Doing the Right Thing: Survival isn’t Enough

By John King

Even though we are still in the throes of a global pandemic – with a recent side of political turmoil here in the U.S. – at the end of the day, businesses still need to grow as if everything is business as usual. No doubt, easier said than done. And while how businesses grow might be quite different for the foreseeable future given considerations around COVID-19, the following two principles of growth remain unchanged since before the coronavirus reared its ugly head: 1) Deliver something of value to customers (do the right thing), and 2) Work with enough effectiveness and efficiency to continue as an ongoing business (do the thing right).

For the past year, businesses have frequently done the latter, responding to overwhelming pressures by changing the way they physically operate. These include, but are certainly not limited to, adopting a virtual workforce, delivering customer service via Zoom, conducting remote medical check-ups, and accelerating contact-less interactions like payment processing and curbside pickup. However critical these operational pivots may be, they have not necessarily addressed any of the core products and services a business offers. In other words, many businesses have been so focused on how they are delivering their products and services that they have ignored ­– or more likely have been distracted away from – ensuring they are continuously delivering something of value to their customers.

It’s not enough to just tactically survive.

Businesses have a duty to continually confirm they are doing the right thing for their customers and identify whether value is lacking. They must also keep an eye on the future (near and mid-term), looking at ways to innovate, expand, anticipate other changes in their competitive landscape, and adapt to shifting customer preferences. In fact, pressure from major events like a pandemic can accelerate customer dissatisfaction or defection, because they more quickly reveal core issues around how customers perceive the value of what a company provides. Businesses that focus solely on solving challenges through more efficient delivery may be overlooking more fundamental shortcomings in their products and services that are truly existential and often much harder to attack.

For some businesses already struggling, COVID-19 has been the large, scary, hugely distracting straw that broke the already fraught camel’s back. If we look at sectors most impacted by the pandemic, e.g., cinemas, trade shows, live events, and health clinics, to name a few, some have had their revenue impacted 90+% by the pandemic. That said, many pressures pre-existed COVID. Movie theaters, for example, been struggling since the advent of digital streaming; the pandemic simply intensified that struggle.

Businesses need to walk and chew gum at the same time.

While COVID has been an existential threat to some businesses, and at least a major driver of the need to change for all businesses, businesses that have dealt solely with the immediate issues of efficiency and getting back to work safely may not pay enough attention to more fundamental weaknesses in their business model. COVID presents major challenges, yet businesses need to not only change processes and policies to accelerate efficiency, but also strategically assess their customers and market position, pivoting away from or remediating fundamental flaws in their business proposition and model.

For more insights on how businesses can plan for success during the COVID-19 pandemic, see thought pieces like HighPoint’s Managing the Whipsaw: Planning for the Next Normal.

Is your businesses pursuing significant and sustainable profitability?

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John King is a HighPoint Project Leader and the Managing Partner at Special Circumstances Partners, with over 25 years of experience as a business leader and management consultant. John’s previous experience includes roles at McKinsey, Aon, TD Ameritrade, and ThoughtWorks. He serves senior executives in financial services, healthcare, and business services on topics of strategy, service operations, data and analytics, and performance improvement. John holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a BS from Bates College.