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  • Writer's pictureDean Williamson

Is Covid-19 an opportunity for you?

There are two equally great quotes attributed to two of history's most pivotal thinkers:

"Victory comes from finding opportunities in problems. - Sun Tzu
"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity" - Albert Einstein

And the world is facing a major problem and difficulty at the moment. COVID-19 is creating a huge maelstrom of uncertainty - from the micro right through to the meso. Households, communities, supply chains, organisations, cities, countries and continents - no disaster has really quite exposed our interdependence since World War 2. Maybe the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) came close, but even its economic impact has now been overshadowed by COVID-19.

Today, a bit emotionally exhausted by the crisis coverage on the news, I started to think: "If we wanted to look, what are the opportunities in the problems here?"

The impacts of a scarcity mindset

The next few months are going to be tough and uncertain. Organisations are facing change and adaptation at a breakneck pace: How much of your workforce can work from home? What are "essential" customer-facing services that can't be protected from social contact? Has your workplace ever worked like this before? This kind of move is change at the speed of a startup, but happening in highly structured, traditional organisations.

However, with several of our clients working through a change process, one of the common themes is to help them move past a "scarcity mindset". This is when you make decisions (often unconsciously, and mostly habitually) from a position of fear and risk aversion, rather than a position of informed optimism and gratitude. This sounds abstract and impractical, but we see scarcity and risk under a lot of organisational decisions.

So rather than looking at how you downsize due to income projections, or how you cut operational costs to preserve your profit margins, look forward with optimism. The virus will pass, the world will approximate a more predictable homeostasis for you again, and you will find yourself on the other side having let go a lot of your human and internal social capital, having to re-build again as things right themselves. Which leads me to:

OPPORTUNITY 1: BUILD! (If I was a capital investor, it would be BUY!)

1) When you get some space, take a deep breath and BUILD! Every organisation I've ever worked in/with had a list of internal priority/strategic projects that were on the "to do" list, and NEVER come off. They're often patched over with band-aids. I've worked with tech companies who needed some fundamental re-writes of base code, but due to scaling could never make it happen, only to fall apart when the scale put too much pressure on the band-aid. These are often hard to do also when at full operational capacity. So cut your organisation a break, downshift a bit, and prioritise some virtual teams or sprint projects to finally get these done.

To illustrate, Human Systems Co. is currently working with some members of field teams who are in social isolation to write and systematise a new training platform to help the scaling that has already started for one organisation. We're also building a scalable internal coaching model based on another client's organisational values.

In this way, you don't lose capacity, you invest in your organisation, adapt some system components, and come out stronger and more sustainable on the other side. HINT: Multi-disciplinary self-managing teams are great for these projects.

OPPORTUNITY 2: Embed resilience and sustainability

There's a stack of learning out there already about how to handle pandemics like this, some of it very fast learning for the rest of the world from China, etc. However, you can do some planning out of this with questions like:

"Assume this happens again, what position would we like to be in right now? How can we build this in to our 'business as usual' approach once things resume?"

Some of our clients have landed on strategies like increased liquidity for paying staff (potentially minimising payouts to shareholders or other stakeholders in order to hold increased cash/investment reserves), transitioning to emergency-related leave types (including community service leave in light of recent bushfires), negotiating emergency access clauses or secondary relationships for critical supplies, and a whole lot more. Using case studies to simulate system shocks is a great experience, and really tests where an organisation stands around its values when things get tough.

We love helping organisations to wrestle with these operational and ethical questions. We're also ace at working remotely (it's how our teams work most of the time). Feel free to organise a chat with us - you can make in-house coffee at your end and we'll make our own at our end.

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