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Recovery from the impact of COVID-19 will not be a linear return to growth. Much like the medical picture, the business scenario is likely to be one of fits and starts. Leaders need to avoid the biggest stumbling blocks by redoubling efforts to keep their people motivated, seizing opportunities for collaboration and targeting growth.  
Julian Goldsmith, Senior Relationship Manager at Criticaleye, says, “Organisations that try to return solely to their old ways of working are destined to fail.  
“Look for opportunities to capture and share any innovative ways of working that have emerged, including how you interact with your customers. Don’t waste the flexible and urgent mindset that this crisis has encouraged.” 
We asked our Community where businesses might falter over the next six to twelve months, and this is what they said. 
Failing to take back control 
Catriona Schmolke, SVP of Operational Centres of Excellence at Jacobs, says that businesses must be ready for what comes next: 
Currently, there are subsidies, furloughing and infrastructure stimuli, but when these end companies need to be out ahead. They must be thinking, ‘What can we take back control of?’  
For example, rather than waiting for the furlough schemes to end, many businesses are making redundancies now. Some companies are still paying rent on office space they may never need again – to take back control they need to downsize their footprint, reduce their rental liabilities and collect as much of the cash they are owed as possible, before everyone is given an excuse to not pay their debts.  
In 2019, we committed to reduce emissions from business travel by 20 percent and, prior to 2020, we commenced a real estate project looking at how we can use our global office spaces more effectively, sustainably and reduce emissions. With the enforced shift to remote working we are finding many of our employees are asking to have their contracts reviewed so they can continue to work home. Living with COVID, our climate action commitments and the feedback from our employees has allowed us to focus on accelerating the rescale of our office footprint and challenge ourselves about how we utilise office space in the future.  
At the same time, because we are a professional services organisation, the war on talent continues. We are trying to protect as much of our talent as we can, but we know there are some markets where the pipeline of work may not be replenished, or it may be delayed due to the economic uncertainty facing different sectors. We have to retain the talent to deliver for our clients and grow the talent which will be needed for the future. 
Missing opportunities to collaborate 
Till Dudler, UK&I Managing Director for Strategy at Accenture, says that partnerships will become crucial: 
Now more than ever, businesses need to build the muscle to manage an ecosystem. An ecosystem gives you greater flexibility from a finance and liquidity perspective and the ability to manage more variability in your P&L. 
You’ve got to look at what activities you need to protect and do those yourself – then everything else is up for grabs to partner on. Scan the ecosystem and see what opportunities there are to collaborate – it really differs across industries. Also, ask what role you want to play. Do you want to lead, lean-in, or just participate? 
The obvious ecosystem areas are sustainability and supply chain, but it is getting broader. One new trend is consumer goods businesses looking at syndication and creating B-2-B marketplaces. 
Purpose has also moved a lot of topics to ‘pre-competitive’ that were previously seen as competitive. For example, Diageo, PepsiCo and Unilever are partnering with Pulpex Limited, a sustainable packaging technology company to develop a paper bottle.  
A lot of businesses have a very slow process to onboard new partners – if it takes you six months that’s not going to work. You need to build the muscle to do this quicker. 
Letting your people become demotivated 
Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer at Webhelp UK, says that people may not have the desire or physical and mental set up to work at home long term: 
We could be working from home for a very long period, or in some cases even permanently. So, understanding how to accommodate people while motivating them is going to be a real focus over the next six months.  
We’ve held a lot of leadership listening sessions. We keep these small, as otherwise some can be reluctant to speak up, but large enough for people to spark off each other. This allows us to see if there are any gaps in the support we are providing.  
It also allows us to make sure people feel confident in the way we are running the business – more than ever people really want to understand and see how solid our business model is.  
Our Webhealth initiative focuses on physical, mental and emotional health. We are holding exercise classes online, looking at financial security and covering mental wellbeing.  
When it comes to performance, we have dashboards that allow people to see how they are performing in relation to their team or the campaign they are working on. We have learned to use them in a fun way, by developing some gamification pieces, so that people compete without feeling like it is Big Brother.  
Taking the wrong customer journeys 
Helen also says customer behaviour is changing and businesses need to adapt how they interact with them: 
Organisations need to understand the journeys customers are going on now, rather than the ones they used to take through the business. Data then needs to inform business decisions in an agile way and investment needs to be focused in the right places.  
For example, retailers may well have a different demographic trying to shop online with them now – and those customers may need a new level of support and changes in the business processes. So, being able to identify demographics and how they relate to failures in the processes, alongside how technology could support that end-to-end journey can shift the dial.  
Organisations that previously weren’t very digitally savvy will struggle to create effective engagement strategies online without first understanding their customers and the journeys they make.  
Ignoring opportunities for growth  
Carl Dempsey, NED of Venture Life Group, says the pandemic has amplified both the strengths and weaknesses within businesses and accelerated opportunities:  
You might be delivering outstanding growth during COVID-19, but be careful not to believe your own propaganda. If there is a weakness in your plan that is being offset by a strength, don’t think that weakness won’t come back and bite you.  
Be tough on yourself and ask, “Of the critical five things that we do, on a scale of one-to-five, where are we?”  
You must believe the very worst can happen, but also that the very best could happen if you can focus your mind on growth. Many businesses over the last decade have ignored finding growth because they have been sold solutions to identify cost reductions.  
Understand the marketplace and where you are within it, look for the key insights on who is growing and why – and then do it. You need to pivot to the growth opportunity, while protecting yourself where you are vulnerable.  
Don’t put off something you need to do to overcome a weakness or accelerate a strength because you don’t have the capability. Make sure you have the right talent, and if you don’t then find it either permanently or temporarily through a flexible ecosystem. You don’t have to own the resource anymore.  
Emma Carroll, Senior Editor, Criticaleye 
The next Community Update will look at The Next New Normal for Boards.