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4 ways companies can prepare for growth after COVID

Are you prepared for growth? It’s a timely question to consider as we pass the one-year anniversary of the pandemic in the United States. It’s also a question that likely hasn’t come up in some time for those companies hit especially hard by Covid, who had no choice other than to operate in survival mode for the past year.  The good news is that each quarter, as more companies show stronger performance and healthier balance sheets, they are able to move beyond the tough measures of the past year and put growth back on the agenda. And CEO optimism is at the highest point in two years. Opportunity is out there waiting.

While the promise of growth is welcome news, good companies know that shifting gears and flipping the growth switch back on takes a deliberate, intentional approach.  After all, it’s one thing to declare a focus on growth – but what does it take to inspire the rest of the organization to shift back into a mode of operating where growth is high priority again? As we move beyond Covid, it’s time to think differently. Consider the following:

Get aligned around the real growth problem to solve. 

A CFO was frustrated by several years of flat growth across several business units at her automotive company. While many factors contributed to the trend, she pointed out a fundamental challenge to driving growth.

“We aren’t aligned as an executive team around the problem to solve.” She added: “In principle, everyone agrees we must grow, everyone says they want to drive growth. In practice, we all believe the reasons why we haven’t grown are different. Not surprisingly, everyone is advocating for a different solution. We keep spinning our wheels.”

This is particularly challenging coming out of the pressures of this past year, which required so much pivoting and rethinking. Nothing will slow down a growth agenda faster than a lack of alignment, so as a first step, stop the spinning. Easy to say and hard to do, but success requires a team to get agreement on the real problem from all key stakeholders before moving into actions, solutions, and next steps.  

Approach 180-degree turns with caution. 

Getting people inspired and aligned around your big growth move means making a reasonable link from where you are to where you want to go. When Covid hit, a major retailer took drastic steps to stay afloat, from undergoing widespread layoffs and store closures to shifting its entire business model in one part of the company. Not long after the changes were in place, employees were stunned to learn the company was planning to expand into several new markets, requiring thousands of new hires and store openings. Said one leader: “I have spent the past six months laying off 75% of my team. I’m now being asked to hire new talent immediately. It makes your head explode.”  Certainly, Covid forced companies to react quickly in challenging, uncertain times, but it’s easy to see the risks that come with too much change, too quickly, without context or the vision as to why. 

Consider no 180-degree turns at all.  

There are many best practices when it comes to leading change, but let’s put this one at the top of the list: No 180s. It may seem like an obvious one, but if growth is on your agenda, be careful about pushing too hard on the accelerator too quickly, particularly if you’ve spent the past year administering layoffs, cost-cutting, or simply hunkering down. Recognize that any ‘growth’ activities – a shift to hiring, acquiring, or expansion – may confuse employees given the events of the past year, and worse, create fatigue or breed mistrust unless employees understand the rationale behind the changes. Now is the time to establish a clear vision for the future – where you see growth coming from and why. If you can’t articulate the logic, there’s a good likelihood no one else can either and you’ll struggle to accelerate growth and get traction where you need it.  

The moral of the story? Address the ‘180’ element deliberately. Even language like, “This change feels very different from the approach we’ve been taking over the past year, so let me address why that is the case,” can be a good start.

Get the team to employ radical empathy.

What did the CFO described earlier do? She asked the executive team to shift gears away from their typical approach of “telling” the businesses what to do, which was often met with defensiveness and resistance. Instead, she pushed the executive team to reflect on the perspective of the businesses in a deeper way. At the heart of the process was empathy, enabling the executive team to approach the growth challenge from a completely different vantage point beyond their own.  How did they achieve this? 

For starters, they defined the obstacles associated with growth from the perspective of different stakeholders. Next, they aligned on criteria for a potential solution that integrated needs from the business and customers. Ultimately, this enabled the CFO to co-create growth objectives that were not limited to the preferences of the executive team, but better reflected the wants and needs of those who actually must deliver growth.

The way we act and operate in a post-Covid world is changing. What that means for many organizations is a message we hear often: What got us here won’t get us there, and that includes how we’ve historically approached growth. The good news is that even with so much continuous change and uncertainty, our commitment to grow is as strong as ever.  

Now, it’s up to us to resist the urge to default what we’ve always done when it comes to growth, recognize what is different, and operate accordingly. When we do, we’re able to leverage those differences to infuse new energy, insights, and new ways to lead that create new chapters of growth and opportunities for all of us.

 

This article was written by Elizabeth Freedman from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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