July 21, 2021

In a crisis, you need an opportunity mindset

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes to get a clearer idea of what you need to do next

When some people think of mindset they think of philosophy, and to some extent, this is true. At work, it is your mindset that makes the difference in a crisis. Leaders need the mindset to sense where the business is going, and see where viable opportunities are emerging in line with the needs of potential customers.

An outward mindset is not philosophy or management jargon. It is a practical outlook every company and leader needs in and outside their organisation in times like these. It is also a subject that the business and HR leaders I speak with are increasingly interested in.


A few examples of organisations approaching the present and future with the right mindset that any business can use to grow.


We all know McDonald’s, the world’s leading global food service retailer. Like Thai food retailers, McDonald’s in the US had to close 97% of its branches when the pandemic was at its peak. Even when branches were open, customers were avoiding traditionally busiest locations near malls, city centres or travel destinations. What was going on?


The company put itself in the shoes of current and future customers. Taking note of the challenges customers faced in feeling safe and getting used to the use of technology in the crisis, McDonald’s pivoted to make a difference.


McDonald’s focused on its drive-through advantage to meet the new needs. This pivot would not have been possible if McDonald’s had not taken an outward view of its customers and adjusted accordingly. In the fourth quarter of 2020, McDonald’s announced that it had recovered 99% of its year-on-year sales, partly by addressing its customers’ new concerns.


Another inspiring example of a company looking outward to sense the changing needs of customers is ANZ bank. Even though New Zealand did comparatively well in keeping Covid under control, ANZ still saw its profits decline 51% last year.


One thing the bank observed was that New Zealanders were becoming more interested in improving their financial wellbeing, with 60% planning to invest in their future. But they were not doing it. ANZ turned outward to its customers and discovered that they were deterred by what they saw as patronising attitudes by conservative banks.


People wanted to save, and they wanted banks to help them. They did not want banks to tell them what to do. By being outward and sensing this need, ANZ humanised previously frustrating interactions with banks. Staff dedicated their time to educating people, customers and non-customers, and stopped being part of their problem. They saw what they could do to help in the now. This approach won the bank more than 8,000 new customers, public trust and respect, and contributed to a 45% improvement in results.


An outward mindset in practice improves things internally, not just with customers. Let me illustrate with the story of a friend of mine who came to see the benefit of being more outward with his team.


Khun Ratchayud is a C-level leader of an important business unit in a leading Thai property developer AP (Thailand) Plc. He would be the first to admit he is a very results-oriented person. He needed to drive his team through continuous change, under considerably stressful circumstances. He achieved the desired results, but they were not as great as he expected. And he did not feel great about it either.


He was also not a great believer in the importance of soft skills. He achieved results by leading with power and aggression and thought this was the way to develop his team and achieve more. However, unhappy with the results, he stepped back to think about how he was treating his team.


By adopting an outward mindset, he opened himself to the needs of his team. He better understood their goals, needs and challenges. The working environment improved, team members spoke up, and innovation was created.


Team conflicts also decreased. Team members now talk about their lives rather than just work projects as in the past. In short, everyone is happier, more productive and purpose-driven because of their leader’s mindset change.


He still demands and gets results, but his change in mindset has created independent, accountable leaders among his team.


Business leaders in the present circumstances must be outward to understand what is changing and how they can be the solution and not part of the problem. This is the outward mindset in action, driving new approaches and better results.