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A lot of corporate strategic plans have hit the shredder in the past month. It’s not, as some claim, that we’ll never be the same after the pandemic ends – humans usually display a strong tendency to revert to the norm – but in the short term significant changes seem likely.

Queen’s University marketing professor Ken Wong suggests companies look at three time periods as they plan. The first is the next few months, as companies struggle to survive. Then will come a period of reviving your business while people are still wary of the coronavirus and unwilling to take risks, particularly if other waves of infection strike. (Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb says we’ll be entering the 80-per-cent economy, as the older and vulnerable guard themselves.) The third period – Prof. Wong is a marketer, so he calls it thrive – will come when a vaccine is widely available and fears diminish.

In the first phase, money will be tight for many companies so cash flow will be critical. Fancy strategies will be out. It’s a case of putting the pieces together again.

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The second phase will resemble business as normal. But for retail, he expects more focus on sanitation and on price, since COVID-19 has accelerated people’s comfort level with e-commerce and they will more readily search for the best offer. Small stores in the past fought off e-commerce and big-box stores with human contact but consumers may not want to have someone hovering over them in stores, eager for a face-to-face chat. Restaurants may face capacity issues. New jobs could arise in delivery. He expects the competitive balance to tip to larger businesses, and so if you’re a smaller entity, consider scaling up.

Pat Bell, vice-chair of Pinnacle Renewable Energy, predicts that retaining key staff during this period will be difficult for some companies. “Those that come out of this with significantly more debt are at risk and will lose top talent to competitors that emerge from this with solid balance sheets,” he told the Alexander Whitehead consultancy for its report on COVID-19.

The coronavirus upended some supply chains, and Northwestern University professor Sunil Chopra told Kellogg Insight that larger companies may want to build regional supply chains so they can be less concentrated and more agile, while smaller firms should look to technology to find the flexibility to weather future supply chain disruptions.

In the third phase, after the vaccine, presumably fears will diminish. You need to figure out where the market will be in your specific area of operation at that time. But Prof. Wong warns not to assume it will be the same as in February, 2020. Tastes and pocketbooks will have changed.

You may want to layer on those three time periods a five-step postpandemic planning process set out in Harvard Business Review by Carsten Lund Pedersen and Thomas Ritter, both professors at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark. It starts by considering what position you can attain during and after the pandemic. Who are you in your market, what role do you play in your ecosystem, who are your main competitors, and where are you headed?

“We hear of many firms that are questioning their viability postpandemic, including those in the travel, hospitality and events industries. We also hear of firms accelerating their growth because their value propositions are in high demand; think of home office equipment, internet-enabled communication and collaboration tools, and home delivery services. Because of such factors, firms will differ in their resilience. You should take steps now to map your probable position when the pandemic eases,” they write.

Second, what is your plan for bouncing back? What must you do today to achieve your objectives tomorrow? Think broadly and deeply, and take a long view.

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Third, a step you might not otherwise consider, is how will your culture and identity change? “Will the ongoing situation bring your employees together or drive them apart? Will they see the organization differently when this is over? Your answers will inform what you can achieve when the pandemic ends,” they say.

Fourth, ponder what specific new projects you need to launch, run and co-ordinate. “The challenge is to prioritize and co-ordinate initiatives that will future-proof the organization. Beware of starting numerous projects that all depend on the same critical resources, which might be specific individuals, such as top managers, or specific departments, such as IT."

Finally, how prepared are you to execute your plans and projects? Are you ready and able to accomplish the projects you’ve outlined, particularly if much of your organization has shifted to remote work? Unsurprisingly they see vast differences in resources as well as speed and quality of decision-making that could be critical in determining winners and losers.

In the end, it boils down to Prof. Wong’s prescription: Survive, revive and then thrive.

Cannonballs

  • Seven months from now when you look back at this moment, what will you be thankful you decided to do today, asks marketer Roy H. Williams? He urges you to focus on making it easier for your customer to do business with you: “Think big but start small. Start with something you can do today.”
  • Spinning your wheels a bit these days? Digital marketer Andy Crestodina advises you to update every sales page on your website. He has a 10-point checklist that includes making sure paragraphs are short, creating content that is in-depth and answers top sales questions, having meaningful subheads, and showing faces of your people rather than stock photos.
  • Consultant Claire Lew says to dig beyond “how are you doing?” when talking to your remote workers. Try: “Given all the craziness and sadness in the world, how are you holding up?” Or: “What are you currently doing to sustain yourself? Have you been able to take time for yourself in any way?” Or: Are there any tasks or projects that seem more of a struggle these days?”

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