Zoe Aitken5 May 2022

How the world’s most innovative companies survived and thrived during the pandemic.

Inertia is one of the biggest enemies to growth and innovation. Yet, in times of uncertainty, it’s easy for people to get locked into existing routines and sustaining ‘business-as-usual’ activities. There’s a certain level of comfort and familiarity to them. Yet growth starts with your people and their day-to-day behaviours. So how can you encourage the team to shift gear and move from ‘survival mode’ towards embracing behaviours that promote longer-term growth?

This is where we can take inspiration from some of the world’s most innovative companies. Below are three strategies they adopted in 2020 to encourage team behaviours that not only helped them survive but thrive coming out the other side in 2021.

  1. They put people over profits

Employee burnout is currently one of the biggest threats to a company’s performance. Data from Culture Amp shows that employee resilience in Australia has dropped by around 15% over the last 12 months. And that 55% of employees are struggling to switch off from work and make time for rest.

Simon Griffith, Co-Founder and CEO of Who Gives a Crap, attributes their success and ability to navigate 2020, to his team. Strict lockdowns and toilet paper panic buying sent their business into a spin, and Simon says it was his team that got them through. Leaders at Who Gives a Crap very intentionally focused on three areas to support and motivate their employees in 2020; Autonomy; by setting clear goals and then empowering their team to achieve them, Mastery; by focusing on core skills that each individual wanted to build, and finally Purpose; by linking the team’s day-to-day activities back to their higher-level purpose.

Who Gives a Crap’s leaders also noticed, that despite many of the team being exhausted, that they weren’t taking leave. Therefore, the company gave every employee four extra days of leave and closed their office for a week. Simon says that this saw their productivity go through the roof.

  1. They ran experiments

In 2020, many of the world’s most innovative organisations ran experiments, and lots of them. We are operating in never-seen-before circumstances and things are changing rapidly. As Rita McGrath, Professor of Management at Columbia Business School, said “arguments about who’s right or wrong are pointless, because we simply don’t know”. The solution to this is experimentation.

Mondelez, one of the world’s largest snacking companies, adopted a faster and more agile approach to testing their ideas. Gil Horsky, Director of Innovation, said that they took a three-phased experimentation approach. In the first stage, they adopted tools such as pop-up stores and online ads to test their initial hypotheses, and then iterated their ideas based on feedback. Their strongest ideas progressed through two more phases, gradually broadening their experiments to larger numbers of stores. Gil says that this process was a departure from the businesses more traditional testing approaches. He said that the goal was about learning and that they experienced many failures along the way. However ultimately it allowed the strongest ideas to rise to the top during uncertain times.

  1. They cultivated a growth culture

Long-term, sustainable growth is rarely attributed to the genius of a select-few. Instead, it comes from the collective behaviours displayed by everyone in the organisation, day in, day out.

Paul Cobban, Chief Transformation officer at DBS Bank, who led DBS’s transformation journey, spent a huge amount of time cultivating a growth culture. He applied the concept of BEANs (which stands for Behaviour enablers, artifacts and nudges) to break their culture change down into bitesize, manageable chunks. The BEANs were designed to promote day-to-day behaviours to support transformation and growth. Behaviours such as encouraging dissenting views, creating psychological safety, and conducting effective meetings, which Paul attributes to their ongoing success.

While it’s challenging to shift from survival mode into a growth mindset, it starts with creating the right environment for your team. As a first step, try adopting one of the above strategies to get your business back to growth in 2021.