Building a COVID-19 Steering Group

Strategy dialogues with Kanvic Consulting

  • Video   |
  • 17 July, 2020

In the second of Kanvic's strategy dialogues on the Coronavirus crisis, director of strategy Deepak Sharma discusses the importance of organising right to navigate through the crisis. He explains the critical role of the COVID-19 Steering Group in transitioning from the rapid response setup that was appropriate for the first stage of the crisis to the need to now adapt and advance. Deepak also highlights the key roles within the COVID-19 Steering Group and the desirable character traits.

Alex:

Hello and welcome to Kanvic Consulting’s second strategy dialogue on navigating the coronavirus crisis. My name is Alexander Baatz and today, I am again joined by Deepak Sharma, cofounder of Kanvic Consulting. So Deepak, since we last talked, a lot of things have been happening. Germany has been opening up its economy. How are things in India?

Deepak:

Hello Alex, certainly things are looking different now. India has gone from lockdown 4.0 to unlock 1.0 with most businesses allowed to open but we are still far from flattening the curve.

Alex:

That's good that economies are starting opening up again, bearing in mind that there has to be a balance between controling the pandemic on the one hand and not risking too many lives on the other hand, allowing people to earn a livelihood which is difficult as it is.

So, when we think about the businesses, looking back at our last discussion, we talked about those three time horizons, the act, adapt and advance phases. Let's focus today a little bit more about how people and businesses can actually execute on those strategies.

Deepak:

Prioritising across three-time horizons of act, adapt and advance is the first step towards navigating successfully through this crisis. But the real challenge lies in relentless execution because we are operating under a thick fog of uncertainty.

The first step towards executing effectively is setting up the right team. The question is: how does one succeed in doing that?

On one side, in a typical organisation, we have functional specialisations. But these business as usual teams are not sufficient for this novel coronavirus crisis.

On the other hand, businesses set-up crisis management teams as COVID-19 hit. And this was good during the Act phase of the crisis where they help in setting-up work from home, ensuring safety of employees and customers, and stabilising the cash flow of the business. But they are not fit for the purpose of Adapt and Advance phases. 

What we need now is a COVID-19 steering group which can frame issues, model scenarios, design roadmaps and build progress tracking mechanisms. 

Alex:

That's a good point you make Deepak about rethinking the team composition. Let's take it a little bit deeper and try to understand what is really needed in these teams, what are the skills, how do you go about setting this up ?

Deepak:

Businesses should first realise that going through the adapt phase is like running a marathon which may go on for the next 9-12 months and perhaps longer. 

Given that background, there are four key roles that are required in the COVID-19 steering group and these are trends observer, scenario planner, roadmap designer and progress monitor.

Now let us talk about scenario planner. In a business as usual case, we will have 1-3 year strategic plans based on quite stable assumptions. But we are in a different situation now. So the scenario planner helps in seeing through the fog of uncertainty by framing the right questions, modelling scenarios and evaluating competing priorities. 

Alex:

That's interesting Deepak. Can you give us a little bit more insight on what traits you would be looking for?

Deepak:

There are three things which are very important for this team to have. One, comfort with uncertainty. Second, action orientation. And third, mental flexibility.

We are all aware that there is a lot of uncertainty not only on the public health side but also on its emerging economic impact. So this team requires people to not look for quick and definitive answers but frame issues as questions and build multiple views of the future. 

Second we cannot wait until full clarity emerges, therefore this team should have an ability to act even in the face of incomplete information. 

Finally, all actions might not produce desired results, so the team should have the mental flexibility to drop those ideas which do not work and adapt to the new realities on an ongoing basis. 

Alex:

What you are saying reminds me of the start-up I worked in where you don't know what is going to happen in the near future, in the long-term, and you are constantly asking yourself if you are doing the right thing, testing the hypothesis and you really have that flexible mentality there as well.

What I am wondering is how that applies to more traditional businesses and what advice you would give?

Deepak:

The established companies have very different culture and mindset compared to start-ups. But this situation requires some of the traits the start-ups have. For example, asking continuous questions about their business model, applying test and learn approaches and dropping ideas quickly if they do not work.

This is possible to bring in an established company and one way to do it could be that leaders should not shy away from bringing external talent to bring that kind of mindset shift.

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