The COVID-19 pandemic brought death, despair, and economic havoc. But it also taught valuable lessons. Many restaurants, theaters, cruise companies, and other service businesses did not survive the pandemic. Hotel chains and airline corporations were propped up by government bailouts, but still sustained major financial losses. The higher education sector faced skyrocketing safety-related costs at the same time that enrollment sharply declined. Regardless of the economic sector, COVID-19 was a global market disruptor. Some entities failed, most struggled, and only a few thrived.
The vast majority of entities were forced to downsize and to make difficult layoff decisions. Initially, businesses trimmed the proverbial fat, but many were later forced to cut labor down to the bone just to survive. Many good workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Entities were simultaneously faced with increasing expenses and decreasing revenue streams. The remaining employees were asked to do things differently than they had done in the pre-COVID era. In order to survive, employees had to work both harder and smarter than ever before. Employers had to be both more efficient and more effective than ever before. COVID forced a natural selection of sorts in which only the strongest survived, and only the very smartest organizations thrived. The pandemic forced the separation of the wheat from the chaff.
The organizational survivors learned that they could do more with less. Many used technology to leverage labor costs. Employee attrition led to cross training, increased job responsibilities, and higher performance expectations. Simply put, COVID forced both individuals and organizations to become better. Excuses became irrelevant, and solutions mandatory.
The few organizations that thrived during the COVID pandemic could be classified into two divergent groups: those whose products or services enjoyed increased demand as a result of the pandemic and the rare few who used the market disruption to effect positive organizational change, to refine their products or services, and to position their organizations strategically to capture market share in a post-pandemic era. The latter group embraced the lessons from COVID. They were adaptable in their allocation and use of human resources and technology tools. While other organizations stagnated and stalled during COVID shutdowns, these few thriving organizations worked harder than ever before to improve their products or services. COVID forced them to become the very best version of themselves.
Unexpectedly, the entities that survived, and certainly the few that thrived, emerged from the crisis as leaner, meaner organizations that are incredibly well-poised to capitalize on a post-pandemic economic rebound. They now have the right people positioned in the right places. COVID taught all organizations that the old ways of doing things will no longer be effective and that mediocrity will lead to failure. The strong and the competitive have become even stronger and even more competitive because of the lessons from COVID-19.
The pandemic taught surviving organizations to have a relentless commitment to excellence, to be adaptable, and to have the right kind of people doing the right things at the right time. An unanticipated consequence of the pandemic is the gamut of strengthened organizations that have cultural expectations of success and inherent abhorrences of mediocrity. These battle-hardened organizations have now become even more dynamic as a result of the lessons from COVID-19.
Tod Allen Farmer
President, Weatherford College