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COVID-19 Strategic PivotGuest Post by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

When dealing with chaos caused by the pandemic, leaders must act decisively and quickly. There has been an uptick in both the rate and complexity of problems, which include employee difficulties working from home, supply chain disruptions, and cancelled orders. A COVID-19 strategic pivot may be necessary to keep a firm grip on new and future problems.

These five steps can help you adapt and plan for the new abnormal and will help steer your company toward thriving, not just surviving, these troubled times.

1. Reassess Business Model Assumptions

Reassess your assumptions about the company’s business model.

For example, a manufacturing startup faced the new problem of selling its high-tech products. They didn’t have trouble selling before the pandemic because they were known for high quality.

However, as the pandemic took hold, their customers had to clear several new hurdles before approving a purchase: Accounting departments were demanding lower-cost options and were demanding proof the products brought sufficient ROI.

However, the startup business model focused on innovation, it didn’t offer a direct ROI measurement tool. Due to this, some customers were now choosing cheaper alternatives. By reassessing their business model assumptions and customer needs, they were able to make necessary adjustments to their strategy.

Reassessing business model assumptions is crucial, because it’s too easy to fall for dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases. These mental blindspots impact all areas of our lives, from health to politics and even shopping. We need to be wary of cognitive biases in order to make wise decisions about our businesses and avoid strategic planning failures.

2. Gather Critical Internal Information

Ask department heads to gather internal information critical to the business strategy. This includes feedback from direct reports on ways their department’s goals, structure and customer relationships support goals and what needs to be revised. Ask them to challenge assumptions based on each of the following scenarios:

  • Scenario one: A vaccine with over 90% effectiveness would be found by Spring of 2021, and the pandemic will mostly be over by Spring of 2022
  • Scenario two: A vaccine would be found by Spring of 2022, and the pandemic would mostly be over by Spring of 2023
  • Scenario three: A vaccine more effective than 50% would not be found, just like we haven’t found a vaccine more effective than that for the flu

3. Go On a (Virtual) Retreat

Conduct a two-day COVID-19 Strategic Pivot retreat. Spend Day One on broad strategy and Day Two on adapting operational strategy.

Since the high-tech manufacturing startup was focused on innovation pre-pandemic, its team had a hard time accepting the new reality of marketplace demands. The retreat helped them come together as a team to squarely face the new reality and figure out how to work together to make a successful pivot.

In another company–a late-stage SaaS startup with over 500 employees—we addressed the fact that employees were experiencing “Zoom fatigue” and work-from-home burnout. The key is to remember that such problems originate from much more than just burnout. They identified the following issues:

  • Mental health challenges brought about by the pandemic
  • Pragmatic challenges related to COVID, such as juggling work with caring for family members
  • Social isolation
  • Changes in routine
  • Loss of outside hobbies, entertainment, and forms of exercise
  • Inadequate work-from-home office setups
  • Poor virtual communication and collaboration skills
  • Missing the sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose that work previously provided

Simply providing funding for home office setups or allowing flexible working hours won’t address all these issues. During the retreat, they realized they must also facilitate professional development in effective virtual communication and collaboration, as well as emotional and social intelligence.

4. Operationalize the New Strategy

On Day Two of your retreat, focus on operationalizing the strategic changes to the business model. Address potential threats and opportunities for different future scenarios. Revise the new strategy from Day One, if needed. Remember that future scenarios should include the three futures outlined above, as well as different possible economic recovery scenarios.

Here’s how one startup seized a pandemic opportunity: An enterprise data analytics startup identified a way to secure promising client accounts held by several competitors.

The startup’s leadership team noted that most competitors brushed off concerns about COVID. They decided to woo these competitors’ clients by changing strategy to show the steps it took to become pandemic proof—in stark contrast to competitors. The startup successfully converted a surprising number of new customers.

5. Implement and Check Regularly

At the close of the retreat, identify next steps for each new initiative, resources required, and establish metrics for success. Assign one leader to roll out the initiative and provide regular progress reports. Lastly, prepare a detailed report for the Board of Directors.

Hold regular status updates, ideally during weekly leadership team meetings. Evaluate the strategy’s progress during a half-day meeting a month after the retreat and adjust as required. Schedule another follow-up meeting after three months.


Gleb TsipurskyAn internationally-renowned thought leader known as the Disaster Avoidance Expert, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is on a mission to protect leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision-making strategies. A best-selling author of Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters, The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships, and Resilience: Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, he has over 550 articles and 450 interviews in Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, CBS News, and Time, among others. His expertise comes from over 20 years as the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, and over 15 years in academia as a behavioral economist and cognitive neuroscientist. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram, LinkedIn, and register for his free Wise Decision Maker Course.


Photo credit: Bigstock/iqoncept | How to Do A Successful Covid-19 Strategic Pivot

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The 7 Damaging Power Gaps Women Face and How Leaders Can Help
Give Me The Facts, Just the Facts

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