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What is your mid-term mark for leveraging COVID?

If you had to give yourself and your organization a mid-term mark (four months in) for how powerful you have been in leveraging the COVID era, what would it be?

Based on my observations, from supporting several companies and teams in the last few months, you could be in one of three spaces:

  1. Hoping to survive COVID,
  2. Trying to stay productive,
  3. Excelling and taking your business and culture to a new level.

I am sure most if not all companies went through some degree of survival mode in the beginning when the business and economic reality of COVID hit. At first, some leaders were in denial, brushing off the severity of the pandemic. Other leaders expressed hope that it would simply go away, even when there was mounting evidence that the epidemic was spreading globally and here to stay.

I would like to believe that most leaders were able to collect themselves, think rationally and strategically and move on to a more productive space.

Unfortunately, I saw some leaders who didn’t and remained in panic and reactive mode.  They continued to make panicky decisions such as: freezing all budgets across the board without distinction; stopping all corporate programs – “run the business” and “improve the business” without exception; and laying off as many employees as possible to mitigate short term risk, without any enlightened regard for longer-term consequences.

Some companies seem to still be in that space today after four months. What a waste of energy and time!

Other leaders pride themselves on the fact that they quickly and efficiently shifted their entire workforce to a virtual work mode from home. In many cases, this shift was an admirable logistic undertaking given the size and geographical spread of their workforce.

Some companies are used to working virtually; they have the platform and technology to do so. However, for some companies working from home is an entirely foreign concept. In one case, employees literally unplugged their desktop computers (not laptops) and took them home via Uber.

The physical move to home was no small task for many. And then, establishing a virtual routine of productive business performance and customer service is also an admirable accomplishment.

Unfortunately, many leaders stopped there, settling for uninterrupted productivity.  As long as they could continue to provide the same services (or close) that they were offering pre-COVID virtually and uninterruptedly, they were content.

In one case, the CEO of a large regional division (which was faring well in virtual mode) told his executives to put on-hold all improvement and transformational programs for the time being, because as he put it, “They are ‘excessive’ during these challenging days.”

I believe this CEO’s mindset is quite common these days, and most companies feel that staying productive is a high enough mark.

The companies that inspire me most are those who quickly passed the first two spaces and then pushed themselves to the next level.

One CEO told his leaders to “discard COVID as an excuse.” His words were blunt, but he succeeded in setting the bold expectation of continuing to take the business, that was already on a path of transformation, to the next level – full speed ahead, without reservations.

Another CEO of medium size lighting company with the same mindset launched the most significant improvement programs his company has ever had focussing on many critical areas, including Sales, Production, R&D, and Marketing. By doing so, he increased productivity, effectiveness, results, and impact beyond the best months pre-COVID. His company will never be the same.

In fact, the two CEOs and other leaders who took bold initiatives believe that COVID is not a time to be cautious, think conservatively, hold back resources, or play safe. On the contrary, the COVID era is the perfect opportunity to rethink things, challenge the status quo, figure out approaches to truly work smarter, scale, and significantly improve processes and ways of doing business. Actions not merely to survive or overcome a tough epidemic but to generate lasting breakthroughs in their business.

Much has been written about the influence of COVID on businesses, and much more will be written over time. But when all is said and done, what are you really going to learn and take forward from the COVID era?