Almost a year back we were living in a world that seems completely different from the one that we live in today. The COVID-19 outbreak has forced us to change the lenses through which we look at companies and individuals. This is a story of one such company and one such individual who were united by their changed perspectives.
In May 2019, Purple Quarter was engaged with a SaaS giant for a Tech Leadership role. The firm was almost on the verge of becoming a Unicorn, a feat they still aspire today. We introduced them to a tech leader that in our opinion was a perfect fit for the company. He had a couple of decades of experience in product based SaaS companies and was then working for a company valued less than 5 times to the one he was applying for.
Even though the tech leader had job offers in multi-billion dollar companies overseas, staying in India was his top priority. There is no denying that the SaaS giant’s leadership position he was gunning for has one of the best tech infrastructure in the country, thus, in India, was one of the biggest targets for people with similar profiles.
However, the company was on an upward trajectory and wanted people with experience in larger firms. Another reason for the mismatch of the profile was that the tech leader wanted a remote work option to stay close to his family when necessary. Needless to say, the tech leader stayed in the same company and the mandate for the role also died down.
Fast forward to May 2020. While most companies were struggling to find a revenue stream, this particular firm, like many other SaaS companies, saw an opportunity to expand and grow. They needed urgent leaders to run their expanding business. However, this time, they were looking at candidates with more agility, flexibility, people with hands on experience with scale, people who are not afraid to come out of their comfort zone to try new things.
Remote working was another area where the perspective of the SaaS firm changed along with the entire world. Company functions that we never imagined would be possible to be done remotely was pivoting to remote roles.
We got a mandate to close the leadership position as soon as possible. Typically, a role of such stature takes 60 days to close. But Purple Quarter knew exactly where to go. In just 30 days of the revised mandate, we were working on onboarding the Tech leader in the SaaS giant. It is truly commendable how quickly the SaaS major adapted to the ‘New Normal’ and got the same Tech Leader onboard in under a month. It truly is a testament to their leadership team, their TA leader and the Tech Leader for making this happen.
This is just one company changing its outlook to accommodate a post-COVID-19 worldview. There will be numerous such examples.
We are living in uncertain times. The only certainty about the COVID-19 pandemic is that it will eventually end, and when it does, many of the changes it has brought will recede. Consumers will once more shop and socialize, supply and demand will rebalance, and markets will recover. History tells us, however, to also expect some lasting change in the wake of the crisis—such as Glass-Steagall after the Great Depression, increased suburbanization after World War II, and heightened security following 9/11. Similarly, in the wake of the turmoil, company performance and position can either shift temporarily, or permanently.
Companies that master both the transitory and the transformational response to a crisis reap long-term rewards. Transitory responses entail rapid actions that are critical for survival, including protecting employees, managing cash, and flexing supply chains to meet demand. But occupying new positions and building new advantages requires transformational moves and investment. In a crisis, when the immediate response can be all-consuming, transformational moves are harder.
How can you be ready for a Post COVID-19 World
- Expect change and look ahead: Organizations tend to become myopic and insular when under threat. But crises often mark strategic inflection points, and a focus on the present should not crowd out consideration of the future. The key questions become, what next, and with what consequences and opportunities?
- Understand broader social shifts: Addressable opportunities are often born out of new customer needs and frustrations, so listening to customers is vital. However, traditional surveys tell you only about existing product and category needs and uses; consumers may not be explicitly aware of their emerging needs. Companies need to look more broadly at how social attitudes are shifting to understand which observed changes in behavior and consumption could be lasting.
- Scrutinize high-frequency data: Aggregates, averages, and episodic statistical data will not reveal the weak signals of change. Companies need to access and analyze high-frequency data, such as data on credit card transactions, at a very granular level to spot emerging trends.
- Identify your revealed weaknesses: The crisis will unquestionably exhibit needs for more sweeping readiness, flexibility, agility, or leanness in different parts of your company. Those weaknesses also signal opportunities to renew your products and business model and serve customers better. They may also help you understand broader customer needs since others are likely to be experiencing similar stresses.
- Study regions further ahead in the crisis: China and Korea are many weeks ahead of Western countries in their experience of crisis and recovery. By studying what happened in these markets, leaders can better predict which changes are likely to stick or could be shaped. A geographical fast-follower strategy may be available to agile players.
- Scan for nonconformist activity: Some companies, often smaller players on the edges of your industry, will be making bets predicated on new customer needs or behavioral patterns. Ask yourself, who are these mavericks, and which potential branches and leaves on the tree of possible shifts are they betting on? Are those bets gaining traction? What are you missing? From there, you can decide on the appropriate response to each opportunity or threat: ignore, investigate further, create an option to play, replicate and exceed, buy the maverick, or act with high priority.
- Look at which new patterns reduce friction: Frictions are unnecessary delays, costs, complexities, mismatches with needs, or other inconveniences that a customer experiences in using a particular offering. Forced habits that entail more friction than the traditional alternative are likely to be temporary: we may be forced to eat only canned food from our pantries in a crisis, but many are likely to return promptly to consuming fresh food when it is over. On the other hand, forced habits that reduce friction are more likely to stick: how many of us relish the thought of carving out a couple of hours each day to reach our workplaces? High-friction areas are also ones where it is logical for mavericks to innovate and where they are more likely to succeed.
- Maintain hope and growth orientation: It’s almost inevitable that we will face a deep post-crisis recession. This is not a reason to postpone innovation and investment. Counterintuitively, 14% of companies grew both their top and bottom lines during recent economic downturns, and our analysis shows they create value mainly through differential growth. This is true across all industries. The evidence is clear: the best time to grow differentially is when aggregate growth is low. Flourishers, in a downturn, do reduce costs to maintain viability, but they also innovate around new opportunities, and they reinvest in growth pillars to capture the opportunity in adversity and shape the post-crisis future.