Embracing the Next Normal: How to Respond to Uncertainty

No matter the industry, company size, product, or service, all businesses are susceptible to changing environments. Sometimes they are internal disruptions creating change. Sometimes they are market-driven disruptions (ex. regulatory or technological) or even within our communities (ex. most recently, a pandemic and civil unrest).

In light of these disruptions - and the concurrent customer demand for businesses to live their values - organizations need to navigate with urgency and be proactive in how they respond to these changes, both publicly and operationally. Forming a Rapid Response team will allow you to identify changing conditions, streamline decision-making, and help you lead, rather than react, during trying times. 

Below are some considerations on how to best activate this team during disruptions.

 Assemble the Rapid Response team! 

Leadership should be responsible for determining what roles are necessary in a rapid response team. The size of team varies depending on your business (although the sweet spot tends to be 8-12 people), while ensuring collaboration across business functions, geographies (HQ vs Field), and potentially, external partners. Identify a core subset of the team to lead and drive project management for the response, while allocating others across various, yet distinct workflows. Once settled, bring in ancillary functions (ex. graphic design, comms) as needed. 

As a team, determine what guiding principles and desired outcomes (objectives) should guide your responses. Principles such as “progress over perfection”, “service to our customers comes first”, and “don’t make assumptions”, can serve as rally posts for how teams interact and come together to find synergies. Utilize existing company values or guidelines (ex. communication guidelines) to supplement the rapid response team’s principles.

 Provide ‘Wobbly’ Structure 

In a rapid response, do you want to have a skeletal structure composed of bones and cartilage, or simply be a gelatinous mass? Because disruptions will vary, having too much structure (bones) can limit the speed in response. Being too flexible (gelatinous mass), will lead to inconsistent approaches and outputs. Having a set of values or guiding principles for how the team operates in a disruption provides the right amount of ‘wobbly’ structure, while not stifling team performance.

 Outline Objectives into Phases 

With any disruption, changes will vary across time and geography. Your response and purpose during that time span may need to change too. For example, in a pandemic, phases align well with public health stages, such as outbreak, stabilization, and recovery. Detail your objectives and tactics against publicly accepted phases and utilize existing project management cycles. As phases transition, bring in different stakeholders and accept decelerating work streams as necessary. Your ‘wobbly’ structure should enable this flexibility.

Prime the Feedback Pipeline 

Stay in tune with your audience, both internally and externally. Set up frequent check-ins with internal teams and initiate feedback tools to hear from your customers, particularly as the disruption evolves. Utilize pulse surveys, landing pages, and in-person conversations to determine what tactics are working for your audience. For your most important customers, provide more opportunities for in-depth conversations. Because the outputs of each rapid response will be different, simply make sure you’re getting feedback from those on the ground.

Plan for the Next Disruption 

While companies can plan for disruptions, they cannot predict when they’ll happen, or the effect they will have. To best utilize the recommendations above, consider putting together your core processes before the next disruption hits. For this plan, consider: 

  • Who, or what roles, are needed on the team? 
  • What guiding principles should that team live by? 
  • What disruption necessitates a response? 
  • What design/communication guidelines can help us react more quickly? 
  • How will our customers be impacted? 
  • How will we measure success and how will we know when to decommission the team? 

For example, here at Propeller, when the initial shelter-in-place orders first went into effect due to COVID-19, our leadership team leaned into some of the items listed above to determine how we could convert a negative situation into something positive and beneficial. After recognizing the top two groups influenced were working parents and businesses, we rallied a small team of consultants tasked with generating useful content and tools to help those groups navigate the uncertainties of quarantine. The end result was our Holding Altitude micro site.

Answering these questions before your next disruption, and having a playbook at the ready, will help you move through the fog and react to your customers’ needs. 

Most changes within a business are carefully premeditated and implemented in an effort to minimize resistance and ensure a smooth transition. However, disruptions can quickly alter these dynamics. Utilizing the above strategies can help build a strong (yet wobbly) base that helps you disperse pain points and remain flexible in the moment at hand. It also ensures that you lead in times of need, rather than sit back and wait. 

Propeller’s refreshed People & Change practice encompasses change management, and meaningful areas of focus for any organization seeking to achieve business transformation. The practice helps clients achieve success through human capabilities and change strategies.