The North Star, the outermost star in the handle of the Little Dipper, is well known in astronomy as a point in the sky that moves very little while the rest of the northern sky turns around it. It is not the brightest star in the galaxy but it’s a reliable point of orientation—an essential reference to determine which way is due north.

Since COVID-19 disrupted our world, it has become mission-critical for every enterprise to create or reaffirm their North Star and define their purpose. We are all like explorers thrown into the middle of the ocean. As Accenture’s recent Course Correction report explains, companies must take their bearings and course correct on a continual basis against a set of potential cross-currents impeding their journey. To keep moving, we must know where we want to go. According to a recent Accenture survey of Board of Directors, most (88%) say purpose should be a guiding force in company decision making. We need something to steer by.

If enterprises have a North Star, then course correction becomes easier—it’s about being agile rather than being reactive to the waves. Just as when you are sailing or flying, you’re constantly course correcting towards a destination. Now companies must do the same and continually adjust as we move through uncertainty and constant change.

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COVID-19 has created circumstances that have forced companies to reassess and make long-overdue changes, quickly. Our latest CxO pulse shows that 74% of executives plan to completely rethink their processes and operating models to be more resilient.

One example. For years I have been arguing about why so many people really have to be at mining sites, when remote centers and integrated operations could allow people to work remotely instead. With COVID-19 the default shifted overnight from offsite by exception to onsite by exception. Technology and collaboration allow us to rewrite the rules and reimagine solutions, but only if the mindset shifts.

With remote working comes a risk of people becoming more siloed. Yet in my own business it actually created an opportunity. I could pull in new people to solve problems in new ways. I see this in other companies too. The ability to combine thinking has been amplified. Let’s say you make a disinfectant, you’re expected to triple your volume so you bring in other parts of your business to get creative, brainstorm and execute. Our CxO pulse shows that more than a third of CxOs believe that their constraints to self-disruption and innovation have significantly fallen away due to COVID-19. There is nothing like a crisis.

I’ve also seen companies lean into technology and data, confirmed by our pulse that found two-thirds of CxOs are planning to increase spending on AI and over 60 percent will invest more in cloud-based technologies. To avoid putting their product at risk, one of my clients decided to work with their downstream suppliers in a new way. The company is now using a procurement control tower to find out if their suppliers are at financial risk so they can help a struggling company before it’s too late. They’re making sure the network of suppliers they’re reliant on is okay. They’re working together. Across industries, 51 percent of CxOs expect a sustained level of collaboration among companies to help handle business imperatives.

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Two-thirds of CxOs are planning to increase spending on AI and over 60 percent will invest more in cloud-based technologies. 

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One of many inspiring collective and collaborative actions happened with a client during the peak of COVID-19 in the spring. The UK government put a challenge out to ask for more ventilators. Rolls Royce stepped up to the challenge of pivoting their manufacturing and supply chain capabilities — new materials, new products, new customers. They worked with Accenture to help their manufacturing and supply chain to change quickly. In doing so, they made a pivot with real meaning. Their purpose is to “pioneer the power that matters to connect, power and protect society,” and they managed to do just that, even in the most challenging times.

With examples like that, COVID-19 has made me quite hopeful. While it’s a shock to the system in many ways, it is a reset opportunity for how we as businesses, nations and broader ecosystems pull together to battle a common foe. We need this now and we’re going to need this collaborative effort moving forward. Just think climate change and racial injustice.

This pandemic provides the perfect opportunity to start practicing because we can’t solve these problems alone. Individuals have big roles to play but we aren’t going to fix these problems as individuals. It will require leaders to step up and have the courage of their convictions to work across organizations to make the change happen.

Unlike any other moment in time, we all — workers, customers, investors and competitors — are facing the same challenge. We’re all in this together. This is the moment.

Read more on how you can respond to COVID-19

Rachael Bartels

Lead – Function Networks and Programs

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