Leading change and driving innovation

The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again’ – this great line from Justin Trudeau’s speech at Davos 2018 is an apt descriptor of our journey as a society and world economy over the last decade. In contrast, for the last few months, it felt as if the world has come to a standstill. However, when we look beyond the headlines of COVID, the pace of change has been immense, be it with respect to consumer behaviours, digitization, creation of new business models and destruction of longstanding ones

It is in this context of rapid and unpredictable change; businesses need to master both the transitory and the transformational response to the crisis; need to survive and thrive.  While there are many facets, let us focus on three (a) Consumers (b) Digitization and (c) Talent

Consumer centricity – a must across all parts of the organization, this is not a choice

It is likely that consumer behaviours have changed or are changing in fundamental ways. For example, Hand Sanitizers that are being sold in a day now exceed the volumes sold by the industry in a month in the pre-COVID era. The quantum of new launches in the health and hygiene categories has been unprecedented and it will continue to be so. In the next phase, while COVID cases will increase, we will see a step up in the economic activity and more workforce on the move. So, we need to start imagining the needs of a masked consumer on the move. The biggest imperative for us is to stay close to our consumers, understand and address their needs (met and unmet) and this will be the only route to thrive.

Digitization and digital journeys – Yes, we have hit the tipping point

People and businesses are taking to technology at a scale never seen before. NASDAQ is now almost 28% higher than pre-COVID levels and Apple’s valuation has crossed $2 trillion. Closer home, Reliance industries demonstrated the biggest pivot in Corporate India by transforming itself into a digital company and raised INR 2.12 lakh crores in less than 4 months (also, the first company with meaningful stakes by both Facebook and Google).

In our FCMG business, this is the inflection point for E-Commerce, and we should expect to see a step change to growth of this channel. Yet, at the same time, it has also marked the ‘renaissance of the humble next-door grocer’. The general trade is now more open to the adoption of technology and therefore, digitizing and modernising this channel is a big opportunity. So, the need of the hour is a comprehensive and disruptive strategy to win in both these channels.

We also need to think deeply about how to reach consumers, build awareness and trace the right path to purchase. We have now witnessed virtual-everything – Mergers, Board and Strategy meetings, Consumer home visits and yet, there is so much more to come. Perhaps, we can now be emphatic when we say that every company needs to be a digital company.

Talent – energise, galvanise, and inspire our people; and tell me HOW

We need our teams to lead, to look at opportunities, to re-imagine. Yet, we also need to address adrenal fatigue as people have been stretched out by working from home and with no sight of cure to the pandemic. If you find this tough, then think about shaping the organizational culture when you cannot even have people in a room. So, it is time for all leaders to go back to brass tacks and learn how to lead. We also need to address the question ‘Why should anyone be led by you’ all over again.

Organization agility quotient has never been this fast and yet, it feels very slow. Therefore, business need to act fast even as we contemplate the new normal.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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