The two fundamental elements of strategy amid COVID-19: Survival and Reinvention

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There is no business that has not been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some companies, in industries ranging from consumer staples to video-conferencing, are struggling to cope with soaring demand

Yet most are being slammed by factors including economic concerns, reduced spending, or simple inability of their customers to come to them.

The immediacy of Survival

Of course every organization must focus on surviving through this extraordinary crisis to get to better times on the other side.

In many cases this means cutting costs, including actively negotiating with landlords or financial institutions, taking full advantage of government subsidies, and reconsidering staffing levels while recognizing the human impact.

Every organization also needs to reconfigure work and workflow for the reality that most people will be (and certainly should be if at all possible) working from home. This requires selecting platforms, establishing protocols, employees learning new systems, and shifting as smoothly as possible to ways of working that for some companies are radically different from their norm.

We will never return to ‘normal’

Some leaders are trying to estimate the timeframe for when business will return to normal and they can resume their company operations as before.

That will never happen. The world will be irrevocably changed by this crisis.

In coming weeks I will share more detailed analysis about the ways in which the social and business landscape is likely to be different in a post-pandemic world.

Certainly, however soon we emerge from coronavirus lockdown, at very least there will be deep-rooted fears seared into populaces of this or other viruses again spreading out of control, not to mention broader structural shifts.

The most critical changes and impacts will vary across industries and organizations, but every company will find themselves doing business in a quite different world than we lived and worked in just a couple of months ago.

The imperative of Reinvention

No organization will be able to return to doing business as before.

This means that leaders must, at the same time as they ensure survival through this dire phase, prepare for a substantially different post-pandemic world.

This needs taking a step back, casting aside any current assumptions on which the business is based, completely re-envisaging what the organization could be and should be in a very different world, and swiftly shifting to the requirements of a different landscape.

From Innovation to Reinvention

Much of my work for many years, including my work with boards and executive teams, as well as running innovation leadership programs for company directors, has been framed around innovation. In a sense innovation is the present work that stems from looking into the future and developing effective foresight on tomorrow’s social and business landscape.

Yet we all acknowledge that innovation is a pretty tired word, often inducing eye-rolling and buzzword fatigue.

Today, when everything is changing, let’s recognize that the operative word for almost every organization should be reinvention, applying to every aspect of the company.

Creative destruction in a rapidly evolving world

Undoubtedly those organizations that have been best at developing their innovation capabilities are the best able to reinvent themselves wholesale today.

And those organizations unable to innovate to the degree of complete reinvention will not survive for long.

‘Survival of the fittest’ is a very slow process when the environment is changing gradually. It becomes far more pointed and rapid when there is a massive shock. Today, the capability for reinvention will be the distinction between those organizations that survive and those that do not.

The process of Reinvention

I will be sharing far more on the process of reinvention in coming weeks, though I have already described a very high-level virtual strategy process for reinvention in a post-pandemic world.

The process will be different for every organization, but there are three broad steps that are likely to be support organizational reinvention.

As in any future-oriented process, the first step must be to explore the likely or possible nature of a post-pandemic world. Issues could include timelines, national variations, consumer sentiment, shifts from physical to digital interaction, workforce structure, automation, supply chain, availability of capital, and many more. While the issues examined need to be relevant to the organization, reinvention means that companies may need to completely reposition, so they can’t limit themselves to looking at their current industry as it stands. It is impossible to set realistic future plans without having substantively explored the possible nature of the future.

There are of course many unknowables in charting the business environment of next year, or even the second half of this year, so using established futures methodologies that account for uncertainty can be invaluable.

The second step, hopefully already well under way, is envisaging possibilities for reimagining the organization and its success in a different world. There are many useful ways to drive divergent thinking and generate the broadest possible range of strategic options.

The third step is to assess the options and possibilities, given the insights generated into the future landscape and the organization’s current capabilities, and set an action plan for the process of reinvention.

Of course at this point most strategy development needs to be done virtually rather than through traditional meetings and workshops. Fortunately there are excellent tools and processes for virtual strategy development that, well-designed, can often result in better outcomes than the usual approaches.

Every leader today must focus on both Survival and Reinvention

Yes, survival today is the starting point.

Yet if you survive the next few months without changing the very nature of your organization, it will not survive much further.

Every leader must also actively focus on reinventing their organization to prosper in what will undoubtedly be a very different landscape, which will never return to how it was before.