Innovation can—and does—happen anywhere and at any time.
During the height of the pandemic, many businesses would have come to a complete halt if not for their use of innovative solutions from the technology industry. While Covid-19 created a devastating disruption to the global economy, it also forced remarkable transformations across almost every industry. From restaurants to real estate to shipping, companies found new ways to sell, service, and operate during the crisis.
Innovation has always been a turbulent process of venturing into the unknown. But business leaders who are willing to make opportunistic changes during such turbulent times can also create significant opportunities for systematic growth and innovation.
Here are three ways business leaders can drive both growth and innovation in today’s fast-evolving and unpredictable environment:
1. Strengthen Supply Chain Relationships
While every business experienced some level of disruption during the pandemic, companies with complex supply chains were several impacted as their production was held up by shortages of inputs from other businesses. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 60% of the manufacturing sector experienced supplier delays, with more than half of retail and wholesale suppliers experiencing similar problems. In addition, many senior leadership teams at these companies had limited visibility into the wide range of issues being faced by their suppliers at the local level, which exacerbated the situation as they were unable to revise their ordering processes appropriately.
In this scenario, it’s critical to create a supply chain model that embraces operational flexibility. Build close relationships with your suppliers, and create transparent, two-way channels of communication. Not only will you have a better understanding of the challenges they might be facing, but you’ll also be able to better plan for potential product delays that could disrupt your business activities, and identify alternative resources. In addition, the stronger your relationships with suppliers, the more likely they will be to provide suggestions for other solutions that could decrease your costs, increase your quality or even new product innovations for your company entirely.
2. Rethink and Realign Your Organization
Good leaders focus on the most important activities of the time—those that will set your business apart from your competitors. While the pandemic has caused considerable disruption, creating significant shifts in demand for a wide range of products and services, it’s also given us an opportunity to rethink and realign our business processes and priorities.
Many organizations made big changes during the pandemic. According to a study by the IBM Institute for Value, 64% shifted to more cloud-based activities, 60% accelerated process automation, and 55% made permanent changes to their organization.
Ask yourself: do you really need a large team dedicated to development of a mature product? Or can you assign this activity to a handful of people, and have the rest of the team focus their efforts on innovative new solutions with the potential for significant growth. Now is the time to create organizational structures and processes, and reinforce leadership behaviors that encourage activities that will help your business grow and flourish in the new normal.
3. Work with Local Government Agencies
If there is one thing I’ve learned after years of managing and growing small companies into larger ones, it’s that people are the driving force of your business and they will be the key to your success, regardless of the state of the company, the state of the market, or—with Covid-19—the state of the world. However, your employees won’t be productive if they are distracted by uncertainties relating to their health and personal wellbeing.
Your senior leaders in every physical office location should have a relationship with their local or regional governments, as the decisions made by these organizations have a direct impact on both the life of your business and the lives of your employees. As your business contributes to the overall success of the economy, these groups will welcome your support. They’ll also consider you a key part of their communication plan when new rules and regulations are introduced that impact the local community, e.g., mask mandates and shelter in place rules.
Becoming a trusted source of guidance for your employees will remove some of their uncertainties, enabling them to better focus on the job at hand. An additional benefit: by fostering these government relationships during good times, as well as bad, you’ll be able to co-create strategies and help set priorities that could help your business survive in future crises.
If there is one thing that the pandemic has shown us, it’s that when faced with adversity, we can rise above the uncertainty and confusion. By strengthening our supply chain relationships, rethinking our internal structure and working with local organizations, we can create significant opportunities for both business growth and innovation.