April 22, 2020 by Jason Contant
Industry leaders should begin preparing right now for the post-pandemic business environment, while still managing the immediate fallout of COVID-19, two partners of a strategy consulting firm said recently.
This includes spending time envisioning the future, developing a strategy to “walk back” the envisioned future to today, being prepared to learn and pivot, and rallying your team around the vision.
Business leaders (including those in the insurance industry) are scrambling to react to how the COVID-19 pandemic is shaking the global economy and disrupting the way we live, work and conduct business. But leaders also need to find their “north star” that will shape their short- and mid-term thinking, experts say.
“It may be hard to see now, but the seeds of the next great growth industries are taking root now,” wrote Mark W. Johnson and Josh Suskewicz of Boston, Mass.-based management consulting firm Innosight in a Harvard Business Review blog Friday.
The article is written for general business audiences. But it could be applied to the Canadian insurance industry, which is juggling working from home while allowing consumers to conduct insurance transactions online and also trying to find new ways of conducting business.
Of course, the business environment in which industries land in the post-pandemic phase (which could be one to two years from now) may be very different from what it was before the crisis began, wrote Johnson and Suskewicz in Leaders, Do You Have a Clear Vision for the Post-Crisis Future? To prepare, leaders need a long-term vision of what they aspire to become in five or even 10 years – “a north star that will focus and help shape your thinking about the short and the mid-term,” wrote Johnson, co-founder and senior partner at Innosight, and Suskewicz, a partner at Innosight. The two have also co-authored the new book Lead from the Future.
“You may feel that you simply can’t afford to carve out the time that it takes to set a vision and build a strategic path to it,” the blog said. “But the leaders who manage the day-to-day and lead with vision will emerge from the crisis with companies that are stronger and more resilient than they were before.”
Here is their suggested process:
Spend time envisioning your future
Ideally, you should dedicate about 10 to 20% of your time on a weekly basis over the next few months to exploring and envisioning where you want your organization to be when the crisis passes, consistent with your longer-term vision.
Given the urgent demands of the present, some leaders may be tempted to delegate the responsibility for this kind of thinking to others, but it is critical that the CEO and other C-suite leaders — the people who sign off on major resource allocation decisions — do this work themselves, the authors said.
Determine what is likely to change about customers, markets and operating environment, and what isn’t. “Focus on what your customers will require, how you’ll meet their new and evolving demands, the resonance of your products and services, and your overall capabilities.”
Also ask how resilient your core businesses will be in the light of these changes. Consider both threats and opportunities, and pinpoint elements of the portfolio that may no longer make sense and that will need to be sold off or shut down, as well as opportunities to accelerate new growth offerings.
Develop a strategy to walk back your envisioned future to today
Working backwards, lay out a path from long-term aspiration to the mid-term (post-crisis focal point), and from there to today. Reverse-engineer a series of benchmarks and milestones at regular intervals along the way. The reason to start in the future and “walk” backwards, the authors said, is that (1) it allows you to “clean-sheet” what you could become without being overly constrained by the way things are today; (2) it forces you to think concretely and in terms of dollars and cents, which (3) helps you decide which investments should be given priority.
For example, say you want to step up your online offerings. Step back from the mad dash to transition this year’s product online as soon as possible and imagine what you’ll roll out for, say, fall of 2021.
“Then ask yourself what would have to be true, and by when, for it to happen in the best possible way,” wrote Johnson and Suskewicz. Systems will have to be in place, integration with conventional offerings worked out, and people trained and hired. A new product offering scheduled for a few months from now, for example, will be a prime opportunity to pilot key element of the envisioned product.
Be prepared to learn and pivot
Given the rapidly changing environment, make sure to measure, monitor, and formally review progress. Initially, you will be working off assumptions. As you test them in the real world, you will have more data and experience to prove or disprove them. Based on what you learn, adjust both your vision and your strategy, the authors recommend.
As you work toward your mid-term and long-term goals, attention must be paid to both “strong and faint” signals. “That requires a certain degree of humility, as you will likely have to surrender some of your certainties after they are tested against reality and fail,” the authors write. “Speed and agility are key; you must learn quickly, constantly pivoting and adjusting. In doing so, you’ll also revisit your vision and continue to shape it.”
Rally your team around your vision
“Your people and stakeholders will have to make sacrifices, so you want them to believe in your view of the better future that they can achieve. Ideally, you already have a long-term vision of what you want to be, which is inspiring, imbued with purpose, and relatively stable, compared to the roller coaster you are on today. While a business can succeed without having an explicit mission, there is a close association between missions and margins.”