In the first article of our Lessons Learned from COVID-19 series, we discuss the role an innovation mindset has on the resiliency of Canadian businesses.
The one commonality shared by every resilient company in our roundtable series and conversations with our clients, was having leaders and employees who showcased a willingness to accept change—and to think and conduct business differently in the face of it. When times got tough, these leaders took a step back, examined their existing processes, products and frameworks, and carefully evaluated which would work—and which wouldn’t—in the new COVID‑19 reality.
In this context, innovation wasn’t limited to technology adoption. Some businesses used the downtime to foster customer goodwill and strengthen their brand, while others leveraged the opportunity to revamp their business model or develop new revenue streams. There are countless stories of brick-and-mortar retailers—like shoe stores and garden centres, for instance—that used COVID‑19 as an opportunity to enter the e-commerce world. Doctors started offering virtual appointments. Professional sports teams found ways to play again, albeit without fans in the stands. And a growing number of restaurants started offering take-out and delivery options.
After seeing a significant dip in demand for marketing materials and print advertising, in the early days of the pandemic, one Alberta graphics company quickly pivoted to produce things that were in demand, such as face shields, sneeze guards and social distancing signs for hospitals and businesses. This shift allowed the company to continue generating revenue during a typically weak earnings cycle in a normal year, and thereby quickly bring their employees back to work.
The bottom line is that innovation doesn’t have to be expensive or wide-sweeping—and it doesn’t have to involve technology upgrades. Depending on the situation, small, incremental changes to your operations and processes can be just as effective. You can garner inspiration from your direct competitors, scale down some of the innovative moves made by your favourite global brands or simply survey your customers to find out how you can serve them better. The key is to commit to moving forward, trying new things and being willing to pivot if the changes don’t seem to be working or if circumstances change.
The path to resiliency: How to up your innovation game
The COVID-19 crisis forced businesses to rethink assumptions, make critical decisions and learn from the outcomes at an unprecedented pace. This required leaders to consider whether their organization’s rate of learning and change was fast enough to create a competitive advantage. To remain relevant amid these new realities, organizations must embrace a mindset, culture and leadership style that prioritizes continuous learning, agility and innovation. Below are just a few ways to clear a path for innovation within your business.
Act, fail fast, learn and repeat
You don’t have to be 100 percent certain an idea is going to work before you test it. In times of crisis, acting quickly—even without all the facts—can make the difference between thriving and just surviving. Just be sure to learn as you go, rethink your assumptions and be ready to pivot quickly if the idea or action doesn’t provide the results you were hoping for.
Pay close attention to your competitors
In times of uncertainty, it can be helpful to see how others are tackling a situation. This is an opportunity to learn from their successes and missteps. While you don’t have to take their specific path, becoming familiar with their path can help inform your own decisions when quick decisions are needed.
Diversify your train of thought
Great ideas often come from fresh perspectives. Hiring someone from outside of your organization—or connecting with other business leaders—can be an excellent way to identify new opportunities and move past seemingly-insurmountable roadblocks.
Build a continuous “learning loop”
Regularly examining your business environment and your organization’s strengths and weaknesses can help shed light into your key assumptions and identify opportunities to rethink outdated approaches. This can position you to develop plans around your priorities, align your business processes with your objectives and execute iteratively to create a continuous learning loop.
To read the full report, "A blueprint for moving forward: Lessons learned from COVID-19," download the PDF.