Guiding our clients through the unexpected, and capitalizing on opportunities for meaningful change in the face of significant turbulence, took on new dimensions for the Level5 Strategy team this past year.
But it also reinforced the strength of our foundational belief that the heart of a business and brand is a clearly articulated promise that is consistently kept – even against, and throughout, outlier events and truly disruptive moments.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple out market disruptions impacted nearly all sectors of the economy. Businesses had to make significant pivots to survive or reposition for the “next normal” as they themselves were learning to work and collaborate in new ways.
To help better meet this increased demand and scale to our client needs, Level5 Strategy expanded our leadership team to welcome three new Principals.
Laura joined the team in early 2021. Prior to this, she led her own multi-sector advisory business and brings deep expertise in building purpose-driven brands.
Jordan joined Level5 Strategy in 2019. His prior experiences include both management consulting and private-sector strategy, customer experience and data analytics-focused executive roles.
Sean has grown through the ranks of Level5 Strategy and was recently elevated to Principal after several years supporting clients across our full suite of offerings.
This growing cohort of Principals are focused on supporting our clients to transform their customer experience, develop clearly articulated strategic plans, drive culture and organizational change as well as facilitate executive and team alignment around responses to the shifting markets and evolving landscape.
Each of them brings a diversity of experience and perspective which reflects the needs of the current moment and the necessary perspective to position for the future. Together, they add extensive expertise in helping client teams to identify powerful moments of truth, make better data-driven decisions and then execute together at scale to deliver transformational outcomes.
This condensed interview comes from a recent discussion on the key insights that teams and leaders need to be aware of as they navigate transformational change amidst disruption.
A Clear Promise, Anchored By Purpose, Must be Priority
Regardless of size or sector, all brands – large and small – need to assess how to best position themselves and their promise to their key stakeholders. And in the post-COVID world, community and conscience are now a critical component of the brand experience.
To be successful, businesses must clearly articulate their promise to their customers, employees, and shareholders. While the promise to each stakeholder group may be nuanced, increasingly, companies are being challenged to anchor their promise in a higher-order brand purpose.
Laura: “As a result of a number of converging factors including the racial reckoning, the realization that the COVID-19 pandemic was disproportionately impacting marginalized populations and the sociopolitical unrest in the US, the importance and focus on diversity and inclusion and social and environmental impact has increased exponentially over the past year.”
“As a result, we are seeing consumer and employee expectations of companies shift along with shareholder recognition of the importance of social and environmental performance for the long term health of their investments. Corporate leaders are responding in kind. But to successfully leverage purpose requires it to be woven into the center of a company’s strategy. In addition to the rational and emotional drivers of choice, purpose is now informing the promise that brands make to their stakeholders.”
“I’ve been really focused on helping companies determine what the higher order purpose of their brand is, or should be, and then how to integrate it to move that through the full business system, from their supply chains to product and service offerings to culture and performance management. I would say the most important criteria here is that whatever the purpose position is, it has to be authentic to the business. It has to be able to act as a rallying point for their stakeholders.
“And that’s the easy part. The challenge is in actually authentically living that purpose with all stakeholders and finding opportunities to leverage core activities, competencies and assets to create value for the business while creating value for society.”
Jordan: “The past few years have seen so much change – all of which was accelerated and amplified by the pandemic. This includes what customers and employees need and want from a brand; how customers connect with a business’s products and services and how they share their experiences with brands across their networks. If the overarching promise isn’t clear, a brand will not only have a more challenging time independently resonating in the market and driving engagement and loyalty; they will also make it harder for their customers to spread a consistent message on their behalf.”
Stay in Tune with your Customers’ Changing Expectations
To form and drive a brand promise that leads to a desired behavior, it’s essential to understand the rational and emotional drivers of choice and loyalty for key customer segments. The challenge for businesses is that what matters most to customers is now changing ever more rapidly and is increasingly influenced by external factors that they may not be tracking.
Sean: “Root your value proposition in emotional needs, as rational ones will change. Predicting exactly what customers are going to tangibly need during this uncertain time is next to impossible. External factors (the pandemic, policies, preferred routes to market, etc.) are changing so quickly that the right offering for today may be obsolete a month from now.”
“An organization that constantly repositions based on changing habits will seem chaotic and rudderless. However, if the value proposition is rooted in emotional needs, that promise can stay constant as the mechanics of how it is delivered to market change.”
Jordan: “I agree with Sean – and the next step is the ‘how.’ Building and evolving a customer value proposition that touches not just on the evolving rational expectations, but also the emotional needs and wants of customers requires a foundation of data and insight that many organizations don’t have. Ingraining a capability to regularly assess and understand customers’ rational and emotional drivers is critical to staying ahead of the shifting sands and creating experiences that deliver for customers where and when it matters most.”
The Accelerated Pace of Decision Making Is Unlikely To Diminish
Companies have long been focused on trying to accelerate the pace of decision making, with varied degrees of success in implementation. The pandemic forced this by requiring a heightened bias to immediate action. Across the market, we saw incredible examples of this that offer principles to learn from and apply going forward. The teams that maintain the ability to be this nimble will greatly help themselves create the conditions for sustaining competitive advantage.
Jordan: “The past year has seen a seismic shift in the pace of decision-making. It unlocked the power of teams and organizations to drive change in ways many never thought possible. We saw big important decisions get made in four minutes versus four meetings. What took weeks or months to discuss, review, revisit, reassess, re-model and re-align was now done end to end in near real time. Customers, employees and shareholders didn’t have time to wait, and it was those leaders who could make quick, ‘good-enough’ decisions that stabilized and revived their businesses most quickly through the pandemic.”
Laura: “Mary Barra, the CEO of GM has made great comments on this, highlighting that while the company has always had trust in its people the pandemic forced leadership to get out of the way of their teams and empower them to make decisions. Our clients are embracing mantras of ‘progress over perfection’, drawing forward enduring lessons from the height of the pandemic with confidence in their convictions and trust in their people. Rather than reverting to pre-COVID ways, I think that organizations who don’t sustain and maintain this new pace and approach will quickly be overtaken and lose any competitive advantage.”
Cultivate A Culture of Cross-Functional Collaboration
Entrenched business and cultural norms mean that there is often an overfocus on change at the leadership level. But this is only one component. To drive successful transformation, the organization must tap into the energy of the entire team to enable a more meaningful shift in behaviour.
Sean: “Change is about what a group of individuals does themselves each day. This was highlighted during COVID. As organizations rapidly moved to remote and distributed work, it shone a light on how culture impacts change and the importance of understanding the energy of the organization. This means knowing what’s realistic and feasible within the unique culture of the business and what the true constraints and variables are. Businesses need to have a pulse on this and what we saw during COVID is that the ones that do, are best able to effectively implement big changes – because they aren’t building something new but amplifying and directing what is already there. The best solutions tap into the existing energy or philosophy and take advantage of what’s there, instead of trying to parachute an entirely new ethos into an organization to fit the trends of the day.”
Jordan: “One example that helps to bring this principle to life is the integration of two large organizations that we have been helping to lead over the past several months. This is always complex and challenging, but in this case all of us (ourselves, and the client organizations being merged) needed to drive the effort completely remotely. There was no getting in a room together to plan design or iterate on how to drive the integration most effectively. But we figured out how to do it and by creating a culture of connection and collaboration across the client teams, helped them navigate their journey with a new level of intention, clarity and alignment.”
Remember that change is led from the top, but delivered across the entire organization
Change is often leader-led, but sustainable change involves thousands of incremental adjustments across the entire organization, in the choices made and the process undertaken.
Laura: “Coming out of 2020, we’re seeing a real leapfrog moment, where businesses are actively looking at their products and services differently and asking how to sustainably deliver value to all their stakeholders – while creating value for society. There are some bold pivots ahead and exciting opportunities for employees across functions to participate by rethinking how they deliver value in their organizations to transformational mandates. Success comes for making change real at all levels of the organization and equipping individuals to bring that change to life in their daily roles and functions.”
Sean: “Organizational transformation effectively comes down to the accumulation of a series of small actions. Leaders have to remember that the change isn’t complete when the vision statement is written by the leadership team; that’s simply where it starts. Real change requires every single contributor across the organization to understand the direction, appreciate their role in the change, and desire to adjust the way they do work to be part of the solution.”
Transformations are always going to be challenging, moreso when the market, customer needs, and competitive dynamic are also changing at an accelerating pace around you. These lessons, informed through the shared experiences of Level5 Strategy’s Principal team, can help to stabilize your organization in the turbulence and guide how you navigate through periods of disruptive change.
For more on how Level5 Strategy can help you navigate growth and change through disruption, reach out to us here.