This Strategic Pivot to Address COVID Will Help Your Business Thrive

There’s only so many COVID-related fires you can put out before you choke on the smoke yourself.

This is what the founder and CEO of a tech manufacturing startup with 180 employees realized in early June as his beleaguered team addressed a host of problems. They had to deal with cancelled orders and supply chain disruptions, as well as employees needing more flexible schedules or being unable to work remotely due to inadequate home office setups.

After reading my book about strategic pivoting, the CEO asked me to hold a strategic retreat to help the company restrategize its plans.

Below is a summary of how I helped five startups, three middle-market companies, and a business unit of a Fortune 300 company pivot for pandemic-influenced business settings.

Challenge Business Model Assumptions

The first step is to evaluate assumptions about the business model. This means having a couple of short meetings with the leadership team to talk about the issues that recently cropped up. 

For instance, the manufacturing startup’s salespeople started to encounter difficulties selling their high-quality tech products. Apparently, operations managers were suddenly being pressured by accounting heads to justify the ROI for purchases. 

While the manufacturing startup was keen on innovation, it didn’t have a clear measure of ROI in place. Other companies encountered similar issues as well. Leaders would often be surprised as they cropped up since they were also focusing on problems in their own areas.

Gather Internal Information 

Each department leader who would attend the retreat was asked to get feedback from their direct reports on how their department’s goals should be revised in light of the challenged assumptions in either three scenarios.

  • In the first scenario, a vaccine with over 90% effectiveness would be found by Spring of 2021, and the pandemic mostly over by Spring of 2022
  • In the second, a vaccine would be found by Spring of 2022, and the pandemic mostly over by Spring of 2023
  • In the third, we would never find a vaccine more effective than 50%, just like we haven’t found a vaccine more effective than that for the flu 

Strategy Day

Next, go on a two-day strategic retreat. The first day should be for broad strategy, while the second should be for operationalizing the strategy.

On one retreat I facilitated, the leadership team of a SaaS startup with over 500 staff was surprised to learn that most of their employees were feeling work-from-home burnout and “Zoom fatigue”. I gave substantial support in this area as an expert in emotional and social intelligence

I highlighted that the problems came not just from burnout but much more, including:

  • Mental health issues caused by the pandemic such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and grief
  • Social isolation and lack of access to the usual support given by family, friends, and community
  • Inadequate home office setups and poor work-from-home environments
  • Subpar skills in virtual communication and collaboration
  • Being deprived of basic humans needs that we naturally get from work, such as sense of connection, tribe, meaning, and purpose

I advised the leadership team that dealing with these pandemic-related issues call for professional development in social and emotional intelligence so that employees can identify and deal with the gaps caused by the pandemic.

Operations Day

The following day should be spent on operationalizing the strategic changes discussed on the previous day. Potential threats and opportunities should be identified and addressed based on the three different COVID scenarios described above. Don’t forget to factor in different possible economic recovery scenarios (K, U, W, V, L).

An enterprise data analytics startup with more than 120 staff saw a surprising opportunity to woo some lucrative client accounts from competitors. The leadership team knew that its competitors’ executives didn’t take COVID seriously and decided to tweak their marketing and sales to show the steps the company took to be pandemic ready. 

Next, its sales team would reach out to the prospective clients to tell them about the steps taken, then offer to provide support if the pandemic lasted longer than most optimistic forecasts and the competitors performed poorly. 

Next Steps and Follow-Up

At the close of operations day, set the next steps for each new initiative discussed, then set metrics of success and allocate the approximate resources needed to get the initiatives going. Then, prepare a report for the Board of Directors on the retreat, highlighting how the strategic pivot will help the company adapt to various scenarios of COVID and the economic recovery.

Finally, proceed with the following steps:

  1. Assign one member of the leadership team responsible for implementing each initiative
  2. Follow up on all the next steps in weekly leadership team meetings
  3. In a month’s time, have a half-day meeting where the leadership team evaluates how effective the strategy pivot was and make revisions as needed
  4. Have another half-day meeting to assess the strategy in three months’ time

With a sound strategy and determination, these steps will help any business not just survive but thrive during this challenging period. 

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