The 5 new rules of post-pandemic marketing Rule #2: Redefining organisational agility


We do love our buzz-words, don’t we? And, “agility” has to be right at the top of a marketer’s list. But, the challenge with a term or phrase being a “buzz” is that it can lose value and importance.  

When it comes to businesses being able to operate in and coming out of a downturn, “agility” becomes all that more central to success. Strictly defined, agility is an organisation’s ability to renew itself, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, uncertain, and turbulent environment. Agility is by no means incompatible with stability – in fact, agility requires stability for most companies. And, the flipside is also true: long-term stability requires agility. Let me say that again: long-term stability requires agility. 

Agility demands two elements. On the one hand, it requires a dynamic capability, the ability to act quickly – speed, responsiveness, nimbleness. On the other hand, agility needs stability, a stable foundation – an infrastructure, if you will – of things that don’t change. It is this stable backbone that represents an organisational springboard, an anchor-point which the company can rely upon when developing and implementing adaptive strategies to not only survive, but thrive in a rapidly changing environment. 

Many organisations that were already further along in their digital transformation journeys before the pandemic have effectively transitioned to a remote workforce with speed and agility, and continued operations with minimal disruption nearly overnight. Yet, even though the former by and large met the challenges of this crisis moment infrastructure- and digital transformation-wise, we need to recognise a pivotal element that has been fairly overlooked and that redefines agility far beyond the digital transformation – the true linchpin of the ‘organisational tissue’: the human being.  

As we move towards imagining a post-pandemic era, a management based on old rules - namely, a hierarchy that streamlines for uniformity, bureaucracy and control - will no longer be effective nor efficient. Taking its place is a more flexible and responsive model, built around four interrelated trends: more authentic and meaningful connection, unprecedented automation, lower transaction costs, and demographic shifts.  

To set up the organisation of the future, CHROs and other leaders should reimagine and strategise the basic tenets of the organisation. Emerging models should be creative, adaptable, and antifragile. As corporate purpose fuels audacious business tactics, “labor” becomes “talent”, hierarchies become decentralised team networks, and competitors become ecosystem collaborators. As a consequence, companies become more human: empathetic, collaborative, accommodating inspiring, and focused on creating an employee experience (EX) that is meaningful, enjoyable, and adaptive to the constantly evolving needs of employees. 

Research suggests that future-proof companies share 3 characteristics: they execute with purpose (they know who they are, and what they stand for); they operate with a focus on speed and simplicity; and they grow by scaling up on learning, development and innovation. Companies that execute with purpose benefit of greater likelihood to generate significant long-term value, which facilitates a better EX, increased employee engagement, and higher customer trust, which, in turn, lead to stronger long-term organisational performance. 

As working from home (WFH) seems to become the new normal, HR will be the driving force of many initiatives: mapping talent to value; making the workforce more flexible; prioritising strategic workforce planningperformance management, and reskilling; building an HR platform; developing an HR tech ecosystem; and most importantly, create an optimal and measurable EX 

Companies know that a better EX translates into a stronger bottom line, and HR teams play a decisive role in creating the former. Organisations in which HR facilitates a positive EX are 1.3x more likely to report organisational outperformance – and thriving organisations work together with their people to build personalised, authentic, accommodating, and highly motivating experiences that leverage purpose to strengthen individual, team, and company performance. This theme has become even more important when navigating the pandemic, as organisations work to strengthen team morale and positive mindsets.

As WFH becomes the norm, it is imperative for HR to have specific aspects under the radar when focusing on creating the optimal EX. Here are some considerations that human capital professionals and managers alike should take into account as they conduct business during these times:

Rule 2a - (Continue to meet) the need for safety and security 

With the threats of multiple waves of COVID-19 infections and vaccine-related doubts or other disruptions, leaders should strategise approaches to mitigate potential further effects of this global crisis. Best practices in this direction include: 

- Demonstrating compassionate leadership, with leaders focusing on making a positive difference in people’s live by showcasing awareness, empathy and vulnerability; 

Rule 2b - Build empathy and trust – Listen to your workforce 

Employees have needs, interests, and occasional emergencies outside of work. Organisations, on the other hand, need to get the work done. What can we learn from the current “WFH tsunami” that could help curve more towards attending to employees’ personal needs and interests such that they align with company goals in a way that is mutually beneficial?  

The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a human tragedy that has played out across the globe. People are experiencing unprecedented levels of disruption not only in their jobs, but in their homes and communities as well. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that organisation leaders can step up in critical areas and facilitate employee wellbeing that will in turn increase the organisational bottom line. 

The good news is that with advancements in behavioral science, data analytics, two-way communication media, listening techniques and other technologies, leaders can now tackle employee experience in a more dynamic, targeted way. As such, while drilling down on which employees need more and varied ways of support, they can also take actions that create a universally shared sense of well-being and cohesion across the workforce, which will enhance employee wellbeing, motivation and performance. 

Rule 2c: Invest in relationships 

While leaders may be naturally inclined to focus on the business itself, preserving trust and endorsing employee efforts are crucial to employee engagement, wellbeing and performance. Consequently, organisations that focus on building social capital during earlier stages of the crisis will have the upper hand as the workforce transitions to the return phase. 

Best practices around investing in relationships include coaching managers to develop the mindset and capabilities to deliver on high credibility, intimacy, reliability, and minimised self-orientation, in order to enable them to better support employees at the time being, and earn their fellowship on the long-run.  

Rule 2d: Connect employees to something bigger than themselves and acknowledge their contributions 

Having a sense of purpose can help employees cruise through high degrees of uncertainty and ensure that their efforts are acknowledged and aligned with the highest-value generating activities. As such, employees should embed purpose in how they address employees and, linking the organisation’s “why” to its employee communications. As they make changes, leaders should consistently link the changes back to the bigger purpose. 

Rule 2e: Have an individual-tailored approach 

Employees’ needs and experiences vary, and while all of us are experiences disruption to some degree, the range of how we do so varies considerably. It's highly recommended, then, to use segmentation to identify who might be struggling and what they need. Publicly available data can be complemented with internal tools such as advanced analytics, open-listening channels, and pulse surveys to understand the wide range of challenges that individuals and teams are facing and seek the best ways to support them where they’re struggling the most.  

Similarly, leaders should take personalised approaches to fostering culture by engaging employees in frequent two-way dialogues that take into account their specific needs, allows them to configure their own journeys and provide them with the means to share best practices with those facing similar challenges. 

Rule 2f: Invest in your Employer Branding and Employee Value Proposition (EVP) 

Last but definitely not least, it’s time to communicate your brand promises both internally and externally, which will help improve retention rates and enlarge your candidate pool with prospective employees that are more likely to be a good culture fit for your organisation.  

This is where CMOs step in, helping direct the marketing efforts towards building a solid employer branding strategy to help your organisation stand out from the crowd from all other employers in the industry, and attract more right-fit candidates. Similarly, it is important that your Employer Value Proposition (EVP) is well-communicated internally, in order to align promises and expectations and give your employees a sense of certainty, safety, and purpose 

With the advent of a global crisis, taking care of the human side of the business has become more relevant than before, and is a key aspect of organisational agility, reinventing the latter way beyond the typical technology-led disruption. It is of utmost importance for leaders to attend to employees on individually tailored levels and, in doing so, to build an optimal employee experience that, coupled with effective employer branding and EVP strategies, will only boost long term organisational performance. 

We’ll continue to explore the additional new rules of post-pandemic marketing in subsequent articles: 

  • Rule #3: The New Ways of Selling and Closing Business  
  • Rule #4: If You Didn’t Have a Digital Strategy Before, You Do Now  
  • Rule #5: Marketing Resiliency: Preparing for The Next Threat