Industry Disruption: COVID-19 Shows Imperative for Transformation

Author photo: Michael Guilfoyle
ByMichael Guilfoyle
Industry Trends

COVID-19 is presenting us with many challenges, both personal and professional, and its impact is likely to have levels of permanence we are just on the front end of understanding.  Setting health and medical considerations aside for a moment, this industry disruption is starkly pointing out that the gap is growing between those leading the charge with digital transformation and those who approach it more reactively and slowly.

digital transformation

This isn’t some rah-rah sentiment about the need to buy more software, investigate new technologies or embrace the importance of data.  It’s about leadership in the face of inevitable, continued industry disruption.  It’s a reflection of what is happening in the market as companies of every size determine if they have the vision, courage, and humility to transform their business.  Will they thoroughly examine what they need to do with their business to succeed in global economies? Get going or get gone is what it comes down to.

What would it take? That’s the fundamental question that needs to be asked and answered by executive leadership when faced with industry disruption and the transformation needed to succeed in today’s challenging business environment.  Whether it’s something like COVID-19, the emergence of unforeseen competitive pressure, quickly shifting geopolitics, or a profound shift in customer expectation, change is underway. What would it take to succeed in the face of these pressures?

Anticipating Industry Disruption When You Don’t Know What It Looks Like

By answering the question “what would it take?”, leaders create a vision for what is possible and a have a far better understanding of what must occur to execute that vision.  They can also execute this vision while meeting the financial market obligations of their stakeholders.  As a result, those leaders are much more willing to tackle entrenched issues around data, organizational culture, performance incentivization, capital investment, business models, and, really, every aspect of their business.  Nothing is sacred.  Ultimately, they organize the business to create speed-of-response as a core competency, underpinned by the differentiating intellectual property that supports the business.  “Business agility” is the term often used to describe this move from transactional operations to transformational ones.

They are also more patient when it comes to getting it right and learning what is needed to do so, realizing that return on investment will come as they improve their ability to compete and adjust to industry disruption.  As they rethink how the business works, those leaders realize that addressing the question about what it would take also requires some introspection and organizational humility.  They simply don’t have all the answers.  As I wrote in an article for, leaders in digital transformation aggressively expand their peer networks outside their traditional ecosystems, understanding they need to learn new ways to approach problem solving.  

The appearance of disruptors like COVID-19 exacerbate the business agility gap between the less digitally evolved and those companies that have demonstrated leadership with digital transformation. That gap seems to widen exponentially with each disruption.  For those that are not moving forward with urgency, with each industry disruption the negative consequences will become compounded to the point of being untenable.

I’m not suggesting that those who have invested in digital transformation are somehow able to stave off the effects of something like COVID-19.  They can’t.  However, they do have more levers to pull in managing its impact on the business as well as more quickly returning to normal.

Think of COVID-19 like an incoming tide.  At some point it will overtake all those in its way until it finally recedes.  Leaders in transformation have the visibility to see the tide is coming in unevenly. They know where outcroppings of rocks are that they can shift portions of the business to that higher ground.  They can also leverage their superior market and operational visibility as the tide recedes. They respond accordingly to minimize the negative impact of the disruption.  Those that have not established this business agility are simply stuck in place, dealing with the tide in front of them.

As you weather the societal disruption of COVID-19, please practice the appropriate social distancing and stay safe.  When you address business matters during this challenging time, re-examine what drives your decision making when it comes to digital transformation.  We are experiencing industry disruption now on a massive scale, and it will inevitably occur again.  Ponder possibilities, not limitations, and move constantly forward.  Ask yourself, what would it take?


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