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Adapting to Disruptions in the Post-Pandemic Business World

This Research Paper looks at how organizations can navigate the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, by ensuring continuous workplace learning, the use of digital transformation and innovation, to stay on top of their game.  This also includes the use of appropriate digital systems and infrastructure suitable in a post-pandemic world.  The Paper will look at the different types of disruptions, and collision, and how they work hand in hand.  Finally, the Paper will offer solutions for dealing with disruptions during these uncertain times.

Introduction

Companies have experienced major disruption due to a pandemic (COVID-19), which has changed how business is done.  COVID – 19 has hit the world at a speed that has left governments and businesses reeling from its adverse effects on economies.  More often than not, most companies tend to focus on threats that are familiar because they have systems and management structures that can measure and monitor risks that are known.  What happens to these companies when they have to deal with unfamiliar threats like COVID – 19 that is currently ravaging the world’s population, which is the question, business leaders should be answering.

When companies only focus on familiar threats, they add very minimal value to their long-term plans; this leads to making fast decisions under stressful circumstances.  It is therefore important for businesses to investigate disruptive forces that are unfamiliar, to incorporate them into their research, and in turn, into their strategic goals.

Companies can respond to disruptions in many ways, especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced many businesses to re-think how they conduct business.  They can look at their workforce, systems, digital platforms, as well as visual places (MIT Sloan, 2020)

In response to unrelenting digital disruption, leaders are looking at their workforce through a new lens.  Companies are looking at how to develop more valuable, flexible, and adaptive employees.  More people are being made valuable in their organizations, through investment in opportunity that is targeted, which is a principle that is central in organizing. 

MIT Sloan conducted a global executive survey, which identified the design of opportunity marketplaces as a leadership challenge for many companies (MIT Sloan, 2020).

Opportunity Market Places

Opportunity market places are virtual places, systems, and digital platforms, where companies give and employees are given opportunities that are suitable for their mutual success and benefit.  A good marketplace provides workers with well-defined options and opportunities for networking, mentorship, project participation, and professional development (MIT Sloan, 2020).  Employees who are empowered can also plan to pursue the available avenues, which offer value to them.  Where there are vibrant and inclusive opportunity marketplaces, the individual and company aspirations tend to be strategically aligned.  This creates value for the company (MIT Sloan, 2020).

The MIT Sloan Study found that 74% of those interviewed believe that the development of workers’ capabilities and skills is valuable to their organization’s business strategy, though only thirty-four percent were satisfied with the company’s availing of resources to them.  Almost fifty percent of the employees interviewed were willing to leave the company if offered a severance package or a buyout.

Opportunity Corrects the Disconnect

 Successful companies like to make a conscious effort to make available resources for their employees through retraining, up-skilling, and providing them with avenues for their professional achievement and development (Schwarz et al., 2020).

These organizations see employees not just as an operational means to an end, but also as assets worth cultivating.  Opportunity-centric approaches represent a conscious shift away from transactional commitments.  This is because they indicate a more worker-centered approach to the creation of value by an organization.  Employees in such organizations tend to be more satisfied with their jobs (Schwarz et al., 2020).

Looking through the Opportunity Lens

A business’s requirement for relevant skill development varies with the enabling of opportunities for employees to learn from experiences that are new, apply valued skills, and develop them, to move seamlessly to new roles within the business.  If employees acknowledge that the opportunities offered are authentic, accessible, trustworthy, and available to them, they will feel confident enough to pursue them (MIT Sloan, 2020).

The strategies that are effective for re-skilling, mobility, retaining, and reconciling the values of corporate executives and their employees.  The most important factors that can lead to firms that focus on opportunities and success are; 1) A leadership with a clear vision of the value created by its employees.  2)  Individual agency and initiative are recognized through a culture shift.  3) Development of interests that are shared with, self-investment, and competencies should be boosted through access to resources and tools.

Commitment by leaders to build Opportunities

The healthy flow of talent in an organization can only thrive through good leadership.  Leaders must be aware that they are the ones who drive the productivity of their employees in their present roles, yet they can perform other duties, which they excel at and are passionate about.  The human capital and economic value of an organization can be unlocked through the exercising of agency for opportunity (Schwarz et al., 2020).

Culture Change that Empowers Employees

Companies that have introduced a digital curriculum have ensured that employees took time to embrace, understand, and embodied the change as well as build new digital competencies and abilities. 

This also enables employees to familiarize themselves with current skills required in the digital world; new opportunities are created for them through digital disruption (MIT Sloan, 2020).

Opportunity Market Places

These marketplaces ensure positive interactions between companies and their employees, especially when dealing with issues of, project participation, training, networking promotion, mentorship, professional development, diversity, and inclusion.  Effective opportunity market places demand that personal drive and strategies that are clearly articulated by the organization indicating its priorities are aligned with each other and also reinforce each other.  Opportunity market places function properly or are more successful when employees who wish to consider new opportunities, feel empowered enough to be successful (Schwarz et al., 2020).

Challenges to Efficient & Effective Opportunity Market Places

Managing the unable or uninterested

Leaders are cognizant of the fact that not every employee will be successful in all opportunities they are interested in.  While not every employee will be successful, it is worth exploring ways that organizations can increase their employees’ motivation (Schwarz et al., 2020).

The fear factor: 

Some employees fear being replaced by machines, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence.  Companies should consider automating their processes to enhance their employees’ experience at the workplace, and not a way to get rid of the position.

Embracing opportunity market places indicates a very big change of strategy used by companies to increase returns on their investments and human capital.

This requires a change in the way the core workers are managed, this includes employee deployment, employee development, and the management of employee performance.  Practices that support employees’ growth within an organization and the promotion of high achievers should be driven by opportunity, rather than prescribed career paths.

Productive opportunities options will increase as algorithms and machines get smarter.  When prudent investments are made in leadership, culture, and tools that are digital, market places for opportunity are turned into adaptive and complex systems that will make employees throughout the business develop impact, personal meaning, and value (MIT Sloan, 2020).

Adapting Workplace Learning in the Time of Covid-19

 To continue to develop, and enable efforts that create value, learning leaders can use several steps that are tactical which they believe will expand virtual learning, take care of employee safety, bring in strategic measures, which include alternative digital learning, which leaders adapt during this era of keeping a distance from others. To develop a picture of learning comprehensive options, the way to adjust the business is for companies to create teams that respond to organizational issues, they must be cross-functional, comprised of employees from different stakeholder groups.

Clear decision points, should be defined by the company, there should also be transparency on the criteria used to cancel or differ programs (Mckinsey, 2020).  The business should build a rapid triage, and consists of all the portfolios of learning rapid triage of the entire portfolio of learning available, priorities should be set for what is required or considered important to adjust to a digital-only and virtual environment.

When the company has a good understanding of the portfolio in its entirety, it should decide on what it will focus on.  It is necessary because it is not possible to develop digital versions for everything, and the allocation of design resources, which is scarce.  Prudent decision-making during the beginning period needs adequate data and information to be successful.  A business should design and execute a plan that supports workers, the plan should also be consistent with guidelines that are conservative, and which are available from highly recognized global and local medical providers (Mckinsey, 2020). 

If a company intends to move forward with programs for in-person learning, it must give information on safety measures it will put in place for employees to feel safe.  This includes issues like no handshaking practices, social distancing, and advanced sanitization and cleaning practices.  In the case of employees who are to participate remotely, the company must ensure that they have the available virtual collaboration tools, which include video-conferencing and cloud-based document sharing, and that they are familiar with their usage (Mckinsey, 2020).

Figure 1

Learning and Collaboration Technology

Source:  MIT Sloan Review (2020)

Worldwide, organizations are promoting digital learning to increase collaboration among teams that are working remotely and also across different time zones, this is because they take courses together and collaborate in virtual environments.  There should be targeted communication whose aim is to remind workers that learning does not stop when they are no longer able to travel, this may increase the attention to available digital options.

As companies look at the longer-term implications of a working environment that will be more often than not, digital when implementing learning in the workplace, it is important to consider non-mainstream technological solutions, which eliminate the use of face-to-face communication.

In an extraordinary and uncertain business environment, scenario-planning techniques should form part of any approach used. The learning-response team for COVID-19 should be a cross-functional one and must concentrate on using communication and making decisions under various scenarios which are potentially useful to the organization.

Leaders who are tasked with the learning responsibility should focus on a thoughtful plan of response for COVID-19, which will reduce the impact of the disease on the building of capacity and capability, and also ensure the workers’ safety (Mckinsey, 2020).

From the time Clayton Christensen first discovered the theory of disruptive innovation, hundreds of companies have been created, and billions of dollars have been made in revenue, by these companies.  An entirely new way of doing business for industry entrants has enabled them to tackle established businesses in the industry. 

The process involved is one in which a service or a product which is engineered by a technology is initially established through a simple application at the low end of an industry, which is usually less costly and easily accessible, then it quickly moves upmarket, and eventually displaces existing industry giants, is known as a disruptive innovation (MIT Sloan, 2020).

These services and products normally appear to be modest at the beginning, though this changes over time and leads to the transformation of an industry.  When good products are made better, this process is known as sustaining innovation.  This is usually good for a country’s economy, though as soon as the market gets mature, the net growth begins to decline in terms of the creation of new jobs, factories, technology investments, etc.  When a company tries to do more with less, this is known as efficiency innovation.  By their very nature, efficiency innovations cannot create new growth, because their purpose is to squeeze more out of what they are inputting.  They generate free cash flow for organizations, but if the cash is not reinvested properly this may lead to no growth (MIT Sloan, 2020).

New customers are built by the use of market-creating innovations.  These innovations develop simple services or products for populations that are un-served, and who initially could not afford or did not have access to a service or a product.

Innovations that create new markets contribute to the growth of economies; this is because they bring investments, employees, resources, operations, and infrastructure required, to enable the serving of its large customer base.  Countries like the USA and other first-world countries invest a lot of energy in sustaining and efficient innovations and do not invest as much in market-creating innovations (MIT Sloan, 2020).

The recent technological and innovation of business models give plenty of opportunities and challenges for existing businesses as well as new entrants, even though the mechanics of disruption as still the same. Though the forces which come together to start the disruption, are similar to gravity; they tend to be constant and usually work around and within the business.

It normally takes astute and skilled leaders to navigate disruption continuously, and many of them are more aware than ever of how to do it.  It is usually easy for leaders to identify disruptions that occur in an industry rather than in their industry, this is because of their deep knowledge which is nuanced, that often distract them from seeing the obvious competition in the industry.  The world’s direct-to-consumer disrupters show the next frontier in the theory of disruption. 

The same disrupters are now targeting the very core of existing businesses through the use of today’s broad options of powerful digital tools to offer services and products that are cheaper, more convenient to use, and just as good as existing ones.

During a short period, new competition has changed the way customers behave radically: Customers are willing to go online and buy hard goods like furniture, mattresses, and other goods.  This is because when a customer made the wrong choice previously, it was seen as risky, it was assumed that customers always wanted to touch the goods that they intended to purchase before committing.  This risk and complexity, have been eliminated by the new disrupters (McGrath, 2020).

Nowadays, almost anything whether, a product or service, is available for sale as a service.  This began with SaaS, one can now use furniture, clothing, trucks, heavy equipment, cars, pets, etc, on a limited-trial basis or subscription.  Excess capacity is a consumer asset. 

A perfect example of this is, Airbnb which has brought in a major marketplace where any homeowner with houses that they do not make maximum use of, can generate an income by renting their space to paying guests.  Due to the reliability, success, and value of this new D2C (Direct to Customer) with competitors who have been proven, it is not shocking that many known brands have had their value decline sharply.

The D2C businesses are similar to each other in various ways; each is driven by algorithms, digital technology, data analytics, and more recent forms of connections (MIT Sloan, 2020). 

Access to assets, but no ownership: Traditional businesses use assets they own to establish and create both entry barriers and competitive differentiation.  D2C companies take part in digital platforms, which normally represent both sides of an on-demand transaction virtually, which removes the risk and friction factors.  Co-creation with the customer: they, therefore, eliminate the use of middlemen.  D2C businesses encourage the creation of a direct relationship with their customers. 

They receive important feedback loops, which they quickly iterate, and conduct experiments, and make more customized offerings that are more flexible than those offered by traditional businesses (McGrath, 2020).

Always-on and mobile: New types of D2C businesses now use infrastructure that is mobile and technology that is also mobile, for interactions to take place on a 24-hour basis. 

Business models ecosystems that are light on capital:  One common characteristic of D2C start-ups is their ability to operate with very little capital.

Most of their operations are outsourced, which allows them to join ecosystems that are anchored on digital platforms, which ensures that their infrastructure is made a resource that is shared.  The companies compete on what matters, which is a better customer experience (MIT Sloan, 2020).

Disruption to Collision

The world is in the AI (Artificial Intelligence) age, and traditional companies all over the world are facing challenges from data-driven companies that are highly scalable, and whose operating models are leveraging network effects that ensure the delivery of value at all times. 

Airbnb represents a wave of new businesses, which are solely reliant on an integrated digital foundation.  When potential customers purchase goods on Amazon, Alibaba or search on Google, or order for a ride from Uber or Lyft, a similar phenomenon takes place. 

Instead of relying on processes that are considered traditional, usually spearheaded by customer service reps, supervisors, managers, and process engineers, the companies can deliver value by using algorithms, software.  Despite it being the responsibility of workers of the respective businesses to take care of the designing of the systems, it is computers that ultimately perform the job: setting prices, giving the results for searches conducted, selecting a driver, or identifying and recommending products.  This reality shows how a digital business operates, with AI and data at the core and human resources eliminated (MIT Sloan, 2020).

The collisions between established players and innovators are forcing business executives of existing organizations to re-examine how business is conducted in environments where businesses entering the industry use radical and different sets of rules. 

There are intrinsic advantages to the digital model compared to traditional models, for example, Airbnb’s operating architecture gives it an advantage because of the learning and network effects on its platform, and learning effects available through its AI systems, and the integration of data, improve operational scale in a quicker manner (McGrath, 2020). 

Well-known travel brands like Kayak, Priceline, and Booking.com, use data-centric operating models and data to scope, scale, and promote learning without experiencing any challenges brought about by traditional operations (MIT Sloan, 2020).

Dynamics of Collision

The collision that occurs between traditional and digital businesses indicates what occurs when the needs of a user are fulfilled through a more recent form of an operating model that ensures digitization of the most important tasks to ensure delivery of value.  Alibaba’s payment app Alipay, and Google search, for example, can scale to a number that is virtually infinite for clients, it can link to a big network of businesses, that compliment it, and gets more efficiency with experience, and with more clients, because they do not suffer from any diseconomies of scale (MIT Sloan, 2020).

Businesses that use traditional operating models tend to experience returns that diminish because they try to grow and scale the number of customers they take care of, on the contrary, those with digital operating models can experience rising returns in scale.  When the curves of the value of digital and traditional operating models meet, a collision takes place (McGrath, 2020).

The example of the tours and travel shows the way that learning, AI, and the effects of learning can go side by side to construct a rapidly increasing value proposition in sets of self-reinforcing loops.  When the operating model continues to develop more connections, it develops new opportunities that accumulate and generate data.

Figure 2

Collision in Action

Source: MIT Sloan Review (2020)

How Collision Differs from Disruption

Uber has not disrupted the traditional taxi model of doing business, it is colliding with it.  This is because Uber can meet recognized customer needs at an advanced new level, which delivers value. 

Unlike disruption, collision involves more than revamping the business model or introducing a technological innovation and value proposition to customers.  It also involves the creation of a completely different type of company.  Businesses can safeguard themselves against collision by re-establishing the core of the business and also re-engineering the organization's works, executing operating tasks, getting data and using it, how it reacts to information, and formulating decisions that govern its operations (Lansiti & Karim, 2020).

The Companies that drive collisions do not look or act like traditional companies.  They normally are software companies, satisfying the needs of customers in a unique and more scalable manner.  These companies also utilize their universal capabilities in analytics, AI, and data including and their ability to increase network and workplace learning, to capitalize on the depth and scope of interactions with clients.

To disrupt or Not to Disrupt

Industry leaders are vulnerable to disruption when they are stuck in their profitable business model, finding themselves unable to see or respond to the mismatch between what they are offering and what current or future customers want.  In most instances, disruption is precipitated by a new technological opportunity.  The path of a disrupter is not always a lucrative one.  As part of its makeup, a disrupter chooses to take on established businesses.  The disrupter’s choices involve, compartmentalizing choices into four categories, technology, customer, organization, and competition.  Clayton Christensen distinguished between disruptive technologies and sustaining technologies. 

Most companies pursue sustaining technologies as a way of retaining existing customers and keeping a healthy profit margin (Lansiti & Karim, 2020).

Figure 3

Macro Sources of Disruption

Source:  MIT Sloan, 2020)

When teams find themselves in periods of uncertainty, they often develop a habit of controlling for internal variables rather than tracking external factors, which include potential disrupters. 

The activity of tracking known variables fits into an existing business culture because of its ability to be measured quantitatively.  This practice encourages decision-makers into a false sense of security and causes the future to be put in a narrow frame.  When a company fails to account for change outside those known variables, it results in the biggest and most respected companies getting disrupted out of the market (MIT Sloan, 2020).

Organizations must pay attention to the eleven-macro sources of disruption and must seek areas of convergence, inflections, and contradictions.  The emerging patterns are also crucial because they signal the transformation of some kind.  Top executives are forced to connect the dots back to their companies and industries, and put in place teams that eventually take incremental actions (Lanciti & Karim, 2020).

The Experience Disrupters

Incumbent companies tend to pay a lot of attention to the fit of a product in the market, while the disrupters who focus on experience usually focus on the fit of experience in the market.  The fit of a product in the market is considered necessary but is insufficient to get the disruption required.  What matters for disrupters who focus on experience, is the offer of experiences that encompass the product and which makes the customers experience what they were not aware they required previously.

Disrupters of experience reduce the friction out of each interaction with a customer, through products and services offered.

They are also excellent at enabling a more personal customer experience, while the existing businesses (their competitors) tend to offer a generic form of experience when looking for clients. 

While incumbents in an industry concentrate on what they do best, which is selling to their clients, the disrupters of experience are excellent at using their clients to acquire new customers (Halligan, 2020).

Another attribute of experience disrupters is that they give authority to customer-facing employees to fix things when required, rather than consulting with their supervisors first.  They acknowledge and understand the incredible significance of how their customers feel when there is a big change in the balance of power in after-sales experiences.   They allocate a lot of time and energy into thinking of how to add value to their customers (Halligan, 2020).

Conclusion

The objective of this paper was to investigate how organizations can navigate the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The paper also looked at the different types of disruptions, factors that cause disruptions, and how they can be mitigated to achieve company goals and objectives.  It also looked at ways that companies have dealt with unfamiliar disruptions, and offered solutions for the post-pandemic business world.

Based on the information gathered, it was clear that companies should not only focus on familiar threats but also learn to look outside the box and set different scenario planning exercises to ensure that they navigate through unexpected disruptions successfully.

Companies should look at their workforce through a new lens by developing their flexibility and adaptability, through new skills and capabilities in their workforce.  They should also use digital systems and platforms that enable employees to work remotely, even in a hybrid environment.

This can be achieved through re-training and up-skilling of employees, as well as providing opportunities for professional development. 

An organization can also develop a comprehensive learning offerings picture, and implement how to adapt these offerings to the post-pandemic world, through a cross-functional team comprising of employees from different stakeholder teams.  Targeted communication reminding workers of work learning does not come to a stop when travel is discontinued should be used to increase attention to available digital resources.

The use of up to date, data and information are crucial for successful decision-making during disruptions.  This includes designing and executing plans which support the organization’s employees.  Companies should focus on market-creating innovations during disruptive periods to build new markets for new customers.  This can be done through the development of simple products for unserved populations.  Market-creating innovations contribute to the growth of an economy because they bring in resources, investments.

An organization can navigate disruptive periods through the use of direct-to-customer (D2C) disruption strategies that focus on the core of existing businesses, through the use of powerful digital technologies that offer cheaper products or services, are more convenient, and also good than the existing options. 

Finally, using AI (Artificial Intelligence) is the way forward for companies looking to come out on top, when the pandemic is over.  This is because digital models have intrinsic advantages over traditional ones, because of their ability to scale and scope customers.

Author: Rael Lubasi 

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