Remember life pre-COVID? We can barely remember it either. In what felt like an instant, we went into lockdown. Offices, gyms and restaurants (among other services) closed and our behaviours had to adjust immediately to Zoom meetings, online workouts and no-contact takeaway.

In the main, people are happy to see their towns and cities reopening. We can start going back to many of the activities critical to our wellbeing, like catching up with friends. Other behaviours are evolving. Consumers remain nervous about the economy and no one knows, for instance, how consumers will alter their shopping habits or what they will expect from healthcare providers as we emerge from the crisis.

While leaders ponder how the business landscape will change as the pandemic recedes, there’s also the changes that have been effected within the organisation to consider. Many of the pandemic-driven behavioural changes have actually made organisations better and more agile. Bureaucracies and inefficiencies have been cast aside in favour of decisive and collaborative behaviours that fuel agility. Nobody wants to see those old behaviours come back.

The fact is, most organisations will face some level of restructuring in order to survive this crisis. The opportunity springs from preserving the positive behaviours that have developed during the pandemic and building them into an agile foundation for recovery.

Snap forward, not back

We know most organisations aren’t designed in a way that enables agility. Yet in the past months and weeks, people have found a way to get things done. But if the structure stays fundamentally the same, then people will snap back all too easily into their old ways of doing things.

As leaders consider the changes that need to be made, they also need to consider the things they don’t want to change:

  • What positive new behaviors do we want to preserve and how do we align around them?
  • How can we cut costs now while preserving what will make us successful in the future?
  • How do we redesign our organisation for these new behaviors?
  • How do we adapt our culture to embed these behaviors into our DNA?

This considered approach is important even – perhaps especially – where an organisation is in survival mode. Take for instance the large international banking group that had planned pre-pandemic to rationalise its physical branch locations in favour of offering more services digitally. The outbreak forced the leaders to accelerate their decision making, moving to close branches and bring more automated services online more quickly. They also decided to focus on the behaviours and capabilities that would fuel their recovery, rather than laying off staff. They reskilled many staff to become ‘universal bankers’ – able to deal with a wide array of customer services and requests. This strategy didn’t just take out costs – it also aligned the organisation around its core capabilities. The result: increased employee engagement, higher customer satisfaction, lower costs, and more revenue

Five ways to build a more agile organisation
The only way to ensure that new, positive behaviours will be brought forward is by ensuring that the culture and structure of the organisation support and reward these behaviours. Restructuring needs to focus on creating a collaborative ecosystem, moving away from hierarchy.
This means people will no longer be protected from ambiguity. Leaders will again have to step up – just as they did at the height of the crisis – to ensure people feel empowered and supported to make the decisions and take the actions they need to.

None of this is easy. As a starting point, we’ve identified five ways to rebuild your organisation to enable greater agility and preserve the positive behaviours that have emerged during the crisis:

  1. Minimise hierarchy. The best in class benchmark for highly agile organisations is three to four levels.
  2. Group different functions with similar and highly interdependent capabilities together.
  3. Create bigger and more versatile teams, built around end-to-end accountability that can face different challenges.
  4. Define and engage with the ecosystems around your organisation, recognising that these types of partnering and collaborative relationships are different from traditional processes.
  5. Introduce cross-functional Communities of Expertise around relevant/similar capabilities such as those found in job families.

To hear more from our experts on how to help your organisation become more agile, join our webinar: Lessons from China.

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About the contributors

Joyce is a senior client partner with Korn Ferry with over 20 years of experience in human resources consulting in China, and over sixteen years in the executive search business. She joined Korn Ferry in 2005. She has been dedicated to the search of C-level executives in the industrial and financial service sectors in China and Asia Pacific. Ms. Gong successfully led to build HR functional practice in China. And she also led to develop on-boarding process for senior leaders in China. At present, she is leading to build Education and Agriculture practice in China.

Tao is a senior client partner with Korn Ferry with over 20 years of corporate and consulting experience, specializing in executive search and advisory. He serves both MNCs and local clients in industrial, including Energy, Chemical, Agriculture and diversified manufactures. He is also active in corporate officer practice that covers CEO, CFO and CHRO related executive placement across different industries.

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