Arriving in a new reality: Your COVID-19 roadmap

Stepping into a new world requires quick action and aligned leadership on everything from communication and continuity to replanning, restructuring, and reinventing. 


by Chris von Bogdandy


In crisis, the sequence of actions plays an important role. COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruptions to many business models. This crisis is testing every organization’s agility to react to a rapidly changing landscape. Leadership is required to address the emotional dimension of the situation and quickly put plans into action that will reposition the organization to a new reality.

Leaders can effectively plan for and respond to any crisis, including COVID-19, by following the five phases of this roadmap.

  1. Communicate and engage: Address the emotional dimension of the crisis.
  2. Business continuity: Secure the critical aspects of the operations.
  3. Replan: Revise goals and targets.
  4. Restructure: Adjust the organization to align with revised goals and targets.
  5. Stabilize: Reposition for growth in new market environments.

1. Communicate and engage

When people are stressed and upset, it is more important to convey that you care than what you know. In crisis communication, empathy should be a primary focus of the message. There are countless frameworks and methodologies on crisis communication but most of them agree on the following:

  • Audience assessment: Assess the audience and develop specific messaging for each audience segment. Storytelling is a powerful tool for connecting with an audience and establishing trust through authenticity, especially when referring to a personal experience.
  • Aligned messaging: It is critical for the leadership team to be aligned on messaging. A message map can support this objective by segmenting a key message into three key sub-messages, each with supporting facts. Developing a message map together with the leadership team creates clarity in messaging and drives this alignment.
  • Listening posts: How do you know whether your messages connect with your audience? How do you know to dial up or down your messaging frequency, or provide more context? Listening posts are critical in answering these questions and fine-tuning the engagement with your audience. Listening posts can take the form of surveys, feedback from frontline employees and social media.

2. Business continuity

Collapsing global supply chains, shifting buying patterns and declining revenue streams are just some of the realities companies are dealing with today.

In order to minimize the potential impact to teams, customers and partners, companies are forced to go into “crisis mode” to quickly develop and deploy plans that ensure business continuity. While developing a holistic business continuity plan can be a long-term endeavor, here are some actionable steps:

  • Form a business continuity leadership team. This team should include leaders and people who on the “front line” with your internal or external customers. You need short feedback loops to understand in real-time how the situation at critical points of your business is unfolding and whether your counter-measures are effective. Regular reporting processes are often not fast enough.
  • Conduct a business impact analysis to identify the most critical parts of your operations and how the current situation is impacting them. Develop scenarios for how your operations may be impacted by a potential, future evolution of the crisis.
  • Develop recovery strategies and action plans. Your plans may include activities addressing existing situations or future scenarios. Ensure clear accountabilities. Define lines of communications and measurable outcomes that will reveal what is working and what is not. Test these plans if possible.
  • Build a communication and engagement strategy. Crises trigger emotional responses that can lead to unforeseen actions and outcomes. A communication strategy must take the emotional dimension of the event into consideration. Ensure that the leadership team is engaged in the development process and united in their messaging.

3. Replan

Once business continuity is addressed, targets, budgets and goals need to be evaluated and calibrated. These may include hiring plans, sales targets, functional and organizational budgets. The challenge is to replan in an economically uncertain, emotionally fraught environment. At the same time, the replanning process must not divert leadership attention from running the business and serving your customers.

A typical planning process can take weeks or months to complete. How can you accelerate this process and build scenario models that can be rapidly adjusted to meet your needs? Follow this outline for a rapid process to replan and focus your team.

  • Remind and focus: Review and understand how your goals and targets are related to others in the organization. Establish laser-like focus on the most relevant ones and adjust them accordingly. Create and communicate a schedule for the replanning process and define roles.
  • Revise and adjust: Hypothesize new options and identify potential opportunities. Explore feasibility and base assumptions surrounding the options when setting new goals and targets.
  • Realign: Communicate your new goals and targets to the organization. Validate that individual performance management goals and process are in sync with them.
  • Reintegrate: Integrate the goals and targets into your governance process and measure progress. Celebrate success when it’s achieved.

4. Restructure

Once revised goals and operational budgets are established, the organization needs to be re-structured to accomplish these goals and operate within the new budgets. This may mean operating a department on a lower budget, protecting strategic investments or structuring a sales territory model to a new projected revenue stream.

  • Define strategic targets: Identify the key areas for re-structuring and cost savings. These usually start with G&A functions and vendor optimization. For many organizations, it has been surprising how effective remote employees can be. The COVID-19 crisis has shown that many organizations have the opportunity to reduce the facility footprint. Areas that should not be disrupted, such as R&D, should also be identified.
  • Set up a transformation office: Once top-level department targets have been established, a transformation office should be formed. This office serves as the interface between the restructuring teams and the executive steering committee. This office oversees the realization of targets, drives communication, and designs the governance process of the restructuring effort.
  • Prioritize initiatives and develop your roadmap: Develop and prioritize portfolios of related initiatives with a focus on rapid value realization. Initiatives need to identify the potential impacts to employees, customers and partners. The portfolios should be consolidated to ensure that top down targets can be accomplished within the desired timeframe.
  • Initiate change and plan workforce transition: Implement the initiatives and structure continuous process reporting to inform and involve the leadership team. Change management is pivotal to ensure impacts to employee morale and engagement are minimized.

5. Stabilize and reinvent

Once an organization’s P&L is in line with revised budgets and the financial model is stable, there is an opportunity to reimagine the organization and its ongoing value proposition. Many articles by futurists, such as Matthias Horx's “The world after Corona,” predict that COVID-19 will result in lasting societal changes. For most markets, there is no going back to the pre-COVID status quo.

COVID-19 represents an unparalleled challenge on a human and economic level. Simultaneously, this crisis is an opportunity to reimagine an organization.

A challenge and an opportunity

COVID-19 represents an unparalleled challenge on a human and economic level. Simultaneously, this crisis is an opportunity to reimagine an organization. A good example for how organizations have reinvented themselves after a crisis is the London Underground. A devastating fire at the King’s Cross Fire station in 1987 triggered a fundamental restructuring of the organization. Today, the London Underground is one of the most secure, modern and efficient in the world.

The current crisis will test the agility of your organization like never before. How fast can an organization adjust to new patterns in demand? To a workforce that is working from home? The instability in the supplier market and the need to shorten supply lines?

Much comes down to the leadership team and its ability to work cohesively. It is imperative they support the most urgent, critical actions to stabilize the organization while evaluating the potential and necessity for fundamental, strategic shifts. This article provides a crude blueprint for this. It serves to facilitate leadership team discussions that will create your organization’s response and define its future.

This article was originally published on the Slalom Business blog.

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