Crisis of any kind can put us into a state of paralysis. It can feel like the corporate strategy we spent months on and the meticulous project planning that followed needs to be tossed out – baby and bath water.  And you are likely right.  Why? Because the future is and always has been uncertain, and no amount of strategic planning will change that.

If your strategy, however, honours its job to set clear strategic direction that is easily understood, and easy for teams to align to, then things are likely to feel less shattered in crisis. If you can remain grounded in the long game, then it is easier to keep your energy focused on what you need to change now.

As you’ll see with the following COVID client case studies, this kind of strategic direction is set with performance results, which are plain language statements that answer the questions, “What do we want to achieve?  What is the impact or outcome we want? What is our why and is it clear enough?

Client Case #1: Shifting quickly on the COVID Highway

The COVID Challenge

Early in 2020, I worked with my client, a Senior VP of a provincial government agency, and her leadership team to reflect on the recent 2019 shifts in the corporate strategy and then update their strategic direction (articulated by a small set of critical performance results linked on a visual map). The session clearly unified the team, helping them feel empowered and bought in.

A few weeks later, COVID hit, seemingly changing everything. My client called and asked me, “Can we discuss the results map in the context of our Recovery effort?”.  While most leaders were still heads-down in response mode, she was heads-up, curious about how her shifting present might impact the future.

So, we worked together to explore the question, “How does COVID impact our existing strategic direction?” In discussion, it became clear that the majority of the current performance results didn’t require much adjustment for the Recovery phase. Progress and improvement could be delayed (so targets needed to be adjusted), but what leaders wanted to achieve in the future remained the same. We did need to adjust the scope of a couple of the results, for example: changing “international” to “domestic”. We also discovered that one new performance result, which is very specific to the COVID recovery phase, needed to be added.

Once the strategic direction using performance results was re-set (this time because of COVID) the team easily identified the four most important results they needed to focus on and improve now.  They knew they had to keep their foot on the pedal if they hoped for a more resilient future.

The Payoff

Because performance results are focused on what we want to strategically achieve, free from fuzzy language and corporate jargon, it made having the change conversation during this crisis easier, clearer and faster. Team leads could quickly adjust where to focus resources for their recovery efforts and easily communicate in language everyone could understand, creating rapid buy-in and saving valuable time and money.

Client Case #2: Show me the money

The COVID Challenge

Within the initial weeks of pandemic lockdown, my client, a Senior VP of a national federal agency, was asked to immediately expand her organization’s mandate and channel funds to an intricate network of provincial, city and regional partners around the country. Not only was this initiative new to the organization and her role, she also had to find a way to distribute the funds quickly and efficiently to where it mattered most. Time was of the essence.

Already well-versed in leading with clear strategic direction using performance results, when this task fell to my client, she immediately knew what to do. She gathered a group of skilled leaders who were vested in making this funding process work, and together we developed a set of plain language performance results for the funding process.

The Payoff

My client’s strong strategic-thinking skills and experience in developing and leading with what had to be achieved (and not just done) guided the many internal and external stakeholders to keep focused on what mattered most.  She had what she needed to communicate to her Board, her Minister and her partners simply and consistently, while avoiding distractions and debates that can be all too familiar.

Crisis is never easy to succeed in, because it always requires change, so remember to keep things simple.  But that doesn’t mean simplistic.

Lead with questions:

  • Has what we want to achieve changed?  Or only how we will get there?
  • Has what we need to measure changed? Or has just the scope and definition of the measure changed?

Once you have results with meaningful recovery indicators, then you can more meaningfully turn to:

  • What are we doing that is still working?
  • What do we need to change, start or stop doing?
  • What are the skills and capabilities we need to deliver on this change?

Want examples of how to lead with Why more clearly? Check out this post titled “What is our why and is it clear enough?”