As the crisis over novel coronavirus – or Covid-19 – cuts across every aspect of daily life, certain businesses have distinguished themselves by how rapidly they have adapted their goods and services to fit the needs of the time.

As beverage makers turn their plants over to the manufacture of hand sanitiser, Greene King – the UK’s largest brewer – has announced that it will start home delivery of pub grub following the closure of its premises to walk-in customers. According to The Guardian, [1] the firm plans to roll out the initiative across 500 outlets over the next few weeks.

“Providing our locals with a pub food takeaway service has been in the planning for a while,” said Greene King chief executive Nick Mackenzie, “but we’ve accelerated it due to the impact coronavirus is having on our local communities. Our pubs are at the heart of the local community and we are continuing to look at other ways we can support communities during the current crisis.”

In a BBC News piece, [2] Josh Hughes – director of Birmingham-based brewery and taproom GlassHouse Beer Co – explained that the firm has channelled its energies into a new can-delivery service, complete with remote invoicing and special no-contact arrangements for drop-off, whereby the delivery driver leaves the requested cans by customers’ front steps or inside their porches.

Hughes said: “We are trying to diversify any way we can to ensure, hopefully, when we come out the other side of this, we are still a viable business.”

On a much larger scale, Vogue reports [3] that fashion giant Inditex – owner of brands such as Zara and Pull&Bear – has harnessed its buying power to purchase thousands of medical masks that it is distributing to areas of shortage in its native Spain. In a statement of week-commencing 16 March, the firm says that it has “already donated 10,000 protective face masks and by the end of this week expects to be in a position to ship another 300,000 surgical masks”.

In addition, Inditex noted, it is “investigating the possibility of switching some of our textile-manufacturing capacity over to the production of health materials, involving Inditex’s manufacturing experts to that end”. The firm is particularly focusing on obtaining medical-grade fabric for the production of hospital gowns.

Which sort of leadership reflexes must come into play for firms to pivot and adapt with such speed in the face of a large-scale emergency?

The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “The adaptability that some companies have shown in recent days and weeks, and their level of responsiveness to what’s going on, is hugely inspiring. In my view, it’s driven by rather more than the type of World War II, ‘Let’s pull together’ spirit that’s so often cited in the media. If we look at Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s change curve [4] – a model that has been applied to numerous scenarios – the companies that are doing the best in the current circumstances are just rocketing through the psychological process that Kubler-Ross identified.”

She explains: “They’re not spending a lot of time – if any – in shock and denial in the face of the dramatic changes that have swept across our lives. Instead, they’ve chosen to say: ‘This has happened – we’ve got to adapt. We’ve got to move on to the next stage of accepting this scenario, and commit to a new vision of how best to operate. We will create a new normal.’ That degree of acceptance is incredibly interesting as an indicator of what the business community will look like on the other side of this crisis. It would be unwise to long for that time as a point where we can ‘get back to normal.’ Because everything that’s happening now will leave a lasting impression.”

Cooper notes: “For so many businesses that have managed to find new ways of working, it will be a very different kind of normal. In parallel, other businesses simply won’t survive this, because the new ways of working will ensure that customers and clients will find substitute products and services for those that were produced under a pre-coronavirus ethos.”

She adds: “Going back to the Kubler-Ross curve, then, the deciding factor is how quickly a firm will be able to move through – or even skip – the shock, denial, anger and depression associated with sudden change and move straight up into the acceptance stage: how are we going to respond? And what, exactly, are we going to do?”

For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on adaptability

Source refs: [1] [2] [3] [4]

Image of Greene King pub signage courtesy of 4kclips, via Shutterstock