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Obviously COVID-19 is having an enormous impact on all aspects of our lives, with the scope and scale of business disruption being immense and incredibly challenging. But disruption is what innovation people are generally excellent at responding to, so the question becomes – “how do you and your team support your organisations within this environment?”

Be empathetic and caring

Everyone around us is under incredible stress at the moment and so as leaders it’s important for us all to be aware of the challenges that we (individually, team and organisation-wise) are facing and to provide support to those around us.

Focus on addressing COVID-19 related priorities / opportunities

Anthony has written in the past about the importance of innovation professionals adding value in times of crisis. The reality is that into the foreseeable future, dealing with the impact of COVID-19 will be top-of-mind for execs, so it’s important that innovation programs provide direct support within the new environment, such as:

  • Identifying and driving the development of new products / solutions aligned to expected  needs resulting from COVID-19
  • Actively supporting digital transformation agendas, as COVID-19 is pulling many of these initiatives forward
  • Providing opportunities for employees to collaborate on positive / challenging topics across functions / geographies, as a way to balance out a tendency to focus within comfortable siloes
  • Increasing rewards / recognition activities, as a way to further engage employees in an environment where they may not feel valued or supported

Extend the scope of innovative activity

This might seem counter intuitive, but company’s now have a burning platform for change, in uncharted territory, so innovation professionals can step up to provide support, perhaps beyond their typical roles. Examples of activities may include:

  • Provide context to rapidly changing market / society dynamics
  • Collaborating with HR to leverage innovation platforms as a mechanism for driving employee engagement
  • Supporting new ways of working, perhaps by driving collaboration across boundaries (regional, functional, career level), directing nervous energy to creating a new path forward
  • Examine how an organisation’s social impact focus areas need to be reassessed based on the changed business landscape
  • Scenario based planning exercises, using empathetic techniques where leaders explore the changing environment and help define a new path forward
  • Societal trend mapping and responding, educating leaders on the social trends likely to impact the organisation going forward and help form opportunities for effective responses

Generate economic impact, ASAP

The economic consequences of COVID-19 are only just starting to be felt, with pressures on cash flow, supply chain and employee retention impacting every organisation. Within this environment, C-suites are already making cuts across the board and innovation functions can be seen as luxuries that may not align to the new environment. Accordingly, it’s imperative that innovation leaders develop products, solutions and process improvements that create economic impact as soon as possible. This can involve a focus on developing quick wins that align to the new needs of the organisation. These can be incremental improvements, or sweeping changes of business models, but the point is that you have to move on these as soon as possible.

Cultural context changes

While there are heavy economic pressures on organisations, there are also pressures being felt by individual employees at all levels. Organisations are increasingly focussed on the mental health impacts on their workers, to a much greater extent than they have prior to COVID-19.

Accordingly, efforts built around driving a more innovative culture at your organisation should be re-examined in terms of the above point on economic impact, but also with a new lens of supporting the mental health and stability of the workforce, through greater connection, collaboration and creativity.

Prepare for budget cuts

All indicators point to us heading into a global recession, and business budgets across the board are going to be cut. Given that innovation is often seen as a luxury, it’s important to proactively prepare your case for continued investment, but to simultaneously plan for an extremely lean period of resource allocation. The world is going to be very different going forward, and it’s best to prepare for that new environment. Whilst this can be challenging, it is worth reminding ourselves that operating on a shoestring budget can drive better prioritisation, greater levels of creative problem solving and a purer adoption of “fail fast, fail cheap” experimentation.

Remain positive

It’s a challenging time for all of us, and the constant news can be a mental drain. It’s important to step away from the computer, try and disconnect from the work and reconnect with family and friends. We are all in this together and there are so many great ways to connect with people now that many people are trying for the first time. So be sure to keep your head up and focus on the great parts of your life, because we will get through this and continue our lives outside of our current constraints.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of the above article, please feel free to connect with us directly.

About the Authors

Anthony Ferrier is a well-regarded executive, advisor and thought leader on corporate innovation, with a focus on employee engagement and training. He advises companies on how to thrive in an exponential world, by developing appropriate strategic frameworks to guide organizational change and build cultures that encourage the development of new ideas. Anthony is a widely-read author, speaker and advisor to organizations such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Fidelity Investments, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and USAA. He previously led The BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Master of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).

Ashley Brown headshotAshley Brown is a management consultant with over 20 years’ experience in strategy, innovation and business transformation. He has advised leading global corporations across a range of sectors, as well as over 50 startups (including a number of corporate startups) as a mentor and program director for a number of Australia’s leading startup accelerator programs. Ashley leverages his deep expertise in strategy, design thinking, innovation, technology and transformation to help clients re-imagine and re-invent their organisations and deliver world-class experiences to their customers, employees and stakeholders. He has worked as a management consultant specialising in strategy, growth and innovation at global professional services firms KPMG and Deloitte, and has a Bachelor of International Business (Griffith University).