Five months after publishing his hugely successful article Life after COVID-19: An invitation to reimagine the future, Impact CEO and founder, David Williams, shares his latest thoughts about what organisations need to do to survive the pandemic.
Back in April 2020, I published an article at what turned out to be a pivotal moment in public feeling, sharing ideas that resounded strongly with many people. Five months on, lots has changed: businesses are reopening, people are moving around more freely, and virus levels around the world have dropped but continue to fluctuate. However, what hasn’t altered is the agenda for change. Covid-19 has afforded – and continues to afford – many opportunities to think about what matters to us, about who in society is making a difference, and about what is truly important right now: social equality, the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, organisational responsibility… All of these issues have been brought to the fore in one way or another by the pandemic in a way that is, to my mind, unprecedented.
I sense that people still feel passionately about these topics, but I worry that society thinks that talking about something is the same as resolving it. At Impact we are all about change, and we know that it starts at a personal level, with individuals deciding they can no longer accept the way something is. I’ve never before seen so many people speaking out with one voice about the urgency of effecting change.
What we need now is for business leaders and governments to take action and drive this change. Governments around the world have invested huge amounts of money protecting people’s jobs and helping organisations to weather the storm. But what they should also be doing is looking at what makes a sustainable organisation and taking steps to support businesses that are practicing in this way, whilst penalising those that aren’t – those that aren’t paying an appropriate amount of tax, aren’t treating their employees fairly, or are engaging in environmentally destructive practices. There is no place for such organisations going forward.
Indeed, this is a great time to rethink every aspect of our organisations and to ask ourselves ‘what’s next?’ What’s next for our products and services? What’s next for our culture? Our structure? Our sustainability? How are we making decisions? Who are we serving? Enlightened business leaders will not just be asking themselves these questions; they will also be asking their employees, customers and partners, exploring together how they can rearrange their business model to create a more sustainable organisation, one that benefits society and the environment as well as its shareholders.
Impact’s offering around liberating human potential hits the nail on the head here. It’s about taking the very best of an organisation and unleashing it in the interests of its future. For some organisations, this means operating in a completely different way to how they have in the past and it calls for confidence and courage. But it is the organisations who are brave enough to make bold changes and to strive towards becoming truly sustainable that will be best placed to survive.
The fact is that change is unavoidable in these uncertain times; organisations will not survive by remaining the same. One of the greatest demands of this period is for agility, for the ability to pivot in the moment and react to unexpected and unprecedented challenges. This is more important now than it has ever been before, and it needs to be reflected on an individual level, in teams, and by leaders (take a look at our leadership agility model). Going forward, truly high-performing teams will not look like a collection of highly skilled individuals with distinct areas of expertise, instead, they will need to be an agile and interdependent team of people with interchangeable skills, who can step into each other’s shoes and operate as one organic unit, flexing and responding in the moment to what’s happening around them.
But these new, dynamic ways of working will require a different kind of organisational culture to emerge. Many of the existing structures, systems and processes are fundamentally incompatible with agility and fast-moving innovation. Individuals, teams and leaders who want change will need to come back into organisations and tear down a lot of the existing norms: everything from the 9–5 culture through to the quarter-to-quarter measures, which often run counter to a longer-term vision. Organisations that have previously operated on a one-product/one-service mentality will need to really flex around what they can provide and how they can adapt to become sustainable.
I believe that all of these vital changes start with culture – isn’t that where everything starts? We must begin by asking ourselves some really important questions about what culture we had in the past, what kind of culture we have now, and what culture we’d like going forward – because this is the best way to successfully navigate change. At Impact, I’m very proud of the fact that we have engaged our whole team globally in conversations about how to navigate the challenges that Covid-19 presents, inviting everyone to involve themselves in discussions about how to reduce costs, accelerate into new markets, innovate, and restructure so that we can become more global. It’s about making space for everyone’s point of view and about recognising that there are amazing ideas wrapped up in our people that need to be brought to the fore. Because the need for change is more pressing than ever and it’s time to rethink everything we do.
David Williams is Impact's CEO and founder.