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9 Min Read

Structuring Your Business — And Leading And Succeeding — In A Touchless World

October 15, 2020 / Unisys Corporation

Covid-19 has affected everything, required many of us to work from home and expanded our use of digital channels to get things done. According to the World Bank, it has also brought economic activity to a "near standstill."

Now businesses are considering how they're going to rebound from the turmoil this situation has created. To do that, organizations can't just continue doing business as usual. We're moving into a new world, and this may not be the last pandemic. Company structures can't remain the same.

You can't operate a company the same way you have for the past five years and expect the same results in the next five years. The results are going to be completely different.

Structure should evolve to be digital, address new pain points and procurement requirements, enable organizational alignment, drive associate and customer engagement and support subscription-based business models. And it should allow for that in a touchless environment.

Businesses frequently adjust to challenges by looking at profitability and cutting the fat. This is like applying a fresh coat of paint, knocking down a wall or installing some new cabinets. It looks nicer, but you didn't change the structure. The bones of the house are exactly the same.

You can trim the edges, or you can just blow up the current model and get a new structure that provides room to grow and the ability to move in a new direction efficiently and rapidly. I believe today's environment calls for such foundational change to company structure and leadership.

The right structure drives cross-team collaboration and alignment.

Digital structure is teams-oriented. That enables different disciplines, like finance and HR, to work together to get things done. You might be thinking that you have already been doing that. But cross-discipline collaboration and team-building is different now.

In the past, you could gather everybody in a room and drive compliance. You could see if people were working well together or butting heads. You could stay in that room until you had the answers and engagement you needed. That's not how Zoom works.

You can get everybody on a call, but there are a lot of competing priorities and distractions going on around them. People often mute themselves and tune out. You need to address that.

Leaders who call meetings should also have the discipline to make sure all the teams who need to be involved in the effort are included upfront, or they're not going to get the buy-in they need.

Alignment is way more important in today's economy and remote work environment. You need to make sure that everybody is rowing the boat in the same direction. You can't do that with an outdated, department- or function-oriented structure that allows people to do part of a job and call it a success despite the fact that the overall project can still fail.

It helps you deliver solutions customers want, how they want them.

Including and aligning people from different business disciplines also helps ensure that you create solutions customers need and that you're building them in a way that allows your organization to sell and deliver them to the clients. Businesses struggle with this every day.

A lot of stuff gets developed, but it's not always what was requested. The company may take a financial hit, miss delivery dates, have a message that doesn't resonate in the market and lose deals. Having the right structure in place helps businesses avoid these problems and ensure that they consider and address all aspects that are necessary for their solutions to be successful.

Procurement, sales and services are becoming more touchless, and businesses need to prepare for that. It's like when Walmart announced it would only do business with companies that support electronic data interchange, or EDI (paywall).

You need to be ready for more of this kind of thing. Don't assume that what you've been doing is going to work in a post-pandemic world. There could be a thousand new requirements coming at you from a thousand different clients. Procurement is probably not going to do in-person vendor reviews — you've got to be virtually enabled and deliver pricing over a digital platform. You may need to have a digital sandbox to allow customers to demo your offerings themselves.

Just think about all the changes that must occur when one client says, "That's how I want to do it." And they won’t all want to do it the same way. A merchandising group at a retailer, for example, may want to see and feel the product in person. Now you have to do bimodal selling.

This change has huge implications for structure, strategy and skills.

I worry that we're underestimating how to lead through this crisis and the extent to which structure must change to deliver superior experiences to clients and associates.

The way businesses work is changing — and needs to change some more — because people's behaviors and expectations are changing. McKinsey reported that 15% of U.S. consumers tried grocery delivery for the first time during the pandemic, and 40% plan on ordering groceries online and getting them delivered even after we've emerged from this crisis.

This marks a fundamental shift. How are grocery stores, which make lots of money on impulse items near the checkout like candy bars and gum, going to handle that? How are gyms going to change? I set up a track, kettlebells and bands in part of my garage. That's my gym now.

So many business people talk about how they're going to rebound from this crisis. How? What's your strategy to rebound? We're moving into a new world that could have serious implications on strategy and structure. To deliver sustainable business results in the future, you need to make sure you understand the clients, offerings and markets as they exist today. You need a structure that will allow you to compete effectively and be responsive. And you need the right leadership and skills that fit into the new structure and help you execute on your strategy.

There's no going back.