How to Redefine Strategy Amid Chaos

Quickly Pivot to Survive, Stabilize and Thrive Again

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak global havoc, many organizational strategies are in peril or even obsolete. Without a playbook for our current state, smart leaders are looking for ways to reimagine, redefine and reenergize their business model.  Strong economies mask a number of leadership flaws and organizational gaps.  Now, more than ever, organizations need to redefine strategic priorities and align these with their leaders, teams and structure.  Yet in this era of upheaval and uncertainty, alignment must happen quickly, go deep and be constantly assessed.

Before you can align, you must know what you are aligning to.  Naturally, that starts with strategy. 

Strategic Burst, Not Strategic Planning

Now’s not the time to go into deep, long-term strategic planning.  Instead, consider a series of “strategic bursts” to identify priorities over the next 12-18 months to reimagine possibilities and protect the organization from risk.   While we don’t yet know what changes will come from this unprecedented experience, we know that there will be significant change and challenge. 

  1. Assess Your Current State:  Without delving into tons of data and analytics, have your leaders openly discuss what’s happening today to identify assets and strengths to build on as well as the greatest risks to mitigate.  Be sure to include people and culture elements in this assessment.  You won’t get through this without the right people, practices and cultural strengths.  Consider the driving forces at play such as regulatory changes, revenue shifts, supply chain disruptions, labor shifts or health and safety. 
  2. Reimagine Possibilities:  Reimagining possibilities challenges thinking under “normal” conditions, and we are in anything but normal times.  Amidst this uncertainty, leaders need to reset and put on a different set of lenses to consider what can be in the future and what must be done today.  You don’t need to know how to get there or have near 100% certainty of success.  Nothing is certain and striving for the perfect answer will derail you faster than the pandemic.  This dialogue must be open with an invitation to raise any and all new thoughts and gaps without censoring or retribution.  Suspend judgement.  Get all ideas on the table.  Refine and prioritize later. Leaders should reach into their teams to find ideas for reinvention, efficiencies and the best use of talent.  One client tapped into an idea from one of its Regional Directors to continue to obtain state revenues during the COVID-19 crisis and used this to influence other states to do the same.  This may have been the single most important action to sustain this business while they figure out next steps.
  3. Define your Strategic Imperatives:  Among the many possibilities surfaced for the near term and future state, refine, clarify and articulate your greatest priorities.  While much is unknown, having defined priorities provides a north star for decisions you need to make now and in the near term.   These should pass muster against any criteria you have set for strategic focus such as impact on financials, meets customer needs, is viable in the midst of this crisis (not just someday) and you can execute on this near term. 
  4. Align Priorities and See Connections:  Be sure to look at alignment of priorities.  Will one require a significant financial investment when the funds are rapidly depleting?  Do you have the talent and resources to execute or will this be too stretched across the organization?  Avoid being myopic when applying solutions.  For instance, there will likely not be one answer for shifting how, when and where people do work.  “Remote forever” vs. “everyone come back to the office” by a certain date may be naïve thinking.  Instead consider all the inter-connected pieces – workplace, transportation, safety, technology, communication, learning and measuring impact as well as the emotional and social impacts your people are experiencing.  You don’t have to have all the answers yet.  Just raise the interconnected parts so they are addressed along the way and don’t derail your efforts. 
  5. Be Fast and Agile:  Speed and agility are more critical now than ever.  You may put some ideas in effect as soon as they surface, especially if they are critical to surviving or stabilizing or if a new timely opportunity has surfaced.  Hold up your strategic imperatives to your current state and take immediate steps to address gaps and barriers and to leverage potential enablers and assets.  Be sure to factor people and culture into this strategy pivot as you realign work, manage remotely and make critical decisions on talent retention, reductions or redeployment.  
  6. Keep Your Finger on the Pulse:  We don’t yet know what we don’t yet know.  As we move into the next chapters of this surreal environment, monitor key drivers, shifting events, progress and your people.  Continue to mine for ideas and move quickly on those most viable and act quickly to assess and mitigate risk.  Also keep your finger on the pulse of your people as they juggle work, family, isolation, fear, change and uncertainty.  Rather than the annual employee engagement survey, you may consider assessing the employee experience every few months so you can take action now. Ensure multiple avenues for communication and treat your people with respect.  You need them now more than ever and want to retain the best talent now and when the job market turns around. 

Even the most compelling creative or practical ideas are only as good as the execution.  The next two articles to come will bring ways to align the leadership team to the strategy and align teams and people, despite the challenges you may be facing from distributed and distracted workforces. 

Contact us to share your thoughts or to learn more about how to rapidly pivot your strategy and align your leadership team, people and organization to survive, stabilize and thrive again.

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