Updates from Chicago Booth

How to lead organizations through the COVID-19 crisis
By Gregory D. Bunch and Tom Gaines – Experts say they have no idea how the COVID-19 crisis will play out. Our usual ways of life have been disrupted, and we have all been thrust into a world in which intelligent and reliable predictions are difficult to make. We have been left questioning our basic assumptions, with very little sense of what will happen from day to day, let alone next week or next month.

Many organizations—from big corporations to nonprofits—suddenly find themselves facing existential threats. Facilities have been shut down, supply chains have been disrupted, and demand has collapsed. While this is all officially temporary, many organizations will not make it through the crisis.

The warfare analogy has been used by politicians, public-health officials, and the media, so it makes sense to look to military strategy for a sense of how to navigate. Military thinkers have described the battlefield as a VUCA scenario—volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. We—an entrepreneur, and an executive officer with US Army Special Operations Command—have been working to translate these VUCA insights to a civilian setting, to help leaders think strategically during times such as these.

The process Major Gaines followed that night consists of three simple steps: get your people and yourself to safety, put your people to work, and enter your decision space. It’s only when leaders have done these three things that they can begin to focus on strategic thinking. These steps provide the groundwork for effective decision-making.

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Strategy involves addressing primary and secondary questions. The first questions for a business to answer in normal times include: How do we grow, and, how do we win? But in moments of existential threat, secondary questions take priority: How do we defend? How do we stay alive so that we can win in the future?

This is a time to focus on defense first. This three-step process can help leaders improve the likelihood that their organizations will survive. Even if you have already taken one or two of the steps on your own, it’s important to keep the whole framework clearly in mind. more>


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