Great leaders are characterised by many attributes and skills and they are all being tested by this Covid-19 crisis now more than ever before. Key amongst these are the ability to remain optimistic, clear headed and future focussed in the midst of a crisis. Leaders have to keep a sense of balance and need now to work on a suitable exit strategy for the lock down period. This will require at least as much thought into the return to work challenge as they have put into their ‘Rapid Response Plans’ if not more, as this will be a trickier landscape to navigate with many uncertainties and dangers to avoid.

We have developed a 5-Step pragmatic process for creating an exit strategy which will give leaders a chance to engage their senior team in future focussed, morale boosting work that will offer a stretch and degree of hope in what are very uncertain times. The 5 step process we suggest is:

Step #1 – Diagnose the state of the now.

In this step leaders need to gather information to understand where the organisation is right now. This will include but is not limited to:

  1. List all of the downsides and identify all the benefits associated with the current ways of working.
  2. Identify ideas to eliminate or at least minimise the downsides and to lock-in the benefits.
  3. Assess the Impact on your people and the culture – the trust paradigm has moved in all organisations, so what does this mean for you?
  4. Summarise the state of your now including:
  • Current Financial position and assumptions that are now no longer relevant.
  • Your in-flight initiatives and investment projects – check their relevance by categorising as: OK: Not Sure: Stop Now.
  • Your current strategic direction of travel and its relevance to the post Covid-19 landscape
  • Impact on your people and the current culture of the lock-down and existential threat posed by the virus.

Once this diagnose phase is complete it provides the foundation for the subsequent strategic thinking process.

Step #2 – Appoint, engage and Mobilise a ‘Plan Ahead’ team

The aim of this step is to corral your best strategic thinkers into a balanced team, share with them the output from step #1 above and get them focussed on the thinking required to succeed with the subsequent steps in this process.

Their first task will be to create at least 4 strategic scenarios that are relevant to your organisation using the axes of Virus Spread / Containment and Economic Impact in your sector:

Once these scenarios are developed then the Plan Ahead Team can move onto Step #4.

Step #3 – Establish your direction of travel

For each of your 4 scenarios get your ‘Plan Ahead’ team to consider the following questions:

  • What is your added value and will this still be relevant?
  • Why will customers choose you, what makes you different?
  • What new problems can you solve for your customers now?
  • What changes in customer behaviour and needs might there be?
  • What big assumptions are you making about your business pre lock-down which are no longer true now?
  • What changes can you make to your product or service to make it simpler, cheaper or easier to use?
  • What entirely new product or service could you sell to existing and new customers?
  • How would a dynamic new start-up not encumbered with your operating model solve your customers’ problems using new technologies and a new thinking?
  • What are the actions you need to take to optimise your position in this scenario?
  • What resources do you need to ensure these actions can succeed?

Once these questions are addressed for each scenario they need to be shared with key stakeholders and decision makers across the organisation.

Step #4 – Agree your post Covid-19 strategic position

This is the hardest step in the whole process and the decisions you take here will, by definition, have the most profound and far reaching implications for your organisation in the post Covid-19 period.

The senior leaders have to decide to what extent will the existing operating model survive the crisis and to what extent will the demand be disrupted in a post C-19 landscape? Using these axes they can then decide which is the best strategic option to adopt?

Step#5 – Build a short term Strategic Re-Boot plan.

Once you have chosen your strategic option and position then the Plan Ahead Team can begin to develop a short term strategic re-boot plan. Rather than a single plan this will be a portfolio of strategic moves that will perform relatively well as a collective across all likely scenarios, even if every move isn’t a winner on its own.

Key actions in this step include:

  • Build a portfolio of strategic ‘no-regret’ moves that will prepare you well across all scenarios
  • Cull or bring forward any strategic plays already in-flight
  • Identify the few ‘Big Bets’ those that are unique to only one scenario and may hurt in other scenarios
  • Break these ‘Big Bet’ plays into smaller parts enabling staged investments to intelligently manage risks
  • Develop Risk Mitigation plans to shield you from the worst of the downsides in each scenario
  • Socialise this thinking across all the key stakeholders and decision makers

In Summary

Key to the success of this process is to ensure all participants enter this process with a ‘Growth Mind-set’. It is imperative that senior leaders keep open and agile minds, as events are moving too fast for certainty and fixed mind-sets.

The output from this process will provide clarity of near-term goals, plans and key decision points so you can direct action in real time. A consequence of the process is that budgets have to become fluid with the strategic re-boot plan and the finance function working in real partnership. The leadership job in this process is not to be ‘correct’ they have to strive to become the first to know, and they need a dashboard of leading indicators that give early warning of which scenario is emerging so they can course correct accordingly.

We can provide support with this process so please contact us if you want our help.

Contact Malcolm Follos at [email protected]

Please get in touch or book a call. We’d love to chat.