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Redeploy, Retool, Realign: Leaders Adapt to Survive “The New Normal”


The Covid-19 crisis is dynamic, impacting revenue streams and workflows that require in-house leaders to adapt or be left behind. To respond, resourceful leaders are looking for new ways to do more with less and find the talent they need to deliver on complex projects.

Our InsideOut Community recently met to discuss how they’re making the most of available resources to stay ahead and deliver results for the business. Following are some actionable tips from design and operations leaders who joined our Chicago, NY and Seattle roundtables at the end of April.

Redeploy Staff - Inside and Outside the Company

The changes required for a firm to survive a pandemic go beyond simple efficiency tactics used to increase ROI. Industrious leaders are looking to other internal teams or even other companies to share talented team members. Insights from the infusion of fresh talent can generate new ideas and enable companies to retain critical staff through the crisis. Here are two redeployment methods that can help:

  • Talent Trade – To gain inspiration and recharge creativity, leaders are partnering with design talent outside their own organization. Even before the global pandemic, leaders in divergent industries, like Hallmark and Starbucks have successfully made this work to their advantage. Now that almost every team is set up to work virtually, this approach is even more viable and less costly. 
  • Talent Marketplace – Providing visibility to projects and available resources across the organization enables leaders to redeploy staff rapidly to deliver on business objectives. Instead of just looking at their own team, leaders are finding talent in other departments and creating fluid workflows that maximize output. One leader shared UX staff with their customer care department to help handle over 70,000 inbound customer requests.

Retool Skills to Match the Business

Every company has its own approach to career development. Given the rapid rate of change required in a crisis, those processes are simply not fast enough. Leaders are looking beyond legacy training systems to enhance or teach the specific skills that get work done today.

  • Skill Gap Mitigation – After assessing what skills are needed to complete existing projects, leaders are working with impacted employees to find out what interests them and how their skills can contribute toward the company’s goals. One leader reviewed over 600 open projects, prioritized based on urgency, and cross-trained their print designers on basic web skills to handle low-level digital tasks. The longer-term impact of training teams will be a stronger, more versatile team post-Covid that can flex to meet future projects.
  • Technology as Accelerator – One leader introduced a sidelined Design System project as work slowed down. Internal projects like these that are often not prioritized can be a powerful way to add value to the brand and engage staff. Another leader brought on a freelancer to guide their transition to digital routing after introducing a new workflow tool. Many leaders are choosing to use this time to deploy systems and tools that will improve results both now and later.

Realign Team to Maximize Productivity

To address bottomline concerns, design leaders are ensuring processes and staff are right-sized to the current project load. Org structures that made perfect sense three months ago can now be a huge hurdle to productivity. Right now it’s important to look objectively at roles, responsibilities and workflow to stretch resources for maximum impact.    

  • Revisit the Org Chart – One leader suggests imagining what you would do without specific roles on the chart. How would you get the work done and who would do it? Considering the absence of a role can uncover creative solutions and determine real needs. Another leader recently reorganized, moving from dedicated design resources to a shared pool to become more nimble as they respond to shifting priorities.
  • Think Beyond Today – Though roadmaps are being rewritten in real time, one leader advises looking as far in advance as possible at what the business is trying to achieve. Instead of reacting to the deadlines of today, leaders must flash forward and align to the future. In the same way technology can speed up change, adjusting structures to handle projects such as digital communications or virtual customer interactions can add value that extends beyond the crisis.

While making these team adjustments maximizes efficiency during a time of great need, a residual benefit can be improved retention, offering long-term positive impact by reducing the cost of turnover. Exposure to new ways of work, either inside or outside the company, can also improve processes, inspire creativity and increase productivity. Overall, matching skills to immediate business needs quickly is critical to an organization’s economic health and to their employees who depend on it. 

If you’re a senior design, experience or operations leader of an in-house team and want to connect to others who share your unique challenges, let’s talk. Our InsideOut community hosts monthly virtual roundtables to help support the learning, growth and sanity of our members, and I’m honored to get to facilitate those discussions.

Stay safe out there. Let's keep learning together!

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