Lee Featherby
4 min readDec 8, 2020


Chicken or egg? Digital transformation and fundamental behavioural shifts during COVID-19

Commercial landscapes adjust to every new innovation. In the last 20 years especially, though some industries have done so more quickly than others, business has been steadily transitioning to digital operations. Enter 2020 and the uptake of digital tools and transformation hit an all-time high.

Communications are a critical part of operations now more than ever, and digital tools can enhance the way we communicate within the organisation and engage with customers. During the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, those businesses that have already undergone digital transformation are infinitely the most likely to prosper, whereas those lagging behind are now racing to survive.

Transformational leadership

Strong leadership includes always looking for opportunities to evolve and being prepared to adapt those parts of the business that can be integrated and improved — in this case with the use of technology.

Technology has always dictated that change must occur for growth to take place, and COVID-19 has placed more emphasis on change and communication than ever. It’s forcing businesses to adopt technologies faster to survive.

Unfortunately for some businesses, structurally, they can’t change, because they can’t structurally or physically operate in a COVID-19 world. Tourism (especially internationally) and hospitality have taken huge hits, for example, purely because you can’t put bums on seats while airlines are grounded and border restrictions are in place. But online training and education, shopping and entertainment streaming services are thriving.

The impact of consumer behaviour

Australia’s ‘Big Four’ are global organisations in broad industries that have adopted more technological changes than any other industry, so they will remain strong and successful. Elsewhere, consumer behaviour plays a vital role in business’ survival. While the fintech industry has been slow to adapt over the last 20 years, it has immense resources to throw at technology R&D.

More recently, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, consumer behaviour has undergone a dramatic shift towards online across a huge number of industries and those industries’ capacity for providing a seamless UX or purchasing experience has been put to the test.

Emerging business models

Adaptation tends to be a slow process. It’s rare that any business picks one change and ‘nails it’. But it’s the commitment to flexible thinking and an agile business model that’s most important.

During COVID, some businesses have adapted faster, while others will struggle to maintain a best practice sufficient to remain competitive. Similarly, while some have disappeared overnight, others have only had to refine their practices to get by; streamlining and concentrating on the parts of the business that work, and cutting out those that aren’t critical.

One timely example of the changing business landscape is the rapid uptake of working from home. It’s now the status quo. We will see further changes to the business and CBD landscape, including the office rental market, that will revolutionise the way that we work and operate in business.

Innovation in context

Innovation must solve a problem; it’s not an evolution. It will identify a series of mitigating factors that can be either a challenge or a threat.

Much innovation is in the technology space. Take Blockchain, for example, which has emerged in recent years. It is still yet to truly find its feet because it’s not currently solving a problem (challenge).

The other challenge with innovation is inspiring your teams and staff to get on board with new practices and products or services. Your people need to be invested, inspired and excited to be part of the innovation. Having the right people will always have more impact on your organisation’s ability to change, innovate, and succeed regardless of any technological advances that are adopted.

Making business ‘culture ready’ for digital transformation

Sharing information and communication will garner inspiration and buy-in from your people.

Transformation by its nature involves change, and as humans we are often resistant to change. It’s difficult! So how we adopt change, and communicate the need for it, for buy-in from your teams, is that matters. Transparency will garner trust from those that are going to be most heavily impacted by the changes; both your staff and your customers.

Reassurance and open dialogue are critical for those that are affected adversely by the change. Information needs to be communicated clearly to ensure cooperation and support. Often those directly involved are key to ensuring that change is adopted successfully, so clarity in communication will help allay uncertainty and fear.

The culture of your organisation is imperative for innovation. Highly diverse and heterogeneous cultures have far better problem-solving skills than those which don’t, as innovation and transformation rely on problem-solving skills. Developing operations in a foreign country, for example, can pose a challenge until the local market and culture is taken into account and adapted to. Agility, flexibility and open-mindedness will help you achieve this level of diversity and better enable transformation.

The best people — and the ability to readily implement operational, structural, and cultural changes — combined with digital transformation, are the fundamental facts of any successful business. COVID-19 has forced evolution on an immediate and global scale, and at this rate, only the strong will survive!



Lee Featherby

Powerpoint whisperer, master communicator, Sydney-Shanghai cross-cultural messenger.