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COVID-19: from crisis management to strategic rebuilding

#NimbleVlog Season 01 Episode 09Since the start of physical distancing due to COVID-19, most businesses have been in crisis management mode. However, it is now critical to start focusing on strategic business rebuilding. That requires a different mindset. ORCHANGO’s president & co-founder Edmond Mellina shares an analogy to help promote the necessary mindset for this new phase of the drastic transformation we are all experiencing…


Reading time: 5 minutes

A few days ago, I watched Andrew Cuomo – the NY State Governor – being interviewed by Trevor Noah on the Daily Social Distancing Show. And during the interview, Cuomo used an analogy that I think is a perfect one to capture what was the necessary mindset over the past few weeks as every business was focussed on crisis management related to the COVID-19. Let’s listen to Cuomo…

“The expression, ‘Stone to stone across the morass’, right, how do you get across the morass? And that’s all we see right now is a morass in front of us. Stone to stone. You don’t have to figure out the whole path, just find the next firm stone to advance your progress. And that’s what we are doing. So, deal with the here and now, and then we’ll figure out the future when we actually see what the future is…”

So, stone to stone to go across the morass. That’s the essence of crisis management: one day at a time.

Of course, we are far from the end of the pandemic. However, it is very important now for businesses to move away from crisis management towards strategic rebuilding.

And based on how the next normal will look like, and also based the sector you are in, strategic rebuilding can take different forms: it could be merely tweaking of your existing strategy; or it could be a major pivot; and in some cases, it will mean completely rethinking your business.

To get into this next phase of the necessary transformation – strategic rebuilding – it’s important to switch analogy. And if Cuomo’s morass metaphor was perfect for the focus on crisis management over the past few weeks, the analogy I would use now for the next phase – strategic rebuilding – is that of a canoe trip.

I fell in love with canoeing when I first came to Canada in the early 90’s. And the part of a trip that I love the most is the morning, the early morning when you are in your tent and you wake up because of the beautiful sound of the loons. So you start to move in your sleeping back, every part of your body is painful. You open the zip of the tent and you sneak a peak outside to check the lake. And you don’t see anything because it is super foggy out there. You hear the loons, but you don’t see anything.

Anyway, you wake up, you prepare breakfast, you start to pack everything and you get going on the next leg of your journey. However, it’s still very foggy. Maybe a little less that what it was one hour ago when you woke up, At that time, the fog is not as dense as what it was when you woke up, but you cannot see very far: maybe 20 meters. However, you have an idea of more or less where you need to go, even if it’s not very clear. But you see 20 meters, so you can navigate these 20 meters. So let’s do that. After 20 meters guess what: you see another 20 meters. So you keep going. And after a while, the sun continues to rise, and now you see 30 meters, which is better. You have more visibility regarding the future. And eventually the sun will rise enough that you can see at the end of the lake. You know exactly how to navigate for the next while. Now, you have a path forward.

So right now, most businesses must see themselves as the canoeists in the fog starting to move away from the camp. We don’t know yet exactly how the next normal will look like. But we can navigate a few weeks at a time, guided by a general sense of where we need to bring our business based on various scenarios of how the COVID-19 pandemic can continue to unfold.

Which is why it’s a very good idea if you haven’t done so yet to engage into scenario-based strategic planning. Last week a group of executives I’m involved with circulated a very good guide to help companies engage into scenario-based strategic planning. So we are going to put the link below here. It’s an open source document that is COVID19-specific and that has been put together by a strategy consulting firm in the States called Trium. And I encourage you to check it out.

As I said earlier, we are not yet completely out of the crisis – so I’m sure that Andrew Cuomo’s morass analogy will continue to be useful as we get into the next immediate phase of the crisis which is Return to Work.

However, executives need to focus on rebuilding strategically their businesses. And to create the right mindset – to promote the right mindset for this new phase of the transformation, the canoe trip analogy is the one that is most useful in my mind. So, build some scenarios, think about what you need to do based on each of these scenarios and get going in the fog – 20 meters at a time.

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Headshot Of Edmond Mellina, ORCHANGO's President & Co-Founder

Edmond is ORCHANGO's president & co-founder.

He is internationally respected for his expertise in nimble change leadership and culture change. For the past 30 years, he has been executing strategic transformations, building agile capabilities, and advising clients across sectors in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

He is a former corporate transformation executive in drastically changing industries: CIO at Delta Hotels when Expedia disrupted the hotel business; and VP Corporate Development & General Manager USA for the technology business of Envoy Communication Group when design and marketing agencies started to become digital.

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