THE Covid-19 pandemic has become the greatest world-wide challenge since the Second World War and the biggest public health crisis in a century. Its far reaching repercussions have been felt across the world with significant social and economic costs. More developed countries have initiated stimulus and social protection packages as part of their emergency responses to the pandemic.
Covid-19 will have lasting impacts on all aspects of our lives as is evidenced by how consumer purchasing habits have changed in recent months. The pandemic has refocused social attitudes, behaviours and habits in advanced economies. People adapted to the new realities of lengthy government-imposed lockdowns which impacted on all social and commercial activities. Working remotely and/or from home became the only option for those who still had jobs. While we had always used our homes for living we were now using them for living, working and shopping.
Covid-19 has also dramatically accelerated the role of technology in our everyday lives. Technology is now at the core of home working, education, automation of services and online shopping. In the case of shopping habits there has been a seismic shift in buying behaviour over the past twelve months with a dramatic rise in e-commerce and in the use of omnichannel services. The OECD has recently confirmed that e-commerce has rapidly expanded into consumer segments such as the elderly and into different products such as groceries and other everyday necessities. Research by Accenture shows that habits formed during the crisis will endure post-pandemic and will change values, attitudes and behaviours long into the future.
In the business world there is widespread recognition that there has been a large rise in digital customers as a result of new shopping habits which have created challenges for all businesses, but also opportunities for the most agile and responsive. Technology is being harnessed as never before to drive business transformation. Pandemic inspired innovation has propelled many businesses and enterprises to reorganise their activities to focus predominantly on the virtual environment of online trading. Most businesses and organisations have embedded and integrated new technologies across all core business functions and it is now at the heart of product and/or service delivery.
This is happening because organisations and business entities in both the public and private sectors were required to pivot their activities to meet new and emerging demands resulting from government lockdowns of entire economies. It was a case of sink or swim- adapt and innovate or stand still and die. In most cases, new business models have emerged where online and virtual trading will now actively compete with high street commercial activities.
Having reorganised their business models in the short-term most organisations and businesses now realise that to sustain their long-term viability, they must increasingly compete online as well as on the high street. This is a vital survival objective in order to maintain brand relevance and to cultivate strong online customer support. Technology is the biggest game changer in recent times because it has enabled the end to end transformation needed to sustain adaptable and resilient companies and organizations into the future as they respond to a transformed trading environment.
Those entities which will survive the pandemic shock will be those which have articulated an urgent commitment to use new technologies to integrate more flexible delivery channels for goods and services. The urgent object now for most business entities is to connect with digitally-focused online customers by utilising a variety of engagement strategies. Significant resources have been invested in e-commerce software to build a stronger online presence by creating more dynamic websites and maximising the utilisation of social media platforms. The trend now and for the future is about moving a significant proportion of trade from the high street to online engagement with customers in their living rooms. Home deliveries and in-store pick-ups have skyrocketed in an online sales revolution which has rapidly expanded in response to the shifting needs and demands of customers.
Within businesses and organisations there has also been a seismic shift in work practices over the past twelve months. The sudden and devastating impact of the pandemic crisis on existing customs and practices required many business managers to rapidly evolve to leadership roles which have become inevitably more human centric in style. With most employees working from dispersed work locations their wellbeing became the new priority for leaders. All leaders faced unprecedented challenges and had to engage remotely, to lead with empathy and patience while also inspiring and motivating their employees and colleagues. They needed to build inspired and engaged online teams and encourage constructive collaboration. Leaders were being tested as never before.
While the tsunami type impact of Covid-19 has brought about an unprecedented transformation in customer behaviour it has also had a pivotal impact on leadership behaviour and styles. It has been said that change is the leader’s constant companion and this is certainly the case in recent times. The entire business model has transformed and is now more about people engagement, whether customer or employee. The critical focus is now on loyalty; building and maintaining customer loyalty and securing the loyalty of all employees working remotely and engaged in flexible work practices and strategies.
In this time of technology-inspired change processes the re-focusing of business and commercial activities to online trading now demands leaders who have the vision and strategic know-how to cross the Rubicon to exploit new trading opportunities. Innovative, virtual leaders need the awareness, skills and knowledge to use technology and digital tools in a strategic way, in order to ensure their organisations’ future sustainability and competitive advantage.
There is a concern that many leaders are professionally ill-equipped to face such a challenge. Recently published research by MIT Sloan Management Review in the US shows that just 7% of large companies have digitally competent senior executive teams with the digital know-how to have a truly tech-informed perspective. Yet it is increasingly obvious that technology-related leadership skills are increasingly important as more business decisions rely heavily on technology and data analysis.
In this era of shifting customer habits leaders need to understand the relevance and purpose of innovative technology. They need to understand and value the benefits of new-age technological advancements as well as the deliverables that will arise from their utilisation. Technology and business have become significantly more intertwined in recent times and leaders now need digital experience and a strong technology viewpoint to fully exploit the potential which can arise from the convergence of technology and business.
The pandemic crisis has galvanised all public and private sector organisations and entities to respond with alacrity to ensure future viability in response to shifting public needs and demands. Survival and sustainability are now at the core of all strategic decisions. In this context, there needs to be a clear understanding that technology is significantly embedded as a key driver and accelerant of change. Leaders are being tested as never before, and by embracing technology they can best assure future success. The true mark of leadership is to excel at difficult times and in difficult situations. With technology advancing at breathtaking speed, leaders need the skills to identify opportunities to utilise the right technologies in the right way and at the right time.
In the contest of Covid-inspired transformation of customer buying habits it is now certainly a case of survival of the fittest for business entities. No doubt the future will belong to those leaders who embrace change and drive digital transformation across their organisations. The post-pandemic global future will be about rebuilding and reconfiguring economies for inclusive and sustainable growth. Innovative leaders know that technology will continue to evolve at an exponential rate and will have a powerful impact on our lives. Technology is now the driving force behind a new style of leadership.
Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win – Lyndon B Johnson.
(Feature photo by Roberto Cortese, Unsplash.)