In the waning days of World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill joined with President Franklin Roosevelt to seize a unique opportunity. The devastation caused by the war, and the unprecedented cooperation exhibited by the Allies to end that horror, set the stage for wholesale change in international relations, the two men believed.
In pitching the United Nations to other leaders and nations, Churchill frequently used a phrase that dates back to the patron saint of organizational opportunism, Machiavelli.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
As the COVID crisis continues to unfold, today’s leaders should keep that wisdom in mind. We have all learned from the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Hopefully, our response to those challenges has built significant leadership equity with our stakeholders. Forward-looking leaders are already considering ways to leverage that capital to improve their organizations – both now and in the post-pandemic world.
Perhaps the pandemic’s most important lesson is that thoughtful leaders can make good decisions with less than optimal amounts of information. At the outset of this crisis, leaders, managers, and employees were all flying blind. We didn’t know what the day held, let alone the prospects for the quarter or fiscal year. We were miles outside our collective comfort zone.
Leaders were forced to make the best decisions possible and open their minds to new approaches. Team members had to adapt to new ways of working, some of them uncomfortable.
Based on this experience, we’ve changed our thinking on several issues at my company, Capital Investment Advisors. For example, we’ve expedited our plans to expand the use of technologies to improve the client experience and boost the firm’s operating efficiencies. Pre-COVID, this initiative would have been subject to (even) more data collection, study, and leadership chin-stroking. But the fact is, we have enough knowledge and experience – some of it forced on us by the pandemic – to move ahead with confidence. So, systems that were set to deploy in 2022 will now go online next year.
COVID also forced leaders and their teams to confront long-held biases and preferences that were holding back change. As we faced existential threats posed by the pandemic, it was no longer acceptable to dismiss new ideas based on discomfort or tradition. Remote work is the perfect example. Thousands of businesses that previously rejected that option are now humming right along with some (or all) of their team members working from home.
Pre-pandemic, I was not a fan of remote meetings. But even though our team has returned to COVID-protocoled offices, we have continued to hold some internal meetings on Zoom. Why? Because we have learned that digital get-togethers are sometimes more efficient than in-person meetings. We also expect many of our clients to continue the pandemic-inspired practice of meeting with their advisors remotely.
Other organizations were prompted by the pandemic to act on long-considered but difficult initiatives. Many businesses have re-aligned their talent by releasing under-performers or eliminating functions. Some retailers who shortened their hours during the pandemic may stick with their new schedules as a way to lower costs.
The COVID-19 has taken a heartbreaking toll on our nation and the economy. There is no silver lining to a catastrophe of this magnitude. If there is any way to come out of this situation better and stronger, we must take advantage of that opportunity. We owe that to all our stakeholders.
The pandemic has dealt us a new hand. If your leadership team has successfully navigated the crisis, you have a nice pile of chips in front of you. Don’t take them off the table. It’s time to play.