How Will You Prepare for a Post-Pandemic World?
The coronavirus pandemic has created the biggest disruption most people alive will have ever experienced. We’re talking about going through unprecedented times, and you might have even got sick of hearing that phrase! It’s true that it’s unprecedented, but only because it’s happening to everybody all at the same time – and everywhere around the world.
Some people say, “We’re all in the same boat”, but that’s not true. We’re all in the same storm, but we’re all in different boats, navigating our way through the storm. If you’re a leader, you can’t control the storm and you might be stuck with the boat you’re in. But you can influence the way you lead your people and your organisation through that storm.
The pandemic has affected different industries in different ways, and even within an industry, businesses have felt its impact differently. Some have been completely thrown into chaos, others have had a period of instability and adjustment, and others are even thriving because demand has grown for their products. But regardless of your current circumstances, the future has now become much less certain, and even thriving businesses need to deal with this uncertainty and volatility.
As a leader – especially a senior leader – you must still create strategic plans for your organisation’s future, even in the face of an uncertain, fast-changing world.
The things you don’t know WILL hurt you!
When it comes to strategic planning in a crisis (and beyond), most organisations go through three stages – crisis, recovery, and growth. Your success depends on how well you manage your strategic planning at each stage.
Here’s how a typical organisation will operate in this crisis:
- Crisis: When the coronavirus pandemic first hits, you move into survival mode, and all action is reactive and focussed on immediate needs only. Long-term strategic planning is absent, and that’s exactly the right focus at this time, because you need to react to external circumstances. After you have dealt with the immediate impact of the pandemic, and you have time to pause and take a breath, you realise your old strategic plan is no longer relevant.
- Recovery: As you start on the road to recovery, you draft a new plan. You can now be more responsive and measured, but because you’re still operating in a volatile environment, it’s tempting to focus only on short-term goals – because that’s as far ahead as you can see. Unfortunately, that means you’re still at the mercy of the external environment. Many organisations get stuck at this point, lurching from month to month with short-term plans that continually need to be revised or discarded. It’s not sustainable, and you’re likely to break down eventually.
- Growth: To move from recovery to growth, you need to be proactive and move beyond the limit of what you can predict with certainty. You plan further into the future, not because you can see it clearly, but despite the fact you can’t. You map out multiple external scenarios, choose the most plausible path, and design your strategy to follow that path. At the same time, you remain flexible enough to switch to an alternative strategy if circumstances change.
A few organisations take this one step further and progress to a fourth stage:
- Disruption: In any environment where everything is shaken loose, a few entrepreneurial organisations take the opportunity to be disruptive. They become the disruptors of the future, not the disrupted from the past. These are the iconic businesses in an industry that take the lead and ultimately change their industry.
Are you going to thrive and survive, or will you nose-dive and disappear?
We all go through the Crisis-Recovery-Growth process, but not all in the same way.
The mistake most organisations make is to wait too long to plan for growth. The most successful organisations proactively plan for growth even while going through recovery. Even before they have fully “recovered” from the crisis, they are already thinking ahead to the future:
Of course, leadership teams should always be looking beyond their current baseline, but that’s not always easy when recovering from a crisis. It’s tempting to focus all your energy on getting things back to “normal” before looking any further. But that puts you at a disadvantage, because others in your industry – and even savvy start-up entrepreneurs looking to enter your industry – will be ahead of you.
This global pandemic, as bad as it is, has challenged the status quo. That’s why so many people are talking about “a new normal”. There are huge opportunities for those who are proactively thinking beyond recovery, and it doesn’t take much to stand out.
When you get this right, you’ll be significantly more productive because you and your team understand the risks and opportunities in the future, and you have created an organisation (and culture) that’s positioned to leverage those opportunities to stay ahead of the game.