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By Paul Esherwood

Many high-performing businesses have discovered the fragility of their systems and processes over the last three months. Even those that had invested in digital technology were left scrambling to adapt to changes that were invoked in an instant and occurred without warning or precedent.

We have been told for almost a decade that digital transformation was the key to business agility and if we adopted new technologies we could ride the crest of whatever wave came along. Companies with some digital capabilities will have found the transition to new ways of working easier than those which had failed to invest. But, even the most digitally savvy enterprises will have uncovered shortcomings. 

COVID-19 has taught us all many lessons, but for businesses the lessons could not be more stark. However, I do not see COVID-19 as a disruptor as many commentators have suggested. What was true before still applies now – COVID-19 is an accelerator, a magnifier, an uncompromising spotlight that shines deep into the heart of even the most erudite enterprise and poses serious questions about business models, processes and resilience.

Coronavirus has cut deep into virtually every sector of commerce and there will be very few businesses that come out completely unscathed. It is unfair to call out any one sector as being the most affected. Travel, retail and hospitality are obvious candidates for the unwelcome crown of most distressed industries. But there are many others too. 

However, it’s not the end for the high street or aviation industry – far from it. In every vertical market there will be winners and losers and it is likely that the victors will share some common DNA while the defeated will unfortunately bear the same infelicitous characteristics. 

In the short term it will be the agility of an enterprise to embrace change that will set them apart – but there will be other attributes that determine the longer term prosperity in the post-COVID era – and the most crucial attribute of all will be purpose. 

Any organisation wishing to thrive in the coming decade must have purpose as a cornerstone of their business. And not the kind of lip service so many organisations have been paying to the topic for the last few years – genuine and transparent purpose that is focussed on people and the planet. The environment and humanity are screaming out for change and I believe it will be the single biggest differentiator between the boomers and the bootlickers.

Businesses will buy from other businesses that demonstrate the same values. Consumers will buy from responsible retailers that share the same ideals and governments will support enterprises with loans, grants and contracts that deliver to these principles.

Purpose must become a pillar of the modern enterprise.

Whilst the COVID-19 crisis has been an unmitigated emergency and caused widespread hardship and loss – we will never have a better opportunity to rethink how we want to work, what we should be working towards, what our value system is and how we want to live our lives.