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Dr Peter Kitonyo; Manager, Resolutions

The Silver Lining of Covid-19: Lasting Lessons for Organizations

The Silver Lining of Covid-19: Lasting Lessons for Organizations

Covid-19 pandemic visited the world early 2020 and destroyed lives and livelihoods. The pandemic slowed down economic growth- international travel to a halt and reduced trade across nations. It overburdened the health care delivery systems across the globe and many people lost their lives with many more losing income and jobs. Kenya tested the first case of the viral disease in March 2020. The vagaries of the pandemic across the globe rages on. It has simply spoilt the party for all of us.

But all is not lost. As John Milton coined the idiom that “Every cloud has a silver lining” I think that the pandemic has taught us invaluable lessons. So, what are the most important lessons organizations have learned during the pandemic?

I think there are three take-aways for individuals and organizations: peripheral vision, adaptability and innovation, and prioritization. 

Peripheral vision is used to refer to “being the outer part of the field of vision” or simply, the ability to look all around. In business, people tend to talk about the importance of strategic vision or the ability to look ahead. The pandemic has reminded us of our inability to predict the future. So often, the most transformational events are neither foreseen at all nor are they so well understood that we ignore them completely as we look ahead. Many examples abound including the introduction of modern technologies that completely reorder winners and losers in an industry, the financial crisis, the dotcom bust, cyber-attacks and terrorism, and a pandemic like Covid-19. 

It is important to note that most of these kinds of events do not typically show up in strategic plans and yet each of them requires an organization to respond and transform their strategy. This makes narrow strategic vision easily become tunnel vision.

Peripheral vision accords an organization a heads-up that something is happening, and things are changing around us. Consequently, keen peripheral vision would have revealed all of these events - including the pandemic - as something to pay attention to and think about ahead of time. Indeed, there were lots of warning signs as China, Italy and other European countries shut down that something new was taking place.

The pandemic for example, illustrates that the key to keen peripheral vision is that our organizations’ field of view be broad enough. We cannot afford to just look around in our own backyard as defined either by geography or industry or customer base. Business leaders need to look broadly around at players, events, trends, and leading indicators.

Secondly, faced with an unexpected event such as the pandemic, the best organizations adapted and innovated in response. They did not abandon their most important goals or give up on their missions. Instead, they found new ways of getting things done including automating services delivery systems, holding online meetings and working remotely, among others.

However, although this seems so obvious, organizations frequently do not adapt or innovate unless they are forced to do so. And for some, that is too little, too late for high-performance in a constantly changing world. As we know many organizations have “a way of doing things.” Consequently, it is very easy to fall into the pattern of assuming that because something has worked well in the past, it will work well into the future. It is also more comfortable and less demanding to settle into a routine that is well-established and understood than to constantly push for improvement and change. The pandemic is a wake-up call that reminds us how much latent creative energy and resilience exists in every team. The best teams tap into that and continuously adapt and innovate.

Lastly, the pandemic re-introduced the discipline of prioritization. Most organizations try to undertake too many initiatives and projects all at once and end up under-performing their potential. They eat up energy by having too many “strategic imperatives” and end up creating frustration and confusion in the process. The discipline of prioritization forces teams to grapple with which organizational goals are truly imperatives now and what is really required to perform at the highest levels. It is a choice between what is “must do” versus “nice to do” or “let us do it because someone upstairs wants us to.” The pandemic got organizations to focus on what it would really take to get those “must dos” done.

Experience with the pandemic has taught organizations and each of us that good things can come out of difficult circumstances. But the key is not to forget them when circumstances improve. And instead of falling back into old habits with a sigh of relief, we should hone our new insights and develop our new skills so that we achieve a new, higher level of performance.

Peripheral vision, adaptability and innovation, and prioritization are the trio-disciplines we have learned since early 2020. These are the silver lining lessons drawn from the unending pandemic.

Dr Peter Kitonyo; Manager, Resolutions