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Adapting to the COVID Tsunami (part II)

Updated: May 7, 2020

(If you haven't read Part I of this blog post you should do so first)

Strategically, every business needs to think longer term about how they adapt for this new world. As we open up the economy again, we will see second and third waves of COVID-19, more riptides and/or tsunamis tearing through the country. Though there are no guarantees, a vaccine will likely take at least 18 to 24 months to be developed and implemented.

For business, this means a material strategy change to retool for a world where people practice social distancing, work at home a lot more, stay at home more and are dramatically less likely to congregate with groups of people.

Every business leader and their teams are going to have to make bets on where they see the world going and the implications for their business.

Some bets are clear. Hopefully, your digital transformation started before the pandemic, but either way, the internet needs to be central to your strategy now. Many trends are likely: more telemedicine, online learning, more “eating in to eat out” (i.e. more sales of pick-up, delivery and prepared foods). More everyday living going digital: from games to happy hours to workouts to entertainment.

Sadly, COVID-19 will cause more income inequality and poverty, but fortunately a likely rebound in the importance of science. I expect less globalization, more automation, less business and personal travel, smaller offices, changed office environments, more work at home, and more video meetings and conferences. Democracy reform, with mail-in voting and a push toward more universal healthcare, will become even more pressing topics.

While strategy suggestions to specific businesses are impossible in this blog post, I can still provide broader long-term advice. Envision and deliberately choose where you want your company to go, so the COVID Tsunami doesn’t drown you in a ferocious sea of change.

As I discuss in Strategy First, start with a strategy review or offsite.

If you are leading a large organization, make sure not to let the layers and bureaucracy get in the way of getting the right people together quickly. The first step of the review is a self-assessment—no sugar coating allowed. Honestly review

the key questions that underlie your strategy. What is your fundamental bet?

How well are you executing in the key areas across the business? What is the market potential for the business and customers you are targeting? And finally, what is the value you believe you are providing your customers? Then, do the same assessment for your key competitors and do the comparison.

You can download a copy of my Strategy First Worksheet on (log-in required for the worksheet part of the website), which helps with this assessment.

If you do this exercise with your leadership team, say at a strategy offsite, first have each person fill out the worksheet independently. After, bring everyone together and discuss differences in your answers. It’s quite common for there to be major differences in every category, including the fundamental bet(s) and what the strategy of the company actually is. You’ll find this process quite enlightening. It should go without saying, but the leadership team and everyone at your company ought to be in sync when it comes to the company’s strategy.

Once you have consensus on the current strategy, the next step is to go through a similar exercise for where you think the business is going given the COVID Tsunami. How will customer value, market potential, and execution change? What bet do you want to make on where business is going? Where are your competitors going to go? How do you provide a differentiated compelling value to your customers as you adjust your strategy, your plan to compete, with new or modified bets?

The outcome of this exercise should be a revised strategy, your new bets. Once you have accomplished a revised strategy (and every company should rework their strategy as a result of this pandemic), you can focus on execution and driving the strategy through your team. I have a chapter on execution in my upcoming book, Strategy First, that would also be helpful.

Given the dramatic pace of change during the COVID Tsunami, your strategy team should meet frequently to revise and rework the strategy as the world keeps changing and you learn more.

Be scrappy and creative in the short term. Do what you can to stabilize and revamp the business. Then, rework your strategy and make your updated bets for this new crazy world we are living in.

Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the COVID Tsunami will dissipate and we will have calmer waters to navigate. Until then, keep calm, keep safe and keep your strategy first.

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