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Business as unusual: how to prepare your business for the next normal

Written by Andrew Harding on Tuesday, 08 September 2020. Posted in Insight, Analysis

As the U.K. reopens for business, we must avoid falling into the trap of believing in a return to the way things were and proactively prepare for the future.

Business as unusual: how to prepare your business for the next normal

As the U.K. reopens for business, we must avoid falling into the trap of believing in a return to the way things were and proactively prepare for the future.

In the first half of the year, the world as we knew it has been turned upside down by COVID-19. As our new reality sinks in, we are still adjusting to new ways of doing things and pushed to redefine “normality” amid a global pandemic, from applying social distancing rules to dealing with the consequences of a rattled global economy.  

Despite the government’s support schemes and hopes for a V-shaped recovery, the U.K. has entered its deepest recession on record and job losses continue to mount – there is still a long way to go for the economy to improve. In early August, the Bank of England predicted that GPD will not return to pre-pandemic levels before the end of 2021. Almost all sectors of the economy were hit by coronavirus, but some service-based industries (e.g. hospitality, retail and leisure) and businesses, SMEs in particular, have felt the impact more than others. 

Amid this challenging environment, businesses remain cautious and worry about their future. We know that that there is no going back to the way things were, but organisations cannot afford to play the waiting game – they must continue to rethink everything from their internal ways of working, to their commercial strategies and business models to face, and eventually thrive in, a transformed marketplace. So what do business leaders need to consider to ensure their organisations achieve sustainable recovery?  

Horizon scanning 

Organisations that have adapted to the new business environment and prepare themselves for far-reaching changes, which few could have imagined at the start of the year, are more likely to survive. 

To safeguard their organisation’s future, business leaders must explore possible, often complex, near- to long-term planning scenarios and outcomes. They need to take in account how elements – that may have been relatively stable and manageable prior to the pandemic – such as changes in new technology, supply chain, the regulatory environment or customer behaviours may affect their organisation moving forward. 

It is only by integrating these different perspectives and understanding how it affects operations that business leaders can paint a clearer picture of what the future may hold to devise new, sustainable business strategies, better mitigate risks and drive recovery. For example, who after all would have thought that pubs would be doing home delivery services for food and drinks when we started 2020?

A strategy for uncertainty 

Organisations of all sizes across all sectors have experienced the instant impact of the COVID-19 crisis on both their operations and their people. While it is essential to continue tackling pressing day-to-day short-term issues, business leaders must also look at how severely the crisis has affected their organisation’s long-term performance and business strategy. 

Business leaders need to focus their attention on four key areas to get a comprehensive understanding of where the organisation now stands and help devise its future strategy. They must look at its strategic position e.g. what does the organisation’s external environment look like now?, its strategic options e.g. what new bets could the organisation take to create new revenue?, its strategic implementation e.g. which projects should the organisation prioritise or abandon to create more value?, and its strategic risks e.g. what new risks is the organisation facing and how can they be mitigated?

Carving out time to ask difficult questions is critical and, despite day-to-day pressures, should not be ignored. Identifying, analysing and addressing these key strategic issues will often be the difference between “surviving and thriving” or “withering on the vine”. 

Keep looking forward 

A business model doesn’t just relate to the operational aspects of what a company does – the products and services it delivers on a day-to-day basis – and the financial performance associated with those. It’s a much broader framework, which encompasses the purpose, values and strategy of a company, articulating how it meets the long-term needs of its customers and other stakeholders. 

As business leaders pave their organisation’s way to the next normal, they must holistically review its business model, establish how it has been impacted by the crisis, and assess how the organisation now defines, creates, delivers and captures value in a changed environment. This includes evaluating how the organisation’s brand, reputation, products and services, and customer loyalty may have been,  positively or negatively, affected by the pandemic.

The U.K. faces a rocky road to recovery and we must brace ourselves for the challenges ahead – keeping calm and carrying on as before simply isn’t an option for the world has changed forever. To survive beyond the near-term and successfully transition to a post-pandemic reality, organisations must become more resilient, invest in new ways of doing business, and rethink how they can create value — not just in reaction to the current crisis, but in preparation for whatever comes next.

About the Author

Andrew Harding

Andrew Harding

Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, Chief Executive – Management Accounting, The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants

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