Leaders: Your journey through COVID-19

Companies are going to learn lessons from the COVID-19 experience. They will discover that they need capabilities that didn’t exist, have capabilities that they hadn’t previously leveraged, and have capabilities that need improvement. 

When companies begin their journey to get “back to normal,” they must recognize that there is now a new normal. We fear that organizations either focus only on returning to the priorities they had before the pandemic disruption, or they focus on improving the deficiencies that the disruption revealed. Our guidance is to look forward and task your strategic thinkers to devise plans that address both, while also creating the adaptability to facilitate a new normal. 

The fallout from this event will yield major change drivers for almost every company and industry. For the foreseeable future, the amount and types of change are not yet clear. Our recommendation is for leaders and their strategic thinkers to maximize corporate agility. It is not enough to look only at what should be fixed. They should use this opportunity to remove and replace those parts of the business that inhibit the ability to change and adapt to a new normal.

The Journey in Three Phases

At the risk of over-simplifying one of the most significant events in our history, the journey through this pandemic can be viewed as three phases.

Phase 1 (“Pull Back”) – The dramatic retraction.  Marked by shut-downs, work at home, revenue loss, supply chain disruptions, etc. 

Phase 2 (“Prepare”) – In the Prepare phase companies should immediately begin planning for the difficult process of recovery.  Assess capabilities, prepare to bring employees back online, address supply chains, restock inventories, restore transportation and logistics, decide which projects to resume, etc.  

Phase 3 (“Resume”) – Transition to “normal” business operations.  There is an immediate need to satisfy pent-up demand, address capacity challenges, address resource issues, overcome bottlenecks and set priorities.

Use this moment to Re-Group and Re-Focus your business

Companies that resume operations before they think about the journey forward will quickly find themselves overcommitted and distracted by day to day realities.  Strategic thinking is always set aside when faced with tactical challenges. We recommend investing in strategic thinking now while there is time for thoughtful analyses. Start today to chart a course through the Prepare and Resume phases.  Focus on approaches that will guide the company forward.  This is in contrast to devoting all available resources to restoring the company as it was before this pandemic began. 

Top Signs that there is an emerging
“new normal”

  • Addressing all aspects of enterprise risk will become front and center
  • Acceptance and structure to support more work at home and other business models, including more freelancing and gig work, changing the labor and skills market.
  • Education and learning methods become increasingly virtual, fewer in-person events 
  • Supply chains in all critical industries must be re-visited and enhanced, with better tracking, more flexibility, and depth.  
  • The how, where and when consumers shop has changed – information and data will drive even newer market strategies
  • Virtualized workforce meetings displace in-person meetings as the new normal
  • Logistics, transportation, and delivery services have become even more significant.

Top Signs from your past that you need to
be different:

  • Too many independent initiatives underway
  • Staff was overloaded trying to do too many things, too fast, without strong coordination. 
  • Internal disconnects, duplication, lack of integration, inflexibility, slow internal response to change, failed transformation initiatives, fragile systems, and processes, etc.  
  • Too many previous projects were designed for narrow short-term results without a broad consideration of the impact on the entire company landscape.
  • Costs are disproportional to growth investments, particularly ongoing costs associated with the maintenance and service of previous enterprise/technical debt and the resources required to change them 

Nobody can completely predict the future. They can only note that change is constant. Corporate agility must become the new strategic driver.  Successful leaders must “design in” the ability of a company to sense, pivot and quickly adapt to new opportunities.  Corporate agility is implemented through an underlying environment that is “change friendly”, one that is deliberately adaptive to change and that has eliminated historical barriers to change. 

Corporate Agility is achieved by leaders who embrace an Adaptive operating environment:

  • Choose to deliver corporate agility as a core driving force
  • Have a core set of beliefs they follow that define their characteristics of corporate agility, what they do and how they choose to do it
  • Manage the level of complexity they allow in their landscape
  • Have clearly defined business capabilities
  • Embrace coherent information models
  • Enforce clean boundaries between layers of processes, systems, and people

What should leaders do?

There are four critical leadership capabilities that together coordinate company-level thinking and drive investment priorities.  Each is part of the internal strategy and planning ecosystem that every business/IT organization should have in place.  They should not be set up as islands, but instead as a coordinated ecosystem for strategic analyses, direction setting, standards, approaches, investment, prioritization, governance, and decision-making. 

  1. Enterprise-level business strategy – It is the critical guidepost that will define the “next” company. It is more than a list of projects to be completed in the next budget cycle.  A true business strategy combines an appreciation for the business and competitive landscape, geopolitical and industry trends, and then conscious choices of the type of company and the style/beliefs/differentiators that leadership wants to embrace.
  2. Enterprise Architecture – a “whole of company” approach to conceiving and guiding consistency of thought, principles and approaches focused on company-wide strategic outcomes.  It embraces holistic cross-company models for business, information, technology, solutions, security, risk, reliability and agility.  It is designed to steer the company to stay on the path to realize its future strategic end-state.
  3. Enterprise-level project portfolio management – a portfolio-based view of work, resources, and investment focused on balance, prioritization, strategic alignment and investment classification of the entire set of projects
  4. Information Management – An enterprise-level appreciation and the behaviors associated with fully realizing the critical value that information and data bring to the company.

We recommend that every company, of every size and every industry, have these capabilities in place. They will enable the adaptive foundation required for business/corporate agility. Some may be highly formal functions.  Others may be more organic and virtual.  In all cases they are pivotal to help companies differentiate and prioritize various tactics, providing strategic context to guide the company to their new normal.  This is critically important now, as companies re-group and re-focus to complete their journeys through this pandemic.

* Coronavirus COVID-19 Image – CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS

2 thoughts on “Leaders: Your journey through COVID-19”

  1. Hi George,

    Good article.

    It’s been a long time since we’ve talked. I’ve been doing limited EA consulting. Let’s touch base sometime.

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