Challenges facing organisations and what we can learn from our shared experiences

At Right Lane, we are lucky to be working alongside clients as they pivot and adjust to this new environment. Serving multiple clients, across various sectors, one thing remains consistent: we continue to work with clients helping them solve their most pressing strategy and organisation challenge/s.

In this unscripted conversation with senior Right Lane colleagues Marc Levy and Zoe Pappas, I ask them to reflect on the strategic and organisational challenges they are helping our clients solve and what we are seeing and hearing from our clients at this difficult and uncertain time. Zoe and Marc also suggest some topics other organisations should consider as we all make our way through this unprecedented experience together.

Recorded conversation

Interviewer: Lauren Spiteri


Key themes from the conversation:

  1. What are our clients’ current considerations and challenges? Have they changed?
  2. Having pivoted to virtual delivery of engagements, what advice would we give to clients delaying projects until we can meet ‘in person’?
  3. What are the unintended benefits we have seen in the virtual working environment?
  4. What should clients be thinking about now to help them plan for the next six to 12 months?

Lauren: Marc, what is on client’s minds and what engagement are we seeing clients wanting to activate?

Marc: I’m seeing three types of projects:

  1. Reboots – projects that were suspended or delayed as organisations took the time to adjust to COVID-19
  2. Planning under uncertainty/scenario planning – these projects initially kicked off around the end of March, start of April – at the start of the pandemic and during the time of uncertainty and had a short timeframe lens. Now many of these clients are starting to look further ahead into the full fiscal year, FY21 and beyond
  3. Greenshoots projects – new activities and projects as organisations start to think about getting on with things. There has been some reticence up until now to start new things, but we are seeing new projects such as new product development, organisational improvements, and efforts to better align people within organisations coming back onto the project lists.

Lauren: Zoe, you’ve been preparing a lot of proposals lately. Are you seeing these new projects fall under these same categories?

Zoe: There has been a real ground swell of clients who are just keen to get on with things. There was some early hesitation at the start of the pandemic and a real ‘watch and wait’ attitude, but now we are sensing a general recognition that we will be like this for a while, or at least dealing with uncertainty for a while.

Our clients want to inject some scenario planning into their thinking, and many clients are needing to get their strategy revised in light of the changes that have come through COVID, or other key trends in their environment. They would like to rethink their priorities given their cost base may need to change. There is a real appetite to just get on with some of that planning.

Many clients are also not missing some of the pre-COVID ways of doing things (such as travel and flying) so clients are keen to embed the good learning that has come from this period particularly around virtual teaming and virtual ways of working. In doing so they are finding themselves asking questions such as ‘How can we grow and develop our teams in this virtual format?’ ‘How can we give and receive feedback?’ and ‘How can we maximise what we’ve learnt through experience?’ There is this appetite to maximise what we have learned.

We are also getting enquiries from some clients who have recognised that is a good opportunity to get on with projects that they may otherwise have been distracted from delivering. Such as reviewing different aspects of their organisation that have been on the agenda for a while.


Lauren: Given we serve across a lot of organisations and industries, are these challenges representative across a lot of industries?

Marc: Some industries are in much more challenging starting positions than others. If an industry has been hit particularly hard, they may have more of a focus on cost management. Whereas if you are in an organisation that has been more robust to the impacts of COVID-19, you may be trying to take advantage of new opportunities.


Lauren: We take an inclusive approach to delivering projects; whilst we have pivoted to virtual delivery, some clients are still hesitant and delaying projects and waiting to get together ‘in person’ before having strategic conversations, making decisions and moving forward? What do you say to clients who feel like they will get better outcomes if they wait and meet?

Zoe: I have been really impressed with our team’s ability to pivot to a virtual environment for these engagements and get really great outcomes. The ability to disaggregate the sessions, to be able to run more efficient discussions, and we are using different methods to maximise the impact of these interactions. The feedback we are getting from clients has been remarkable.

Our advice would be ‘sure, you can wait, but the sands are shifting as we’ve seen over this past weekend, the government advice can change quickly, so how long do you want to wait for?’ I would encourage organisations to not let that [meeting virtually] put you off as we can get really great results in the virtual environment. There are of course some trade-offs but we’ve been able to adapt our methods to ensure the engagements are really effective and in some cases, even more effective. So why wait?


Lauren: Are you finding that executives’ time is better utilised in this virtual setting, when they are not spending so much time and money travelling or on flights?

Marc:

As part of our approach we typically do a lot of work ‘in person’ – workshops, meetings, working sessions, etc.’ they are a key part of our consulting method. But since COVID, a common theme that we are hearing from our virtual workshop participants is that the virtual workshops are much better than they had expected or anticipated.

I think there are three things that are potentially better in this virtual working environment:

  1. Decision making efficacy – as the environment is limited, you place more emphasis on how you work through a decision-making process and are much more deliberate. Our session planning has gone to another level to ensure we do properly work though decisions – we think through alternatives, bring data, make sure multiple views are reflected, and give people time to come in and out of conversations with different perspectives.
  2. Diversity and efficiency of conversations used to discuss, debate and decide things, a framing from our Boston-based friend Bob Frisch. We recognise some large group discussions over video conference are difficult and some people are more hesitant to contribute, but we are able to use different tools and methods to get people to enter a conversation. We often suggest that to interact and contribute to a discussion (virtually) there are five possible ways 1. Blurt something out (which is not our ideal scenario!); 2. Put your hand up virtually or physically, so that we can see you have something to add; 3. Talk to someone offline; 4. Use the breaks to talk to people, as we usually leave the VC open; or 5. Use the chat function. Different apertures of engagement, when used correctly and effectively, can lead to a better conversation.
  3. Effectively use small group discussions – either within the workshop (using the break-out room functionality) or have smaller groups get together prior to the workshop to develop and engage in the content. I think this is a really effective way to work and is a process improvement coming out of this virtual working environment.

Lauren: From a strategic planning perspective as we head into the new financial year, what should clients be thinking about now to help them plan for the next six to 12 months, and what is a way to get started and make sense of this current environment?

Zoe: Scenarios and how they might play out planning, as Marc discussed earlier, has meant clients have had to rethink their priorities in terms of changing budgets, and changing imperatives and different revenue streams etc. One of the things I’m finding really effective is to keep thinking about ‘What is it your customers want and need from you right now?’ and keep these needs at the heart of what work you are going to prioritise.

Also keep asking your team ‘How is your team feeling? Team members need to stay motivated and inspired to deliver this too, so to have some sort of an inclusive process/aspect to how you are planning for the next 6-12 months is really important to ensure you energise, mobilise and motivate your team and keep everyone heading in the same direction.

[It sounds obvious] but organisations want to make sure that they have a strategy. And that they haven’t put it into hiatus waiting for information on the effects of COVID.

The right thing to do is to have a situational strategy that can flex to the different scenarios in this changing external environment, and to anticipate those different scenarios and how you might respond to them. You should be monitoring signals in the environment to determine what is playing out, so you can adjust your course as quickly as you can.

Get initiatives started as soon as you can. You have a body of work that you want to be getting on with in FY21. It’s important to make a fast start on those initiatives to make sure you don’t fall into the trap of waiting too long.

Think about your measurements of success and have perhaps a scorecard or set of metrics in place for the new financial year to determine how you are going, and to help you make the necessary adjustments as needed.


Lauren: Just to recap, and so that people don’t feel overwhelmed, it’s all about – rethinking your priorities; getting initiatives started and finished; having an adequate set of measures in place for those initiatives; and looking at your strategy in light of the current environment, mapping out a clear set of signals or triggers to how that might change over the coming months. It’s also really important to check in and motivate your team.

Marc: Many people are feeling fatigued. Having a narrative or story to keep your people motivated, inspired and engaged is really important. We’ve had 14 weeks of working from home or virtually, and in many ways it feels like 14 months – so now is a great time to do this, or perhaps to think about a new way to tell this story, or to refresh it.


Lauren: Thank you Marc Levy and Zoe Pappas for having this quick chat with me today, which hopefully provided some insights to our clients and our potential clients – to CEOs and executives who just want a bit of motivation, some guidance on how to get started, what to focus on over the short term, and of course, how to feel less isolated in this period of social isolation.


We hope the ideas presented here have given you something new to think about. We would love the opportunity to discuss them with you in more detail. Get in touch today.

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