I am a water person and tend to think of life in those terms. As I have worked with executive teams on the challenges of the pandemic crisis, I’ve thought a bit about the differences between staying afloat and navigating through the currents. When a crisis hits, it is all about survival—or staying afloat. But even when their time and actions are focused on staying afloat, executive teams need think about the long-term. Where do they need to go? How do they navigate to stability? Executive responses to this crisis need to be shaped by navigating to what they see as their post-recovery end game.
The reason? As much as possible, survival plans should not cannibalize the very assets needed to gain long-term stability. That is easier said than done. This two-pronged problem was the focus of my closing keynote today at The 2020 OPEN MINDS Strategy & Innovation Institute, Strategy In A Crisis – Staying Afloat Vs. Navigating: Keys To Planning & Managing For Recovery.
I think a great analogy for this situation is the 2000 movie, Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks who plays Federal Express (now FedEx Express in the “real world”) pilot Chuck Noland. If you haven’t seen the movie, Noland’s plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean and he is left as the only survivor on a small island. His only survival assets are the island itself and some random FedEx packages. Over four years, Chuck ekes out a meager existence on the island and learns new skills using what he has on hand to survive, including making a fishing spear and learning to catch fish.
Executives have been feeling a lot like Noland recently. The pandemic crisis has us on our virtual islands. The prospect of current and future coronavirus infections looms. Protests and unrest are engulfing many cities. Operating residential facilities for consumers has not gotten any easier. Reopening other operations is difficult. We are pressed with the need to both survive and figure out how to get back to our previous stable financial footing.
All of this sounds straightforward: survive the crisis and plan to thrive after the crisis—but it isn’t. These are times that are lonely for executives who are developing those plans—keeping the team calm and productive, negotiating with payers and consumers, adjusting the plan as the situation changes (frequently), and working endless hours to do all of the above. And during all of this, they must acknowledge very little control over what will happen and when it will happen. This may be the time to use one other takeaway from Cast Away—finding your Wilson.
Remember Wilson? He is the speechless companion of Chuck Noland—the volleyball with a face imprinted in blood. More importantly, he was the sounding board as Noland coped with the stress and loneliness of the situation and helped consider the wisdom of the escape plan on a makeshift raft. Never have “leaders” been more essential than right now. Those leaders need to make sure they are thinking clearly and not overly exhausted or they will make bad decisions in this pivotal period. As executives plan their survival and success—and execute those plans—a sounding board is a powerful asset (even if it doesn’t talk back and give you advice).
The solution to those sustainability challenges is to assess where an organization is and how the market has changed—and then create a plan for where the organization needs to be from a mission and market perspective. The challenge for executive teams is to think differently. While the health and human service field has largely been exempt from traditional market forces, I think the recession that is likely in the post-pandemic period will change that. The government entities that purchase a large proportion of health and human services will be under extreme financial pressures and less likely to “preserve” the roles of long-standing provider organizations. They are more likely to use privatization, competitive bidding, and performance-based payment to gain efficiencies and better value.
For executive teams, a “marketing” focus has never been more important. I think there are three key elements:
- For each major service line, adjust the market positioning and its competitive advantage for the “new normal” market landscape ahead.
- Expand the use of a service line portfolio management process, monitor the performance of service lines, and be more prompt in making changes to service mix.
- Use a market-focused strategic planning process before developing budgets and investment capital—and use that strategy to prioritize organizational resources.
And be prepared for change. The pandemic and its economic aftermath are likely to change some of the fundamentals of the health and human service field. Successful executive teams will be the ones that take advantage of what is at hand in the new landscape. Noland finds a portable toilet washed up on shore and develops a plan to use it to build a raft, sail away from his island, and return to his previous life. Not the plan he likely envisioned, but he adapted to the reality of the situation.
For more on business development, diversifying, and strategic planning, check out these resources from The OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- Got Gatorade? And Other Plans For Business In The Era Of COVID-19
- Disrupt Your Own Business Before Someone Else Does
- Collaborations Demand ‘Proving Your Business Case’
- Forget The Sizzle – We Need New Technology Business Models & Business Cases
- Diversifying Your Revenue Streams: How To Successfully Launch A New Service Line
- How Are You Positioning Your Organization For The Changing Market?
- Taking The Risk On A New Service
- Sustainability Management = Portfolio Management
- Web Briefing: Strategic Planning For Sustainability
- A Chaotic Environment Demands Fluid Strategic Planning
For more on how to successfully navigate these changes and incorporate innovation into your organization’s strategy, stay tuned for tomorrow. And, for deep dives into strategy, our 2020 OPEN MINDS I/DD Executive Summit is tomorrow, Thursday, June 5 and our 2020 OPEN MINDS Children’s Services Executive Summit is on Friday, June 6. To look at the agendas and faculty, go to https://www.openminds.com/live/sessions/. Registration for both summits is included in your Elite-level OPEN MINDS Circle subscription. Other executives can register at https://openminds.regfox.com/the-2020-open-minds-strategy-innovation-institute?registrants.allAccessPass=AllAccessPass. And, you can follow us on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/open-minds-circle/) or Twitter @openmindscircle #OMstrategy.