A CEOs’ top challenge: Getting your arms around required changes

As businesses shift their operating systems to deal with COVID-19, what are the changes CEOs should keep for the long-term?

I’ve spoken with many CEOs in the past few weeks, and each is considering what changes they’ll need to make to their “operating system” — basically, the way things get done. Where do you start? How do you get your arms around this? It’s a lot to think about.

Here’s a model that might help:

Outside of purpose and values, what’s the most important starting point in your business? Start with your vision (where you’re going) and strategy (where you play and how you win). Do these need to change? I’d say that half of the CEOs I’ve recently spoken with are considering modifying their strategy. The underlying need that they’re satisfying for their customers may not have changed, but how they profitably address it might have. Get this nailed down and documented.

What behaviors will you reward (and tolerate) going forward? These will define your culture. Does it need to change? Perhaps not. However, I’ve talked with some CEOs who emphasized efficiency and succinct communications, for example, much more now than before. Make your thoughts on this explicit, gain alignment with your senior team and push it through the organization.

What resources and organizational design will be required in the new normal? Do you need as much office space? Do you want more working capital? Will IT investment be required? Now that you may have changed your workflow, does the same organizational design still facilitate it well, or do you need to make changes?

Every organization I have worked or talked with in the past month has changed its short-term planning process as well as its workflow. Every single one. What data are you looking at (perhaps daily) to project demand, cash and resources required? Have you thought about how this ties to your long-term planning and strategy? Will you make your workflow changes permanent? If so, what investment is required?

I bet you talk with your people more frequently right now. If not, they’re worried and confused, so pick up the pace. Some of this may be temporary, but this is a great time to consider what content and methodology you communicate. I’ve heard some wonderful practices that CEOs use to ensure their people are well informed. Why not stick with these same practices in the long term?

Have you changed what you’re measuring and holding people accountable for? If cash flow is the short-term measure of success, how are you measuring the components that influence it and making the performance metrics? Be careful not to lose site of the strategic components as you work through this tough period. If customer satisfaction, for example, was a lynchpin to your success, don’t drop it now — keep measuring it.

I hope you now look at your results weekly, if not daily, and course correct as necessary. You’ll get blown off course frequently and need to adjust. Your headwind may pick up velocity or, if you’re lucky, start to diminish. What does this mean for you?

You’re now back where you started. Does it still feel correct?

This is not intended to be a six-month endeavor. Gather your top people and have a spirited conversation about the questions that I posed and frame the desired changes. Take them one at a time in “sprint” fashion from the agile world and get them done quickly. This is no time to dither.

Categories: Business Insights, COVID-19, Management & Leadership