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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Ulman

Never Waste a Crisis

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Six Questions You Need to Ask During COVID.

We continue to reckon with the enormous human and economic costs of COVID-19, yet we find ourselves in a moment of unique opportunity. As we define and build back to a “new normal,” now is the time to shift out of pandemic-induced uncertainty and find the strategic treasures that this storm has washed ashore. To uncover new possibilities and make the most of the (hopefully) receding crisis, CEOs and Boards must look through a strategic lens and challenge their own assumptions.

Author Arundhati Roy writes, “Historically pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” We can choose how we walk through this portal and whether we are “ready to imagine another world.”

I have recently been working with two very different organizations preparing for their post-pandemic future. One, a membership organization, suspended the many in-person programs that served its members, rapidly pivoting to virtual offerings and phone support. The other, providing residential social services, had to maintain modified face-to-face operations.

The Internet provides plenty of advice on reopening businesses. But the recommendations you'll find primarily address such operational questions as "What parts of our work can we continue doing remotely?" and "What government regulations and public health guidelines must we comply with?" While these are essential issues, they beg the bigger question of how your approach to reopening will position your organization for the future.

To benefit most from the lessons of COVID or any other major crisis, CEOs and boards need to focus on six strategic questions. These questions will help you find the unforeseen opportunities that an upheaval can present:

  • How will our commitment to core values show up in the way we rebuild?

  • What new aspects of our mission has this crisis revealed?

  • How has this crisis changed our relationship with those we serve?

  • How might some crisis-driven innovations strengthen our business model?

  • What potential projects or services should we reconsider or investigate?

  • What partnership opportunities are emerging that can increase our impact?

Each of my two organizations grappled with these important questions. The membership organization has begun reopening with guidelines based on the six questions. Its Board has been very active in making these decisions and communicating the plan to members. The social services provider remained open throughout the pandemic, continually revisiting these six questions. Staff and Board used this time to develop a new strategic plan, collaborating in new new ways to imagine their future as the situation evolved. Both organizations “kept the wheels on” and are emerging with renewed strategic focus as they move toward resuming full operations.

Coming Next: A deeper dive into each of the six strategic questions.


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