Staying Strategic During Times of Crisis

I love a plan. I like to work within a plan. Plans make chaotic situations that are inevitable more manageable. There is nothing revolutionary about this thinking.

People who rely on planning are NOT immovable barriers, married to the status quo. I find change exciting. Change paired with a well-executed implementation strategy equals elation. Am I alone on this?

The COVID19 era has destroyed the solace that many of us get from strategic, mid-term plans. In some workspaces, each workday feels like a rapid-fire, scramble to roll out COVID responses. Asking questions like “How does this proposed intervention lend itself to the longer-term strategy?” results in the stare of death from colleagues.

We’ve developed euphemistic phrases to these questions such as “We just have to live in the unknowns right now”; which really means, just be quiet and react. If you are hearing these and many other responses designed to shut down questions, you are not alone.

It has been a struggle, but it is possible to work strategically during this and other crises. It is actually more important during uncertain times. “But how?”, you ask?

Avoid Mission Creep

This is simple. Minimize the number of new initiatives started solely for the funding. Many of us in the nonprofit world are facing a grim reality. Individual, corporate, and foundation dollars are being directed at COVID19 relief and associated causes. Organizations without a long-standing history with donors are either shut out or having to reinvent themselves.

Reinvention can be good for the soul but has to be authentic and mission-aligned in order to be sustainable. Be careful. Survival is essential but mission alignment is key to thriving.

Delegate “Rapid Response” to Others 

Responding to current events or in the case of 2020, a crisis, is necessary but does not have to be owned at the tactical level by every senior leader within your organization. In fact, it can’t be. Refocusing the attention of the entire C-suite on the microlevel, in the moment, responses will result in a lack of attention to macro-level strategy.

Instead, think about how to use the talents and strengths of the entire team. Can someone from middle management do research and align your organization’s policies and procedures with industry standards? Can the communications associate draft messaging that conveys the organization’s COVID19 policy and operating status? Small organizations that take a top-down approach and fail to involve the full team will result in your highest-paid employees focusing on a series of tactical, short term implementations.

Expand Your Plan, Do Not Abandon It

My organization started a strategic planning process at the beginning of our fiscal year. Beginning strategic planning in October 2019 and responding to a global pandemic in March 2020 was confusing. This is of course an understatement and true. What do you do?

First, take a breath. Next, ask yourself and your team a few questions.

1.    Are the established objectives still relevant? 

2.    Are they broad enough to accommodate the necessary short term, crisis planning? 

3.    What strategies and tactics need to be added to address COVID19?

The best pieces of advice I can give in this situation is:

1.    Don’t forget that you have a plan for the future.

2.     Review your plan and make sure the team has been as innovative as the time calls for.

Learn, Innovate, and Iterate

Last year, I wrote about updating legacy programs but never have I ever managed a legacy program during a pandemic and been thrust into sudden change because the program cannot operate in its traditional format. Thanks, 2020 for the gift of mandatory change and innovation.

For many of us, the portal opened as a necessity and a means of survival but nevertheless, the opportunity to innovate has arrived. 

Try piloting a couple of new ideas that need to be refined in order to be adopted long term. Avoid expending time and energy on one-time activities, but don’t be afraid to try new things that you want to be a part of your long-term implementation plan.

Most importantly, remember that decisions made out of fear or extreme caution have very little sticking power. Balance logic with boldness.

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