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MIT Technology Review

Four must-haves for business resilience in a time of crisis

Business success in turbulent times comes down to solid leadership, digital maturity, and consistent engagement with employees and customers.

September 23, 2020

In March, Adobe’s leadership team decided—for the sake of employee well-being—to institute worldwide work-from-home policies to protect against the spread of covid-19. And it was a large undertaking.

This content was produced by Adobe. It was not written by MIT Technology Review's editorial staff.

Anil Chakravarthy is Executive Vice President and General Manager of Adobe's Digital Experience Business Unit.

Adobe has more than 20,000 employees around the globe, not dissimilar from many of our peers. But March also happens to be a key point in time for the digital experience-focused side of the business: It's when we hold our annual customer conference in Las Vegas. When we moved our workforce to remote, there had already been months of work completed for this in-person event, which was expected to attract 23,000-plus attendees, and teams had to shift quickly (25 days, to be exact) to reimagine our event into an online experience.

Through it all, we experienced many successes and , of course, several hiccups along the way. But if there’s anything we learned over the course of the past six months, it’s that effective leadership, a strong technology foundation, a consistent engagement strategy, and digital maturity are distinctly important to business resilience during a time of crisis.

Effective leadership is key

Empathetic leadership is always important, but even more so in uncertain times. The first rule to effective leadership is putting your employees first and being able to walk in their shoes. It’s important to make a concerted effort to talk with your team about how they are coping, what their specific work-from-home situations look like, and how you can better enable and foster their productivity.

The old adage of staying calm under pressure is also imperative for leaders, especially in crisis. Businesses are dealing with highly unpredictable situations, and it’s important as a leader to understand and openly acknowledge the fact that you do not have total control. Make that clear to your people, too. Instill the mantra that mistakes will happen and failing fast and learning from them is key.

Covid-19 has also taught us that becoming fluent in and open to new technology to collaborate and run the business is more important than ever. Show your team through your own actions that you embrace this newness; this will help ensure they embrace the same. In addition, the ability to think fast, challenge assumptions with data, and solve business problems (all part of the creative process) are equally as important for effective leadership.

The old adage of staying calm under pressure is also imperative for leaders, especially in crisis.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. As leaders, we sometimes equate this with showing weakness. Not true. Seek out leaders in other parts of your organization, as well as outside the company, who can share their experiences, challenges, learnings, and best practices. It’s important to come together as a community at a time like this. 

Build a strong technology foundation

Digital transformation has been a talking point for a number of years. And while there are many examples of companies that have fully embraced digital and are reaping the benefits, there were countless others not as far along when the pandemic hit.

In conversations with many of our own customers, we hear over and over again that organizations with a strong technology foundation in place—in terms of both employee and customer experience—are faring far better than their counterparts. If it was ever a “nice to have”, it isn’t any longer.

Now is also the time to forge relationship across the organization. Organizations where marketing and IT (and the CMO and CIO) already have a close partnership are naturally more tech-savvy from a customer experience standpoint; they were set up to effectively market to and engage with consumers via digital channels when the pandemic hit. Put simply, they didn’t have to go through the shuffle of standing up a digital storefront or digitizing a customer touchpoint practically overnight.

Consistent engagement strategy led by data

Just because a crisis arises, doesn’t mean that your customers don’t want to hear from you. In fact, your customers want to know how you are responding to a crisis, and companies must be able to pivot their outward messaging quickly, across the customer journey, devices, and platforms. And most important, let data be your guide.

For example, e-commerce and mobile usage has surged during covid-19. According to Adobe’s most recent Digital Economy Index, more than half (60%) of online retail website visits in August came from mobile devices, with mobile now accounting for 40% of all online sales. Additionally, consumers spent a total of $63 billion online in August, up 42% year on year, and we are seeing much larger engagement across digital channels, resulting in improved conversion and retention.

And remember, not only have the behaviors of your customers changed during the pandemic, but so have their needs. Failing to understand how the pandemic has changed your customers is a big mistake. Personalizing experiences for them is even more important than usual, taking into account individual preferences, taste and culture to better engage customers and deepen the relationship you have with them during a time like this. Real-time, contextual data is paramount.

Assess your digital maturity

The digital maturity of your organization also plays a critical role in business resilience. As discussed, having the right technology is important, but it is only as effective as having employees with the aptitude to use it efficiently and effectively.

For leaders, this means not only hiring well, but also re-skilling existing teams to ensure digital literacy. That requires providing your people access to the right training and skills for what you have in place today, but also the chops to anticipate and embrace what is around the corner.  

One of the common attributes of a digitally mature organization is a data-driven culture or structure, particularly as a means to deliver exceptional experiences. Leaders should invest in democratizing data across the organization—in a way that properly honors policies and privacy—to arm your people to make better, informed decisions. Especially in times of crisis, digital business moves fast, data pours in, and your ability to leverage it quickly is the difference between simply keeping your head above water or winning the race.