Innovation the key to firms’ survival after devastating impact of Covid-19 – Joanna Goddard

Companies must learn to shrug off ‘old school’ work practices and focus on adaptability and flexibility, says Joanna Goddard

The onset of the coronavirus crisis and subsequent lockdown has required businesses to alter their strategy and face up to the realities of a markedly different working environment.

Some businesses have fared better than others in striking a good balance between customer engagement and maintaining staff morale.

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It has also brought into sharp focus how business resilience and continuity have been needed to shape and re-define business protocols that the pandemic has been responsible for. After all, I have not heard one single person proclaim: “Yeah, we were really super-prepared for this.”

It has highlighted that, with an unflagging spirit and lots of endeavour, companies have spent some of the past few weeks looking beyond the common belief that business resilience and innovation are 
simply ways of ensuring that critical data files are supported by levels of encryption and that the company’s cyber resilience strategies are robust.

But, whilst this digital resilience might help safeguard information from being compromised by a cyberattack, digital resilience is becoming more about how they operate creatively and diligently while this lockdown environment alters the way we respond to the changes that are affecting most of us.

For example, many people will talk about innovation, but people often pigeonhole innovation as the preserve of tech companies only, but they don’t understand the stream of innovation that is required in everyday business, so it remains fit for purpose to its customer base.

Now with Covid-19, we hear in the media that companies are innovating by repurposing their manufacturing lines, for example, to create PPE for frontline NHS and Care staff.

This is quite exciting because it throws so many businesses into the innovation spotlight. They are responding to this pioneering ‘call to arms’ but subliminally, are channelling ‘innovation’ in a completely new way – something that may not have been considered appropriate a matter of months ago.

These companies have been sparked by problem solving.

Businesses that are innovating during the crisis are likely going to be the best prepared businesses. They are born of flexibility and adaptability and have learned to operate amidst a global pandemic. Indeed, when it comes to engaging with the investor circuit or sponsors, this business resilience experience will shine through.

Moreover, I think a lot of businesses have remained static because they didn’t make contingency plans when the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic arrived.

Some of this is down to a lack of technical preparedness – not having the resilience in place to move quickly enough to get their staff kitted out with any necessary IT infrastructure – but I also think there’s a cultural challenge of resilience too.

Before lockdown, so many businesses were so fixated with their people having to come to an office and thereby resisted change to home working.

Too many business leaders still pigeonhole home working as inappropriate. We are not very good at ‘trust culture’. The belief is that a ‘physical’ office presence is still needed, but the lockdown might just have shifted some of these steadfast opinions.

For me, resilience and innovation takes on many forms.

I know of one small gift store in Leith where the owner has such a strong focus on customer service that her resilience to continue selling her wide range of greetings cards, despite her shop being closed, was exceptional.

Understanding that her social media presence reached out to a large community, she uploaded her greetings cards on Instagram and people could make their choice. Interestingly, her service also extended to writing the card and posting it for her customers.

Her response to their needs is admirable. A heightened level of creative thinking and adaptability woven together by innovation has won her legions of new customers as the word spread.

Personal and cultural resilience are critical and these businesses who adopt this mindset will be the ones to watch. With that in mind, initiatives like Converge, Scotland’s academic enterprise programme, is going to be very interesting over the next few years.

As new businesses emerge, they will not just demonstrate innovation in their business ideas, but in how they will face up to changing their model should anything like the magnitude of Covid-19 ever arise again.

Any business coming through and emerging from these enterprise programmes will have a dynamic, refreshing approach to innovation and resilience .

They will possess none of the ‘old school’ baggage of businesses that might be stuck in a cycle of malaise.

I anticipate we will learn much on leadership and operational innovation from young businesses such as the ones the likes of Converge supported companies and I’m ready and waiting to discover that.

Joanna Goddard, director of programmes, business resilience international management and strategic advisory board member, Converge