By now, you and your organization have probably moved through the crisis management phase of Covid-19. No doubt it’s been all-consuming. You’ve been focused on keeping your people safe, and your supply lines humming. But now it’s time to ask: what’s next?
This is the perfect time to think about your strategy. A strategy, GE’s fabled CEO, Jack Welch, once observed, is trying to understand where you sit in today’s world. Not where you wish you were. Not where you hoped you’d be. But where you are. And it’s trying to understand where you want to be five years out [and] assessing the realistic chances of getting from here to there.
Now is the time to develop a post-pandemic strategy to insure that you emerge from this crisis in better shape than ever.
Nobody predicted Covid 19. And nobody saw how bad this pandemic would get. So it would be easy to conclude that the future is unpredictable, why bother plotting planning seems less relevant. But strategic thinking may be more important than ever.
Strategic thinking is about consciously shifting focus. It’s going from “fire fighting” to fire-starting, from tactical to strategic. It’s about shifting from an ad-hoc, crisis-driven, reactive mode of operating, to a pro-active, can-do, seeing-what’s-next mode of operating. It’s about carving out time to consider how the world is changing, and will evolve during the next year, three years and five. It’s about shifting from hunkering down to opening up to new possibilities, new business models, new products and customer solutions.
Here are six strategies to help you formulate a post-pandemic playbook:
1. Treat the Covid Crisis as a Strategic Inflection Point.
Intel CEO Andrew Grove coined the term “strategic inflection point” to describe existential moments such as this. Inflection points are decisional forks in the road when all assumptions about your business are potentially out the window, and fundamental choices must be made.
In the early 1980s, Intel faced fierce competition from offshore manufacturers that were threatening its very survival unless it acted decisively. The company had to walk away from a quickly commoditizing product line and build a whole new market — microprocessors — in order to survive.
If we think of Covid-19 as the mother of all inflection points — which it most certainly is — the challenge for leaders becomes: what tough decisions must be made now that will serve us well in the future? And how are we navigating this new uncharted terrain differently as a result?
This next phase of the Covid crisis is all about the quality of our decisions. Decisions shape the future. If you make good decisions now, and creative decisions and sometimes tough decisions, you’ll eventually reach new heights. But if you go into denial or lapse into permanent “firefighting” mode, you’ll short-circuit the openings born of crisis. You’ll miss spotting the unmet needs and untapped opportunities that are springing up out of the fog. At the global level, if we leave it for someone else to figure out – then we’ll go down a path towards stagnation and decline and lurch from one crisis to the other.
2. Look back in order to look farther ahead.
Winston Churchill once said the farther backwards you can look the farther forward you could see. If we look back to the Spanish Flu of 1918, we see that it killed 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 Americans.
Which is why it’s so disconcerting that nobody saw the seriousness of the coronavirus threat. With all the advanced technology — from artificial intelligence to big data analytics — why were we caught flat-footed? But a deeper dive into recent history reveals that the warnings were there. Bill Gates famously warned in a 2015 TED talk that the biggest threat to humanity would not be missiles but microbes. And numerous warnings went unheeded by the Trump White House.
History tells us that cataclysmic events like Covid have lasting impacts. The Bubonic Plague in the 14th Century killed a third of the world’s population and put an end to feudalism and serfdom. September 11th  changed how we travel, and how we insure large building and event security. Learning from history is the best way to insure you and your organization don’t have to repeat it to figure out the best way forward.
3. Plan on Covid changing values, and altering what your customers will value.
Change often takes longer to happen than we expect. But then, in a crisis such as this, it happens faster than we could ever imagine.
Almost by the day, Covid is changing what consumers value, and the values that underly their decisions. We are moving from feeling in control of our personal safety to feeling out of control and unsafe the minute we leave our homes. We’re moving from an obsession with shareholder value to stakeholder value, where the needs of our employees, customers, community and planet are part of the calculus. We’re changing perceptually from a view of “unskilled” workers to “essential” workers – the human beings who risk their lives to bring us vital supplies and protective gear. And we’re moving from hype and empty advertising about social responsibility to collective activism and collaboration with stakeholders.
These value-shifts are only getting started. They will continue to evolve rapidly. As the pandemic continues to have aftershocks and unexpected consequences, look for further shifts in what consumers value. And look for further rapid evolution in society as events alter values going forward.
4. Use foresight to shape the future.
Foresight is the act of forecasting what’s next. It’s pondering what will be needed in the future, and then acting to turn vision into reality. As someone who’s led innovation foresight sessions for over 30 years, I observe that strategic foresight is a learnable skill, rather than an innate capacity. It’s as simple as reading the weather forecast and taking along your umbrella. I find the people who are best at it are the ones who are curious, who read voraciously and have what I call super “information diets.” They challenge assumptions and work hard to keep an open mind.
From inception, Pelaton has used foresight to shape its future. Founder John Foley and his team regularly watch what consumers do, what problems they face, and observe their unmet needs. And what they observed was that busy people suffered from “time poverty” — often didn’t have enough discretionary time to attend classes at the gym. And yet, when they bought exercise bikes they often didn’t use them because of the isolation, and the lack of motivation when away from others. So their big idea was to bring live classes to the consumer virtually. And now that we’re all hunkered down and gyms are closed in many areas, Pelaton’s business is up 66 percent.
5. Observe how Covid is accelerating certain trends, slowing others.
As Covid 19 ricocheted around the world in early 2020, trends already in place began to accelerate, reaching critical mass. Working remotely is up 173 percent since the pandemic began. Shopping online, already a growing trend, is exploding, accelerating the decline of brick and mortar stores from JC Penney to Forever 21 to Neiman Marcus in the process. Telemedicine has become an essential way of practicing medicine. Unending the whole just in time inventory trend as supply chains became vulnerable to disruption.
To stay abreast of quickly accelerating trends, some organizations are establishing Plan Ahead Teams, to move beyond crisis management. Such teams convene to share insights and think about the big picture, and how customers are changing and to make recommendations for action.
6. Experiment with new business models and novel solutions.
As Covid-19 brought America to a grinding halt in March, 2020, three colleagues at a recruiting software company in New York felt powerless. They wanted to do something — the question was what. They noticed how difficult it was to find a testing site and they decided to build a site that would be a clearinghouse of testing sites all over the country. They enlisted volunteers and pulled more than a few all-nighters, and were able to launch the site in five weeks. AllClear now helps guide people to test sites in the United States.
These three colleagues found a need and set forth to fill it. And that spirit is what will be necessary in all of us to survive Covid and emerge stronger.
Some businesses, like Zoom, Amazon, Pelaton and others, are seeing record demand for their products and services. Other industries — tourism, airlines, meetings, restaurants, professional sports, performing arts, trade associations – face an inflection point of major proportions. They will need to rethink their business model or face irrelevance unless they act swiftly and creatively.
Now is the time to make innovation everybody’s business. It’s time to use the tools of innovation that are designed for just such situations. They go by names such as ideation sessions, and design thinking. They include such advice as the need to make small bets, and fast learning from experimentation and customer surveys. Benchmarking what’s working in other industries, and being willing to adopt and adapt ideas is also part of the process. You figure out the new business model one step at a time.
Innovation is figuring out how to add value where you are right now. It’s finding a need and filling it. it’s important to know you can innovate in any job, department, or organization. Don’t wait for permission to innovate, but step forward with ideas that will help and you never know where it will lead. Innovation isn’t just having ideas, it’s taking action on your ideas. And innovation isn’t something you do after you get your work done. It’s how you approach the work you do.