In the Wake of the Pandemic, Sustainable Transformation Is Guiding Businesses Back to Growth
Introduction: In July 2020, 9.5 million jobs, from 1.2 million different employers were furloughed under the UK’s jobs protection programme. When the scheme ends in October, businesses must be prepared for many months or even years of adjustment to the new normal.
Old-fashioned change management programmes with their annual or quarterly cycles are no longer viable. Instead, businesses need to embrace sustainable transformation, especially in sales, where the landscape for both sellers and buyers has changed beyond recognition.
Human beings hate change. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes perfect sense. Where resources are limited, adjustments to the environment may threaten the individual, their offspring, and the wider group.
More recently, change was limited to life and career milestones: Graduation, changing job, getting married, starting a family. Even today we are still creatures of habit. At home, with friends and loved ones, change is rarely welcome. The workplace is no exception.
But in 2020 businesses and society are advancing at breakneck speed, driven by technology, migration and shifting demographics. Instead of learning to evolve at the same pace, we hold on tightly to familiar routines.
The result? At a personal scale, feelings of confusion and alienation. At the macro level, under-performing businesses, and poor policy decisions. This matters more than ever as climate change and more lately the Covid-19 pandemic demands a more effective personal and global response.
Digital transformation. Delivering?
Will digital transformation save us? The phrase has been with us for more than a decade. Every advance in technology is its blockchain, artificial intelligence or virtual reality promises to usher in a new era of business performance. So why do so many businesses still underperform? Why are so many people and societies unhappy?
The answer is simple. We not only resist change, but we’re also bad at following through on new resolutions. Diets, exercise regimes, learning a new language. How many of those have you tried and failed in recent years?
Businesses are just as bad. There are plenty of change programs with personal and company goals. Less common are the initiatives that support and sustain newly developed processes and habits.
A sustainable solution
Instead of digital transformation, we need sustainable transformation. A way of ensuring that new technology empowers people and organizations to succeed when pursuing new goals and responding to change. What do we mean? When thinking about change, managers typically think in terms of rewards (carrots) and punishment (sticks). This focuses the employee’s attention on external factors, rather than their own attitudes and identity, which are just as important.
Recent events have highlighted the challenge. The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the behaviour of employees in Europe and the US more than any ‘change management’ initiative of recent years. Businesses that planned for change on a yearly cycle have been forced to roll out new plans in a matter of weeks.
The good news is that human beings are still highly adaptable when change is forced upon them. Technology plays a critical role. One of the few upsides to the pandemic is that it occurred at a time when people are used to staying connected virtually whether on social media or video conferencing platforms. No wonder. While human beings generally resist change, we are highly social creatures. Especially at times of extreme anxiety when we reach out for support, or to comfort those who need our care.
The need for ‘human-centric’ experiences is just as powerful in the workplace. Many employees have been proactive in the deployment of new (and typically free) business software on personal devices so that they can stay in touch with their colleagues. As a result, one of the biggest concerns for businesses during the pandemic is system security!
AI: Reinforcing not replacing the workforce
Back to sustainable transformation. Most change programmes are by their very nature transactional. The measure of success is simply the difference between the previous and the current state.
Employees are rewarded or penalized according to the outcome (carrot and sticks). Sustainable transformation (or transformational change) requires a different framework, one that addresses real-life organizational challenges with ease while delivering a sense of purpose and ultimate well-being to the workforce. It comprises three pillars:
- Locate the root cause of present issues. This includes breaking down the challenge into its component parts and understanding in full the people who play a role in these activities.
- Technology design and implementation, including an architecture for data and a motivating framework that brings such modeling into the realm of human experience.
- Ethical considerations that ensure a fair and unbiased outcome for employees, especially in the deployment of AI and machine learning solutions.
Transforming business, transforming the world
This transformation framework, when it embraces AI, virtual reality and the internet of things has the potential to address health and well-being issues, urban infrastructure, social change and international development.
One successful implementation was the Biking Tourney, a large scale study designed by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT Media Lab) and Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT). The study engaged 239 employees from 14 companies around the Greater Boston Area, including Google, iRobot, Boston Children’s Hospital, Volpe, and others, who collectively rode around 30,000 miles in six weeks. This increased the engagement in biking commutes by 26% across the study participants.
As well as environmental factors, the framework can be used to target precise employee behaviour. In Europe, it was used to design an interactive technology that addresses one of the biggest productivity challenges: attendees arriving late to meetings. Once deployed, the percentage of employees arriving on time in the trial organization grew from 65% to 100%.
No going back
There’s no going back to the old ways of working. There may be some backsliding over the coming months, but events in 2020 have accelerated most business plans (and shredded many). From operations to recruitment and sales, the pandemic has left a permanent mark.
But transformational change is highly versatile. It is applicable to different teams, industries, governments. It scales from the needs of the individual to the international. This matters more than ever where business survival and growth depend on the deployment of more intelligent sales and revenue management strategies.
Transformational change is also about growing into a different mindset. It enables sales teams to take a more ‘human-centric’ approach to customers in response to the psychological impact of the pandemic. The future belongs to such ‘bionic’ organizations that can successfully blend human and technological intelligence. We may be living in socially distanced times, but businesses and governments need to embrace transformational change with open arms. Doing nothing is not an option. You need to act now.