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Strategy at a time of crisis

I am assuming that you, as a business leader, have already taken decisive action to adjust to new realities, arising from the global pandemic. This is not a time for wishful thinking. It is best to assume that it could be Q4 or later before we return to ‘normal’ (although we can continue to hope otherwise).  

No doubt you already have plans in place to provide ongoing support to customers, employees and other stakeholders, while keeping a close eye on your cashflow. Your business continuity plan should also ensure that you continue to comply with all legal and regulatory requirements. 

So what should you do to plan for the future ?

The usual starting point for an organisational strategic review is fleshing out the elements of a long term vision of success. But these are unprecedented times and the usual rules don’t apply. The best you can do, and should do, is develop a number of possible future scenarios with your leadership team and what your strategic response would be to each scenario should it materialise. A contingency plan will then be needed for each scenario.

Scenarios should be refreshed on an ongoing basis as underlying assumptions (which should be documented) change over time. The output of this process is a number of potential ‘strategies in waiting’ to get you over the next 12/18 months, pending a full strategic review when the time is right. 

I would suggest the following 3 step process to do this work:

Step 1. Assess the likelihood of your key customers, and suppliers of goods and services surviving and thriving when the crisis passes.  Some sectors should be relatively unscathed (food retailers, some farming/agri, some medical, pharmacies and other essential services). It is already clear that others will struggle at least in the short/medium term (eg sectors dependent on international travellers). Some sectors have good bounce back potential but only if they can ride out the storm (eg pubs, restaurants, hairdressers) – these sectors will need to await the relaxation of ‘social distancing’ requirements.

In carrying out this case by case review you need to look at organisations end to end supply chains, resilience of management, key dependencies, and financial strength. 

Step 2. Stress test each scenario for different recovery periods. This is probably the key variable and will need to be regularly revisited. The ‘answer’ will vary by stakeholder group and the specific circumstances of individual stakeholders.  Monitoring what is happening  to different sectors in countries further along the curve to recovery will be insightful – watch what is happening in Southeast Asia, and other European countries. 

Step 3. Assess the implications for your business model of the different scenarios emerging.

Is your current business model sustainable?

Are operational efficiencies required to remain viable? Do you need to ‘up your game’ in terms of systems integration/automation ? Do you need an enhanced online platform?

Do you need to more fully embrace virtual working and virtual communication?

Should you exit certain sectors or cease to provide certain services ?

Are there new evolving sectors that you should plan to target ?

What new services should you consider providing?

In some cases the outcome of this analysis may be to trigger an orderly wind down of the business (eg for those approaching retirement age), or a total repurposing. 

Summary. Resist the temptation to shy away from planning just because the future is uncertain. You need to know that you are ‘good to go’ with a well thought out strategy when the fog of uncertainty lifts. Be able to say at the end of this ‘pause’ in business as usual that you used the time productively to prepare for whatever business environment emerges,

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