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The questions business leaders should be asking during COVID-19

Mar 26, 2020

You develop smart, ambitious business plans. You stay ready to leverage each opportunity to push forward. And then a crisis like COVID-19 hits — and everything changes overnight. These are the times when clarifying your strategy is vital for your business, not just to survive the crisis, but to thrive once it’s over. 

Some of your existing strategies will boost your ability to assess and respond to new circumstances. And some won’t. 

When things speed up as they do during times of sudden change, simply identifying where you are and what your team needs can be a challenge in itself. Successfully moving from “What in the world is happening right now?” to “Here’s how to shift our thinking and plans,” can happen by asking the right questions: those that help you and your team discern the information, resources, and strategies you need to stay nimble for sustainable and robust success. 

These five questions can help you map your way through uncertain times.

1: How can your strategy evolve to new demands?

During a crisis, your strategic goals and timeline shift, possibly dramatically so. You might need to prioritize the needs of today, next week and next month rather than working toward goals for the next 3 months, 12 months or 5 years.

With the current COVID-19 crisis, we are facing unforeseen new challenges.  Some are external, such as changes in your supply chain due to employees staying at home or being laid off, governmental mandates with unforeseen impacts, and expectations of how customers now have to interact with you. 

They might be internal, such as a decreased availability of your workforce, scalability of your technology, and morale of strained and concerned team members. And they might be a combination of both, such as limited transportation routes and a workforce that needs help applying for financial assistance.

Without knowing how circumstances will change from day to day, week to week or even hour to hour, your strategic goals for the short term require more agility and bandwidth. These changes can also influence your long-term goals after the crisis passes (and it will pass). Therefore, you need to consider which roles and responsibilities create a foundation for addressing immediate and long-term goals.

2: Which teams will help you meet evolving priorities? 

When you form a focus team during a crisis, you create a nucleus for analyzing the new landscape and considering how to respond efficiently and powerfully to rapidly evolving circumstances. 

Start with a strong focus team leader. This person should have credibility both within and outside of your organization, as well as the authority to delegate tasks to other team members. Next, assign a solid change manager, focused on sustaining one of your most important assets, your people.  Also assign a project manager to concentrate on the logistics of managing the plan and completing tasks. 

The project manager and change manager should work in unison.  They collaborate  to optimize learning and growth through the changes. They’ll track and record both progress and obstacles. As with any major disruption, a feedback loop is vital. Recording how your organization grows from the crisis and what you learned can help you evolve your strategy in real time. It should also inform your post-crisis business plans. And, when you’re no longer in crisis mode, documenting what worked — and what didn’t — gives you an updated crisis management strategy with real-world testing, to better serve your customers and employees during future crises. 

Finish staffing your team with members who can focus on the following areas:

  • Finance. What does your team need to address changes? Can resources be redirected from less urgent projects?
  • IT. Does your tech team have the bandwidth and security for people to work remotely? How about for customers to reach you and access your products?
  • Communications. Who will coordinate your communications team to meet an increased need for messaging, both inward- and outward-facing? (More on this in a moment.)
  • Operations. Which operations and processes must support increased or changing demands from both team members and customers? Where should resources be reassigned or reallocated?
  • Customer.  How will the situation impact our customers?  What can we do to support our customers?
  • Risk management. Will you be more vulnerable in certain areas? What can be done to shore up those spots?

3: Where do you need to allocate resources?

Freeing up your change- and project-management personnel to swiftly respond to unfolding circumstances means shifting some — possibly all — of their day-to-day responsibilities. Consider who and what will help keep them nimble and focused. There will undoubtedly also be changes in workforce as a response to what’s happening in the environment right now or on their homefront, so preparation for a possible alternate in each of these roles may be beneficial.  As leadership makes decisions on re-allocating resources, keep in mind that some roles can be focused on immediate need; others should concentrate on the long term.

4: How will you keep communications flowing?

Successfully navigating a crisis requires strategic goals and communications to evolve together. Communication is where your plans thrive — or wilt. 

Communications that start with “why” offer the greatest impact. Centering the question “Why is this change is necessary?” helps each person understand how they contribute to getting through difficult times, what their role is in the overall strategy, and how changes in roles and responsibilities add up to success. 

During times of drastic change, overcommunicating is crucial to uphold morale and motivation. The “Rule of 7” tells us people need to come across something 7 times before it sticks. So plan for communication through multiple mediums, multiple times. This repetition can support deeper understanding.

You’ll also boost the power of your communications with a unified message. So be consistent. Ideally, messaging comes from the top down to middle management, which is likely employees’ first source of information. In addition to giving the communication credibility, this flow helps establish clear channels for feedback and questions. Don’t forget to include a bottom up communication channel to quickly learn how the issue is affecting the front lines.

5: What role can you play through corporate citizenry?

It goes without saying that any major disruption that affects your business likely also affects your community. During the COVID -19 crisis, it is changes in the community that are driving most of the changes in your business.  This is the time to step up. Finding ways to create solutions for your community can look a lot like the solutions you’re building for your business.

  • How can you respond to changes in your environment? 
  • Is there food insecurity for kids not going to school? 
  • Housing shortages? 
  • What kinds of support can you offer members of your community?
  • Do you have team members who may be unable to work in your business right now that could help the community?

Stay in the game

In his book “The Infinite Game,” Simon Sinek proposes that leaders with an infinite mindset — one that sees no winners or losers, no clear endpoint — create more innovative, resilient organizations, ones where people trust each other and their leaders. These businesses tend to thrive in the midst of change and uncertainty.

Asking yourself some of these five questions can keep you focused on curiosity to help you continue to get better and better, to stay in the game.

It’s hard to stay calm and focused in a crisis. 

There are so many things we’re not used to figuring out. Do your best to keep your team calm, your leadership focused and getting through each day. 

Reflecting on these questions can help you build a solid plan of action to follow through on. So, you can think proactively about how your business is changing now and plan for the future. Once you weather this major change, many things will look differently. 

Asking yourself questions affirms there are always answers. And, with your teams in place, those answers can create deeper growth and lasting success.

The courage to lead in times of prosperity is one thing.  Having the courage to lead in times of  immense change is another.  True leaders know “it takes a whole village” to survive and thrive.  When change heightens to unprecedented levels, the necessity for leaders to engage the “power of the team” is critical.  

Author(s)

Tina Nazier
Tina Nazier, MBA, CPC
Director, Stategic Alignment
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Marcie Bomberg - Milwaukee, WI
Marcie Bomberg-Montoya, OCI, OEI
Principal
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