In the Midst of the COVID-19 Crisis – Is Your Organization’s Strategic Planning on Hold?

Ashka Wirk

In March 2020, the Coronavirus disrupted our lives. While we are unable to predict the full impact of this virus, it is likely to catalyze rapid changes in how we live, learn and work, temporary or not.  

It’s not surprising, then, that some organizations have temporarily paused their strategic planning to take care of urgent needs.  In many areas, mandated lockdowns meant that doors had to close, travel ceased, and organizations had to pivot quickly to a virtual environment.  Before long, though, decisions about an organization’s future will need guidance from a well-informed, longer-term strategy – even amid the daily pressures of working and living during a global pandemic. 

As Winston Churchill said, “never let a good crisis go to waste”.  Putting the word “good” aside (not many would say COVID-19 is a good thing), this period can be an opportunity for organizational assessment and renewal.

Here are five recommendations to help you stay strategic.

  1. Make Time Away from the Day-to-Day

Your organization and the world around us are facing unprecedented changes and challenges. As a leader, your attention is pulled in myriad directions on a daily basis.  We’ve learned that it’s important to create some space away from the day-to-day of decision-making to think about what is next in the short and long-term.  

  1. Consider What the Data is Telling You 

Use some of that time away from the day-to-day decision-making to become more informed – about your environment and your organization.  What is going on in your environment? What is relevant to your organization?  What isn’t? What is going on for your stakeholders (e.g. your team, clients, donors, etc.)? How is your organization performing?

  We ask our clients to consider the following questions:

  • What data do you need to make decisions?
  • What information do you already have at hand? 
  • What do you need to gather?
  • What is your capacity to do this data gathering, analysis and reporting in house? 
  • What support do you need?
  • What insights does the data provide you that will drive action to improve your organization’s effectiveness?

In times of uncertainty, we’ve learned that data matters.  So much so that during this crisis, and as a part of our own strategic planning, at Berlineaton we have decided to accelerate and amplify the services we offer through our Data & Insights Area.

  1. Evaluate your Current Strategic Plan and Be Willing to Make Changes

We’ve learned that it’s important to assess the relevance of your existing strategic plan—every aspect of it.  Use the insights you’ve gleaned from the data, and the expertise, experience, and knowledge of your team and Board (if you have one) to help you. 

Do your current vision and mission statements still make sense? Will your current business model allow you to operate – and thrive – in the same way going forward? Do you need to rethink the very fundamentals that once drove your organization?    

You will likely need to make some changes. These changes might range from minor to major. You may need to step outside of your comfort zone and be willing take bold steps forward. 

Key questions to consider when reviewing your strategic plan in this context are:

  • How might you reflect your learnings and experience of COVID-19 in your Strategic Plan?
  • What should you accelerate?  
  • What should you amplify?
  • What should you add?
  • What should you remove?

One of our clients had a long-term plan for AI and digitization.  They have now accelerated their digital transformation.  Another was taking an iterative approach to virtual care.  They have now amplified innovation in virtual care as a focal point of their strategic plan and are actively seeking private-public partnerships.  In the education sector, many of our clients had not made significant investments in their online learning platforms and approaches – until now.  They have been quick to add this as a key part of their business from all angles – technology, professional development, and curriculum and pedagogy. Finally, in the public sector, we have seen our clients remove impediments to flexible and remote work arrangements – something that, pre-COVID, they were finding difficult to implement. 

  1. Despite the Uncertainty, Develop Your Plan Now – Using Guiding Principles and Scenarios to Help You

While developing a 10-year, 5-year, or even 3-year plan in the middle of a crisis may seem unreasonable – this could also be the opportunity you need to engage in a thoughtful and relevant strategic planning exercise. Whether between leadership and the Board, or with the assistance of an outside consultant, strategic planning does not have to wait until the right moment or even the conclusion of your previous strategic plan.  

Begin the planning process by establishing guiding principles to help you as you develop your plan.  These principles could include how you will make decisions – and can be the filter by which you evaluate your planning team’s ideas.  This will also be helpful when you share your plan with your community – allowing you to be transparent about how and why decisions were taken.

In times of uncertainty, scenario planning is a very effective tool.  Ask yourself, what are the possible future scenarios we see, and which are the most probable given what we know now? 

Keep your guiding principles and the probable future scenarios top of mind as you develop your strategic plan.  

As a part of your planning process, it will be important to step back and evaluate your organization through the lens of the plan itself.  In our methodology, we often do this in the ALIGN step where we partner with our clients to develop the Tactical Plan that underpins the Strategic Plan. How will you achieve the goals and strategic priorities you have stated in your plan? Will you need a new structure? Will you need additional capabilities that you didn’t need before? Are your processes appropriate going forward? 

  1. Set Yourself Up for Successful Execution 

As management guru Peter Drucker said, “Plans are only good intentions unless they quickly deteriorate into hard work”.  We’ve learned that a key ingredient for successfully transitioning from planning to execution is appropriately bringing in those stakeholders (e.g. frontline team members, clients, donors etc.) who will be important in implementing the plan during the planning process. In this virtual world, this can be tricky – read our blog on staying connected with your stakeholders to learn more.

As Churchill said, don’t waste a crisis. Harness the imagination, experience, and tenacity of your team to lean into this situation (and come out if it), with a bold vision and plan for the future – one that identifies, understands, and mitigates the risks, challenges, and uncertainties, while seizing opportunities and remaining optimistic.

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  • The emphasis on Strategic Management was important to us, since we didn't want a plan that sat on the shelf after several months of strategic thinking. I found that Berlineaton didn't come to our organization with a preconception of what our strategic plan would look like, but they made an authentic effort to understand the people in our community and be in tune with its ethos, its goals and its people. They gained trust and confidence and continue to work with us on the implementation of our tactical plan.

    Head of School in Victoria,

    British Columbia

  • I have engaged Berlineaton over the years to support a few different initiatives. I have found they bring very strong skills and tools in the areas of strategic planning, change management, facilitation, problem solving, project management, engagement management and team building.

    Associate Deputy Minister,

    BC Government

  • Your efforts in guiding the robust planning process that has resulted in UCC’s Strategic Directions were quite simply extraordinary; your partnership was integral to any success achieved. Thank you. I hope you are as proud of the final product as we are.

    Sam McKinney, Head of School,

    Upper Canada College

  • Overall, I would highly recommend Berlineaton for anyone seeking superior results in the field of facilitated, team-based process improvement that blend a focus on more task focused business results with the team, and overall people, engagement required to promote higher levels of ownership and execution success.

    Executive Director,

    BC Government

  • Berlineaton helped me work through staffing changes and a significant workload immediately following the COVID-19 outbreak. Our coaching sessions were very much appreciated, and I was able to re-focus on the strategic goals of our organization, while still leading my team and day-to-day operations. Being able to improve my leadership competencies and navigate the last few months was invaluable to say the least.

    Executive Director,

    Not-for-Profit Organization in British Columbia

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