The pandemic has been the great transformation event of living memory. But what has been the impact on businesses? Has COVID-19 barely registered in transformation programmes? Has it meant wholesale cancellation as companies battened down the hatches? Or has it unleashed a new wave of change?
To find out, we spoke to our contact list of senior transformation and business decision-makers to get their views on how the companies they work for were approaching transformation initiatives, and whether the pandemic has altered attitudes.
With so many aspects of life grinding to a halt as lockdowns rolled out across the world, we would be forgiven for thinking that anything that was not core to a business’ operations would have been jettisoned.
Yet the responses from our surveyed executives in our latest report, A Changed World: Uncovering the Evolution of Transformation Post-Pandemic, suggests otherwise.
While 30 per cent did cancel some of their change initiatives, they either continued with others (14 per cent) or prioritised new ones (16 per cent). Even more positively, over two thirds did not cancel any at all, with over a quarter also starting new initiatives.
When it came to which functions were most affected, finance and IT were most likely to have their projects cancelled or frozen. However, IT also enjoyed the greatest share of new projects, with 48 per cent of executives saying their tech teams had introduced new initiatives, followed by ones covering the entire organisation (43 per cent). This underscores how the pandemic accelerated the need for technological evolution.
Also of note was a theme of supporting how people worked, with 28 per cent of respondents starting new HR projects. This highlights how the realities of increasing levels of remote work requires different approaches to managing and supporting staff.
Acknowledging and adapting to the impact on customers was also reflected, with new sales and customer service transformation projects being increasingly prioritised (both 22 per cent), double the percentage of pre-pandemic initiatives.
While change is to be expected, it is clear that transformation is still high on the agenda. Organisations are very much backing their transformation initiatives, and doubling-down on changing the way they operate in order to make the most of the current situation. While it is understandable that some initiatives were curtailed, the number of respondents that actually started new ones has shown how many businesses are using the pandemic to refine their focus and back new approaches.
James Wilson, Executive Director at BIE, said “Businesses have received a wake-up call and know they need to prepare for every eventuality – a challenging ask in a time characterised by its unpredictability. That’s why we’re seeing a significant proportion of our respondents investing in some form of futureproofing against further disruption, looking to increase resilience and putting more into business continuity. They’re also cognizant of how the world of work has changed, with more focus on how workers work that pre-pandemic.”
Hanna-Maria Ahonen, Board Member and Strategy Advisor, Polar Partners Ltd, points out that “future success will not be built on resiliency alone, those projects that were frozen during the pandemic are now being brought back with gusto. The pandemic has accelerated macro trends on digitalisation, climate related initiatives, remote and flexible working practice. Senior leaders will need to remain focused as they move forwards.”