seek to adapt their business or explore other new activities that alleviate the pandemic’s impact on their usual operations.
The use of co-creation, and listening to vitally important external collectives like consumers, has facilitated the detection of new needs and business areas. Their involvement in finding innovative responses has also helped to detect the most adequate ones and, above all, to bring them about at the right time.
In the new normal, organizations seek to provide trust and certainty in turbulent and uncertain times. They have worked to reformulate and adapt their offer, with consumers in mind, as well as other critically relevant collectives.
Meeting the requirements imposed by the pandemic (social distancing, hygiene…), offering services of undisputable value, necessary in a context of economic uncertainty that dispenses of what is considered superfluous; as well as a satisfactory consumer experience compatible with restrictions that guarantee safety, are some of the most common concerns.
The fear of new COVID-19 outbreaks, and the new unknown scenarios they would bring about, mean that innovation and continuous active listening of stakeholders remain priorities.
In short, each of the phases experienced, and any that are still to come, have put to the test the capacity of organizations to innovate and adapt. The particular needs of the moment have called for speed in seeking solutions, and have highlighted the fact that solutions must adapt to each stakeholder if they wish to inspire trust in a complex and turbulent context.