Although many of us had hoped we would have seen the back of the COVID-19 pandemic by 2022, we enter the New Year with a fourth wave of infection still underway, writes Pieter Bensch, Executive Vice-President, Africa, Middle East, Asia and Australia at Sage.
Even when the rate of infection subsides, the business landscape is sure to remain volatile for the foreseeable future. Evolving customer expectations, innovative technologies and economic uncertainty mean constant change is a fact of life.
Here are five proactive steps businesses can consider to grow and thrive in 2022:
- Move out of firefighting mode
Many businesses have spent the past two years on the back foot, reacting to the course of the pandemic and the state of the local economy. Leaders have taken a more proactive and strategic approach, understanding they can grow even in difficult conditions, as long as they have propositions customers want or need.
During these times, when it is hard to set a firm business strategy, scenario planning is an invaluable tool. This is all about considering the diverse ways the year can play out and preparing your business for the different outcomes. You can, for example, plan for low and high growth scenarios based on how COVID waves will shape customer behaviour and spending in the year to come.
- Put employees first
Just like your customers and the economy, employees have gone through profound changes over the past two years. Grief, stress, and economic strain are still part of their daily realities; many are still struggling to adapt to hybrid working models. Top talent with scarce skills has reassessed their values, with many looking for quality of life and flexible work as basic expectations.
Sage research shows that 48% of South African companies are focusing more on managing employee engagement to increase productivity, motivation, and morale. Some steps to consider include continuing to support employee needs around mental and physical health, and investigating how hybrid working models are panning out for the team.
- Spend more time listening to customers
COVID-19 and digital acceleration are still reshaping customer journeys in ways we don’t yet fully understand. To keep up with evolving customer needs, each company needs to turn listening to customers into a science and an art. Data and analytics are essential for tracking what customers expect and how they are interacting with the business.
In addition, businesses that don’t operate through multiple channels will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage in the years to come. They need to be ready to support customers with better in-store experiences and reliable online options. The trick lies in delivering consistent service at every touchpoint.
- Reconnect with the business’s purpose
Deloitte’s 2022 Global Marketing Trends notes that having a purpose has changed from an aspiration to a strategic priority for businesses – those with a purpose beyond making money tend to outgrow their competitors; these businesses are also more successful in employee and customer engagement. However, many organisations may have lost their sense of purpose in the fight to survive the COVID-19 crisis.
As we enter 2022, this is an opportune time for businesses to assess what their purpose is – why they exist and how they make life better for customers, employees, and the wider community – and whether it remains relevant. From there, the next steps are to embed purpose into the business’s strategy and operations and ensure that each employee understands the business’s purpose.
- Consolidate digital transformation efforts
Under lockdown, most businesses hastily put systems in place to enable employees to work from home and to support customers with online sales and support. Now is the time to build on these foundations to create a digital enterprise that can support the needs of increasingly connected employees and customers.
An immediate step might be to assess data security to ensure it’s fit for purpose in a cloud-first world. In addition, companies that have focused on digital customer interactions should consider whether they can benefit from further automation or a shift to the cloud in back-office functions such as HR and accounting.
Technology will play a critical role in the months to come, reducing administrative burdens for business users and providing real-time insights. Intuitive, cloud-based systems that are accessible from anywhere are becoming essential for businesses in today’s disrupted environment.
Business-as-usual may not return
As the vaccination drive accelerates and we can hopefully focus on growth again, businesses will need to adapt to new customer behaviours and values, new employee needs and expectations, and a vastly altered competitive landscape. Businesses that accept business-as-usual may never return will the best positioned to thrive in this environment.