Worried about staying innovative throughout COVID-19? Ask your team these four questions


The CEO Institute chair Ben Kehoe. Source: Audible.

While Australian businesses focus on survival in what are obviously very challenging times, there is an obligation on business leaders to remain focused on the future of their businesses.

One important element of leadership is that you play a long game.

We are living in a liminal moment — what we knew and loved is gone forever, and the new order is emerging with or without our participation.

If you are not leading in this opportunity to recreate, revitalise and reset business in Australia, then the future may pass you by.

Your business depends on your response to the new order.

The answer is in the stories you tell within your business — to yourself and each other.

Being trapped in time is not an option.

Even if we are all dispersed and working from different locations, business leadership needs to still be thinking about how to create the future and be looking for innovation opportunities.

A good start is to get your business team together, online if you like, and discuss some basic questions.

1. ‘What have been our greatest achievements of the last three years?’

Tell stories and remind yourselves of what innovation looks like in your business and industry.

Think of things that happened before COVID-19, such as milestones, specialist services able to be offered, appointments made, meeting budgets, integrating technologies, introducing new competencies, finalising key projects, enhancing the brand and much more.

2. ‘How do we describe our current position?’

Confront the brutal facts.

Use words and phrases to workshop your challenges.

Be honest about your position, whatever it is.

Focus on business challenges such as cashflow, growing revenue, profitability, growth, customer retention and attraction.

Although important, we can’t allow our thinking to be dominated by doom or avoidance.

In this window, honesty and discussing things together is critical.

Some big issues have emerged for business because of the pandemic. What is your position on the mobility of staff, digital business and key relationships?

3. ‘If we could attract two or three game-changing clients, who would they be?’

Discuss every suggestion and identify why they are so attractive.

Then talk about what working for these customers would mean for your business.

Why haven’t you worked with them in the past?

What have you got to offer them?

How do you build relationships?

It is about the future?

4. ‘Imagine it is June 2023 (only 11 quarters away). What have we achieved?

It is hard for a business to think ahead for more than three years in the current environment.

Ask each of your management team to imagine the business in 2023 and name three major business achievements you will have experienced.

Revenue growth is always key, but try to think of other measures too, such as opportunities and possibilities that will be available or capitalised upon, new customers, new regions your business is operating in, new technologies, more staff and opportunities in new or less obvious areas.

By asking your team these four questions, you will discuss your successes, your challenges, your market and your opportunities.

You will also build a framework for hope and enthusiasm for your management team which may be suffering from the challenges of the COVID-19 environment.

We can do and be better, even during a global pandemic.

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