COVID-19 is testing the leadership of executives across the globe, who are scrambling to limit the damage caused by the sudden drop in revenue and operations; to reorganize their teams in confinement; and to ensure that the operational nerve center of the company continues to function.
For professor Miquel Lladó, this is a time when true leaders will be measured by their ability to breathe energy into their teams, to manage their feelings and to respond under pressure.
But while these are times of great uncertainty for companies, “We are in a storm that, like all storms, will pass and a new day will come,” Lladó says. For this reason, he advises managers to keep thinking about the future and to develop the strategic capacities that allow you to write today what you want for your company tomorrow.
Basics before you start
We aren’t used to thinking about the long term. Instead, managers are often “doers” — action-oriented people who act quickly and in the now to achieve results. And in the current context, speed is essential skill to avoid greater problems later. So in the short term, these are the things that leaders must do in the first phase of this (or any other) crisis:
1) Know how your team is doing. Show your interest in them and ensure that everyone is managing.
2) Monitor your supply chain, from start to finish, to know whether you have what you need to function.
3) Survey your customers. Know whether they are open or closed, if they have pending issues with you, etc.
4) Safeguard the operational nerve center. Make sure that you have the key elements to keep the company operational.
Tools for strategic thinking toward the future
Once these basics are covered, you can start thinking about the future. COVID-19 may have you in emergency mode, but you also must think in the long term and prepare your organization for the day after the pandemic ends.
There are many conceptual frameworks to organize the strategy and think about the future. Lladó recommends these three simple tools that can help your thinking:
- The Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal (PESTEL) analysis is a tool that allows you to analyze external opportunities and threats to a company at a given time. Lladó recommends using it frequently to see how different factors evolve and what aspects of the environment can affect them.
- Maslow’s pyramid. This classic of consumer psychology holds that people move up the hierarchy of needs as we meet the most basic needs. According to Lladó, in times of crisis like the current one, it is likely that our consumers are going down the pyramid. Therefore, some products or services will not be of interest to you and we must anticipate it.
- Porter’s 5 Forces. The benchmark for competitive strategy can help us to keep thinking about what is changing or what could change in our environment and our value proposition.
Beyond the tools, the important thing is to invest time in thinking about the future. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos books a four-hour meeting every week to talk about the future of his company. In his book Playing to Win, A.F. Laffley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, says that we can only define the future if we know how to respond to the questions: What is your winning aspiration? Where will you play? How will you win? What capabilities must be in place? What management systems are required?
For Lladó, simplicity is also crucial. “If you can visualize the strategy on one page, much better.”
This post is also available in: Spanish