COVID-19 changed everyone’s business calculations in an evolutionary instant. Some businesses will perish. Some will survive, but barely. Some will thrive. What happens to your business may have already been determined, or it may be the result of choices you make now. Choose to confront the brutal facts of the current reality. Figure out if your business can and should survive. If so, manage through the short-term crisis tactically while paving the way to the future strategically.

“Unwavering faith that you can and will prevail with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of current reality.” – The Stockdale Paradox

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Attributed to Charles Darwin

Together, they suggest:

  1. Be honest with yourself and others about the facts of the current reality.
  2. Choose from your possible futures.
  3. Bridge the gaps tactically and strategically.

Be honest about the facts

Re-look at your 5Cs to figure out what has changed. Track the interdependencies. While COVID-19 is a health issue, it impacts almost everything else. How? Which are acute and temporary? Which are chronic and enduring?

Customers: First line, customer chain, end users, influencers.

Collaborators: Suppliers, allies, government/community leaders.

Capabilities: Human, operational, financial, technical, key assets.

Competitors: Direct, indirect, potential.

Conditions: Social/ demographic/ health, political/ government/ regulatory, economic, market, climate.

Pull all that together to understand changes in your internal strengths and weaknesses as well as external opportunities and threats. Crossing those yields your new leverage points and business issues. The existential question is whether you can leverage your revised strengths to take enough advantage of the revised opportunities to offset your revised weaknesses’ vulnerabilities to revised threats.

Choose from your possible futures

That assessment of your new leverage points and business issues informs your options. Can you and do you want to:

  1. Shut down the business and do something else?
  2. Jump-shift the business through a point of inflection?
  3. Retrench and set a new base for future growth?

Shutting down the business and doing something else may be the right choice. If others can serve your customers better than you can, let them. If your colleagues and collaborators can do better doing something else, let them. If you can be happier doing something else, let yourself do it. Just because the business was viable yesterday, does not mean it’s the best thing for anyone to be working on tomorrow.

If you’re at a strategic point of inflection, re-look at and jump-shift your strategies, culture, organization and operations all together, all at the same time as appropriate.

If you’re going to keep going, you have to respond to the changes and bridge gaps between where you are now and where you need to be.

Bridge gaps tactically and strategically

Normally tactics follow strategies. It’s flipped when managing through a crisis. In those cases, you need rapid iterations through:

  • Situational questions – what’s happening and where are we now?
  • Choose situational objectives and intent across physical safety, reputational, and financial issues – in that order.
  • Bridge gaps between the current reality and those objectives before going back to assess the new situation in a few minutes, hours, or the next day.

You have to do that first to get through the crisis.

The next challenge is to think through and start implementing future capability plans at the same time. Then think through ways to bridge from your existing capabilities to what you’ll need.

  1. Destination: Start with the possible future you choose. Determine the human, financial, physical, technical and operational culture, capabilities, and perspectives that will require.
  2. Current state: Do an honest assessment of the current state of those same human, financial, physical, technical and operational culture, capabilities, and perspectives.
  3. Gaps: Highlight the differences between future and existing states.
  4. Prune: Cut out people and programs that should not be part of your future so you can focus resources on those that should be.
  5. Develop: Build plans to invest in and develop those that can be part of your future.
  6. Recruit now: Determine which gaps to fill first from the outside and create plans to develop those new people after they start.
  7. Recruit later: Determine which gaps to fill later and when and how you will fill them.
  8. Other gaps: Determine how to fill financial, physical, technical and operational gaps.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #626) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.