This blog first appeared as Steve Wunker’s piece for Forbes
By: Steve Wunker
With uncertainty swirling and the news growing constantly worse, it’s tempting to hunker down and await resolution of the coronavirus crisis, or to act rashly with extreme changes to costs and business model.
Don’t! You can rapidly create a strategic plan that gets you through coronavirus short-term and sets you up to thrive in the re-ordered competitive environment that will follow. Here are five ways to make it happen:
1. Plan for Four Distinct Phases to the Crisis
While we do not know the duration of each phase, or all of the human and economic consequences of each, we can reliably predict that the crisis will proceed through four phases. Each one needs a plan:
As with the financial crisis, the fourth phase may be a long one. Plan for it now, so that your actions through the earlier phases set you up for success in that end game.
2. Define the Challenges
It’s tempting to focus on firefighting in a time like this, but it’s crucial to consider the long-term challenges created. For example, if you’re at a bank reliant on your branch network to create competitive advantage, and now customers are forced to become more comfortable with virtual services, how will you compete against fintechs when the crisis ends? If you’re a restaurant prone to hemorrhaging customers now, how will you stay relevant? (Hint – think like Panera, which has just launched an $8.99/month all-you-can-drink coffee subscription, and is also pushing both online ordering and delivery services.) Be precise about the challenges to address so that your solutions can be assessed with the right lenses.
3. Clarify the Options
If you’ve defined your challenges well, it’s usually possible to create a discrete and manageable set of options to address them. Dispassionately, write out their pros and cons. Note what further options they open up down the road, as well as which ones they might foreclose. For instance, you might seek to go direct to key customers and bypass distribution channels that could become unreliable, but what will that mean for your channel relationships down the road?
4. Build Scenarios
We can’t assume we know how all this will end, but you can build scenarios specific to your business. Interview your key internal stakeholders and find out both their visions for the future in certain time bounds, as well as where they diverge (in a hyper-fluid situation like the one now, expect that they will). When divergences exist, mine for the underlying assumptions that drive those differences. Those assumptions can underlie your key scenarios, which may map to the four phases of the crisis laid out above.
“Guide near-term actions with a clear view of how the world will be different once we emerge out the other side.”
5. Meet (Virtually!) to Make Decisions
You may once have used an offsite meeting to share findings and make decisions, but now that is most likely to be happening on a platform like Zoom or Google Hangouts. That’s fine – leading tech companies use virtual meetings constantly to make big decisions in fast-moving situations. However, the meeting needs to occur differently than an in-person offsite. Try doing this:
For many of us, coronavirus is the biggest management challenge we’ve faced since 2008, and perhaps ever. The right response reminds me of the advice I’ve given my children about what to do if they’re caught in an undertow: don’t ignore it, don’t fight it head-on, but keep your head up and find a way to swim to the side. A good strategic plan for coronavirus finds a way to look beyond the immediate circumstances, recognize a small number of plausible scenarios that will result, and guide near-term actions with a clear view of how the world will be different once we emerge out the other side.
Click for a series of working papers on managing a business through the coronavirus crisis, including a more detailed version of this piece.
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