Survive or Thrive? Building on pandemic business success

Companies who came through the pandemic stronger than ever will need to dig deep and ask themselves how to make the most of their success.

Survive & Thrive - Douglas Jun/Jul 2022

For some organizations, the pandemic has been a time of record growth, sales and innovation. They are finding themselves in a “last one standing” scenario: they grew while competitors collapsed, leaving them in a much less crowded market than they operated in 2019. Others found forays into online retail, lifted them far above expectations. 

If you lead one of these organizations, what’s next? How do we sustain these achievements?

Have Your Cake 

A lot of experts might tell you to fill in the blank with some business growth jargon, probably using the word “hustle,” Not here. Sit down, take a breath. Have some cake.

The first thing to do if you find yourself in this fortunate place: nothing. 

It’s time to pause, reflect and celebrate. Your people are exhausted and uncertain, and probably you are too. The world around us is still going through unprecedented convulsions having experienced in everything from social upheaval to supply chain meltdowns. 

Celebrate that you are still here and thriving. Celebrate the people who got you here: your employees, customers and suppliers. 

Celebration and gratitude help us dig deep for what is still to come. Because there is more to come.

And while you are eating that cake together, talk. Talk about what tomorrow might bring; about the risks and opportunities that lie ahead. Celebrate your wins and explore opportunities for improvement. 

Survive or Thrive? 

How you react to winning this round sets the stage for what happens next. You will survive, or you may thrive. It is a little bit like the difference between playing not to lose versus playing to win.

Survive: Reward hard work with more hard work — busyness over value creation.

Thrive: Reward hard work with celebrations that fuel those reflections, which can transform.

Dance with Them That Brought Ya

Most of the pandemic’s business success stories would not have been possible without the employees who showed up, even if it was in pajama bottoms.

Suffice to say, we’ve asked a lot of those employees. 

Talent is the most important and most challenging competitive advantage in the market. Successful organizations are going to have to respond if they want to sustain that success. An employer that can’t attract, retain and maximize the value of employees, is going to fail.

Sustaining success means a complete rethink of the employee experience. From recruiting and onboarding practices to compensation, communication, workplace flexibility, learning and development, and advancement, no stone should be left unturned. 

Survive: Be a getter. Show your colours by offering signing bonuses and steep new-member discounts.

Thrive: Be a keeper. Invest in relationships and show your colours by recognizing you didn’t win by yourself. The lovely irony? High retention, low churn businesses are where everyone wants to work and shop. 

Listen Harder

In these increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) times, great communication is the most important element of employee engagement. Planning matters, but great communication will save you when a plan fails you.

If communication is the heart of culture, listening is the heart of communication. Leaders and managers continue to confuse messaging with communication. If you aren’t listening, you aren’t communicating. 

Survive: Tell people what to do. You don’t have to explain yourself — it’s your business. 

Thrive: Make it safe for your people to ask you to explain yourself — it’s our business.

Rethink the Givens

When we realized remote work was feasible, everything changed. To leverage this realization, we have to get beyond “working from home versus working at work.” Flexibility is about integrating three factors: the value of the work, the role of the employee in creating that value and how we measure that value. 

We have to get past paying for the simple “meat factors”: body in building, bum in seat, hands on tools. We have to figure out how to measure and pay for the value created, not just the hours put in. This will drive a new relationship with how and where work gets done. If we can commit to that rethinking, it will help us realize one of the most important transformations the pandemic has made possible.

Survive: Stick with using time as the value you measure and pay by.

Thrive: Rethink everything. What are your customers really paying for? Find ways to pay for the creation of that value, not the time it took to create it.

Invest in Technology

After years of being slow to invest in technology, a pandemic finally gave Canadian business owners no choice. From video conferencing and manufacturing automation to robots in restaurants, organizations are investing in technology like never before. 

Much of the initial investment was shotgun wedding-style, driven by the need to manage with a reduced and remote workforce. But as we emerge into this new world, we have to change from reactive to proactive investments. 

Your best ROI in technology investment will come from three areas: communication, analytics (especially about the state of your people and your customers) and process automation (robotic or human workflow). 

Survive: Make cost control the priority (because things could get worse).

Thrive: Make investing in innovation and people the priority. Whether things improve or get worse, it is still innovation and our people that will ensure that we continue
to thrive.

See also: Rettichs’ Road to Recovery interview, where he expands upon the topic.

Clemens Rettich is a business consultant with Grant Thornton LLP. He has an MBA from Royal Roads University and has spent over 25 years practicing the art of management.