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How to make pivotal decisions about the future post COVID (aka uncertain times)



In the immediate aftermath of the trauma of COVID-19, as an organisation focused on behaviour change within organisations, we have worked with a number of clients to help rethink their strategy. We’ve compiled the lessons we’ve learned so far in the form of questions you should ask yourself when considering how to pivot in these uncertain times.


1. Has everything really 'changed forever'?

In the immediate aftermath of COVID-19 the common message we all heard was that 'everything has changed forever' and business will 'never be the same again'. As human beings, we find multi-factorial problems difficult to navigate so we default to particular biases, such as 'salience bias' when evaluating complex risks. This is because evaluating large amounts of conflicting and complex information may be required for us to make decisions in a short space of time. So we focus our attention on those pieces of information that stand out or are particularly threatening. This leaves us at risk of forceful opinions from people generating future scenarios. One person within a large organisation told us they were worried about alarmist predictions which seemed to be excessive but forceful. Watch out for ‘futurologists’ foretelling your future business with apparent precision. In our experience even the best models of what will happen post COVID are based on assumptions that will fluctuate over time but not acknowledged as so. A better approach in these situations is to think about varying scenarios with different likelihoods of occurring under particular conditions. As Dr Paul Samuelson, Nobel prize winner for economics once said "When events change, I change my mind. What do you do?" It is important to monitor these scenarios over time and have mechanisms in place to pivot as new evidence emerges. Unfortunately most of the time deterministic predictions have an undue influence on company directions.


2. Stay calm and don’t follow the crowd

Another source of alarm can be found in the world of social media, where it can be tempting to copy trends and be seen to be responding quickly by ‘doing something’ or copying others. This is the time to think calmly about the right response for your organisation and not be overly influenced by what others are doing. What is it that you can uniquely offer that genuinely helps people? What opportunities might exist for the organisation as we transition through different post COVID phases over the next couple of years? Why are you best positioned to benefit from those opportunities? Is there an opportunity to use this moment to take the risks that you couldn't bring yourself to take but now just feel right? One organisation told us recently that the advantage of their organisation was the ability to tolerate risk as long as it was understood and carefully mitigated. This might sound boring, but it's an essential component of decision making. Celebrate the uniqueness of your business and tailor your strategy to that. In order to do that you need to...


3. Craft your own evidence and decision framework

We recently worked with a health charity who wanted to understand which audiences would be most in need over their help over the coming year and who they might be best positioned to help given what they offer. Of course everyone is affected by COVID, and in particular those with low social and economic resources. However, some people are likely to be more impacted than others when we look at the impact through different lenses (health, social, economic). As the spike of COVID cases rise and fall certain groups will experience fears for their health and those close to them. As economies contract other groups will find that their financial wellbeing is under threat either by retirement provision, loss of work or failure to get a first job or place at university. Those with a propensity to mental health problems will be most affected in the short-term, but different groups will experience these differently over time, with a projected substantial increase in PTSD for front line workers but also anxiety and depression in the general population. Against a backdrop of different future scenarios we were able to identify how different audiences could be more likely to be served better by the organisation than others given their fluctuating circumstances. Importantly, combining the highest quality evidence and scientific input from experts was vital in choosing which areas to focus on for the charity. By doing so we identified a target audience that met the criteria for focus and could lead the organisation moving into an exciting new direction for the future but founded on authentic forms of help today. These models are not exact predictions but they incorporate probabilities which can be updated as time goes on.


4. Widen your perspectives and value expertise

To fully develop and appreciate future scenarios we take into account a wide range of inputs from different expertise areas and explore options for the future as a collaborative team with different specialties. For example, in one project we combined our own health and behavioural science expertise with specialist experts in mental health, public health, medicine, social care, media buyers and planners to identify strategies to take forward and to help craft possible organisation responses. When multiple disciplines and approaches are contributing to solving the problem, we become more diverse in our thinking, are more creative in finding solutions and less likely to default to what we know. No agency, consultancy or academic group can have all this expertise in house and must partner for specialist help. Look for those who are willing to work with others. Ultimately it's this collaborative mindset that gives us hope and inspires us. The world is adapting to the consequences of COVID. It’s a complex challenge and can lead to lots helpful and transformative adaptations for businesses. However, in this so-called “new normal” world these adaptations need to be thought through from different perspectives. It’s time to collaborate and identify where we as unique businesses, charities, individuals and governments can provide the most help to our end users based on what we do well, the benefits we provide every day but in partnership with others who bring so much else to the table. 


5. Communicate your purpose throughout the organisation

At this point in time, everyone who works for an organisation is looking for inspiration, purpose and meaning at work. A re-alignment of values is going to be a powerful driver in harnessing the energy of your employees. We've seen organisations who have successfully applied their internal assets to contribute to solving societal challenges. However, we've also seen brilliant leaders just remove the barriers to help make change happen when inspired by their employees. The CEO of one large organisation, who shall remain nameless, used his external influence to knock down barriers in the outside world to drive through an internally developed idea that was outside their current business model, but led to the production of millions of units of PPE from a standing start. Seeing the surge of pride in employees for their company was worth more than any employee engagement exercise. Let your people know that you are open for ideas from within on how to pivot in this period. Your employees are full of incredible ideas and 'what if'? scenarios. They talk about them with each other constantly. It's the sort of innovation that companies have been longing to foster and this post COVID world gives us the chance to surface it.


We’re always happy to talk about these learnings and so if you’re interested in finding out more then click https://www.youngerlivesgroup.com/behavior-change or simply like our article. We plan to provide more insights over the coming weeks and in particular let you know about a new behaviour change framework that we've designed for commercial impact to drive value. Also let us know what’s worked for you and the challenges you’ve faced within your business in trying to navigate these difficult times. We’re always keen to help and collaborate.

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