5 Steps Leaders Can Take to Ramp UP Post COVID Leadership Recovery

By Jennifer Eggers, Andersen Alumnus and Founder and President of LeaderShift Insights®,

As the debate on when to ease restrictions wages on and we all get tired of hearing about this 'new normal' we can't seem to define, many leaders are struggling with a lack of things they can control about their organization and team's future. I hear, 'we just don't know' from clients multiple times a day, usually followed by a sigh. It is frustrating at best for those of us who wish we could do something to make it better. And it is paralyzing at its worst because not doing anything at all is not the answer when there are critical steps leaders can (and perhaps must) take to plan for recovery.

Here is our five-step process for accelerating recovery. And the best part? You can start right now - in your PJ's and bunny slippers. Every one of these steps is intended to be done in collaboration with your team or organization's leaders and these conversations can begin virtually right now.

1. Assess COVID crisis adaptations. It is simply not possible to go back to 'normal', but in order to move forward, we must first identify what has changed as a result of the crisis. Just like there were significant shifts in air travel after 9/11, there will be significant shifts in how we work together after COVID. We may not know exactly what they will be, but you can begin anticipating some of them (at least for the near term) now. It will be critical to identify what these are for your specific organization and it might be helpful to think of them in terms of short and long-term as they will likely change over time. To get started right now, invite a dialog with your team to determine which adaptations they have made have worked well and which have not…and what can be done to change or improve them.

If we were leading this conversation, some of the outcomes would include:

· Insight into what worked in response to the COVID crisis and adaptations in ways of working

· Alignment around what has changed in the market and what changes our customers are dealing with

· A sense of which changes will go away and which we will need to adjust to in the long-term

· A staring point of view around which operating practices can return to normal and which will need to be adjusted or discontinued (and when)

· An inclusive conversation around what we have learned about ourselves, the team and the organization

2. Review your business strategy. At first glance as we get back to normal, it might be tempting to assume that your business strategy is solid enough to continue as is. After all, a lot of thought went into it when it was written, and it seems almost overwhelming to make changes now. This can be problematic because while you may be able to stay the course, in many cases, your customers cannot. Before you can even determine if your strategy needs to change, take a good hard look at your customers and the situation they are in post crisis. If they are not in a position to work with you the way they did before COVID, your strategy (at least in the short term) may need to change. To get started right now, start asking about changes in preferences and behaviors and build a timeframe based on what has been postponed or delayed. Think through the implications of how you interact with them and how that may change your strategy.

In this conversation, our focus would be on creating alignment around what parts of our strategy need to change in the short term to accommodate shifts in the market and building a time-frame to set clear expectations around the parts of our strategy that continue to be relevant and what must be postponed or shifted…and a plan for both.

3. Create a strategic agenda and priorities. One of the most critical things we can do to accelerate recovery is to take a time-out with our team to create a shared strategic agenda and align around priorities. As we figure out what is changing, particularly in your strategy, we need to make sure that everyone is clear on the capabilities required to drive the new strategy (which may be a smaller subset of what was critical 2 months ago). Having people on the same page with critical priorities will avoid confusion and posturing to drive a potentially outdated agenda. You might not be able to dive into this in detail right now, but you can intentionally lean in to setting time aside and asking for help to plan and lead a session like this as soon as you know what needs to change immediately. It may not be ideal, but this can begin virtually.

The outcome of this exercise is alignment and clarity around the future state (perhaps phased) and a clearly defined set of organizational capabilities required to drive that future state. We would assess and prioritize the gaps in those capabilities and build an investment roadmap to ensure those gaps get closed in the appropriate timeframe as resources become available.

4. Understand emerging culture. Once your organization is back in the swing of things, it is highly unlikely that your corporate culture will remain exactly as it was before. We have met with CEO's who, a month ago, said their team could never be successful virtually because face time was so important to their culture. That may not be the case anymore. Some organizations have teams with survivors’ guilt who may not have been furloughed. As furloughed employees return, attention to this dynamic will move you through it faster. There are many cultural implications. To get started on this right now, you can start anticipating and discussing what those will be for you.

This conversations is focused on understanding the impact of the crisis and the adaptations that have been made on our culture AND aligning around the kind of culture we need going forward to take us into the ‘next normal’, delivering on the capabilities required to drive our strategy. It also includes figuring out what leadership can do to intentionally build it.

5. Align organizational structure. With all the changes that have happened, while this one is last in the sequence, it may need to be addressed earlier given reductions and furloughs. The important thing is for your leaders to understand exactly what organizational capabilities are critical to deliver in the short-term and assess your structure to ensure that it is set up to deliver them as efficiently and effectively as possible. Depending on the impact to your business, it may also be important to build a phased approach to ramping back up as the economy comes back. Setting aside time to do this now and engaging an objective third party partner or HR team member to help is something you can plan for right now.

This conversation depends on the state of your organization and immediate needs. If you would like help thinking this through, call us. It’s what we do.