Uncertainty at the End of the Tunnel

Good news, at last! Covid-19 vaccines are being approved around the world, and distribution has started in some places.

This, together with the proven success of therapeutic treatments, brings a collective sigh of relief after all the anxiety of the past year. True, we don’t have herd immunity; but the more people get vaccinated the quicker we’ll get there.

More uncertainty ahead

As exciting as these developments may be for the population at large, for leaders they usher in a new period of uncertainty.

At the beginning the year we were confronted with a crisis we had never encountered in our lifetime, a global pandemic. We now face another never-experienced-before situation. We’ve never been through a post-global pandemic, and it’s virtually impossible to predict what to expect.

Just consider this: Not everyone will be vaccinated at the same time. It may take months to vaccinate enough people to reach herd immunity. And some people will refuse to get the vaccine at all.

How do we plan when the list of unknowns is seemingly endless?

  • Are customer preferences going to be the way they were before the pandemic, the way they are now during the pandemic, or a hybrid of the two?
  • Will people go back to movie theatres as often as before?
  • Will they go to the gym now that they can choose from an endless menu of exercise classes they can do at home, especially after they acquired the things they need to work out at home?
  • Will the option of working from home continue? When is it reasonable to ask employees to return to the office and under what conditions?
  • Will Covid-19 vaccination be a requirement for work, school, or even cruise travel?
  • Will we need to have different sections for those who have been vaccinated and for those who haven’t? How do we manage that?

Even Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, the very systems businesses have come to rely on to project future scenarios, are going to be tested in this fluid post-pandemic world.

These systems require huge sets of data about what happened in the past, which will be hard to produce as the data is rapidly changing.

Surviving in this complicated post-pandemic phase will require a constant monitoring of the changing environment.  Whether it’s through AI, daily feedback on operations and changing customer behavior, or a combination of all, leaders must be on top of changing conditions and take relevant action quickly.

What we’ve learned

The pandemic has been a painful experience for a lot of people. Sadly, many businesses did not survive (not to mention the many lives we lost). But many businesses did survive, and some even thrived.

If there is a common thread among those that survived, I think it would be having both an agile culture and an agile infrastructure that enabled them to quickly pivot their way of doing business, such as having their people work from home, move to an online business model, or figure out new delivery alternatives.

Surprisingly, along the way many of those businesses found more efficient, more profitable, less expensive, and even more appealing ways of serving their customers.

Agility will win again

Agility won during the pandemic, and it will win again in the next phase.

Business leaders will need to be as agile going back as they were going into the pandemic—or risk being left behind.

The winners in this next phase are going to be those who are agile enough to spot any new and changing customer behaviors and find ways to meet their needs.

I have no doubt the companies that are the swiftest in understanding how these changes take place will be the winners as we determine the new normal.

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