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Prioritizing in a Pandemic: Giving COVID-19 a Seat at the Strategy Table

Michelle Wolter profile picture

Contributors: Michelle Wolter

November 23, 2020

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As businesses closed their doors, restaurants switched to takeout-only, and schools made the leap to online learning, there became a new mantra among companies in response to the pandemic: anything COVID-related gets top priority.

That mindset remains unchanged as we head into 2021-only now, instead of being in reactive mode, we are armed with more data and experience to inform how we prioritize, strategize, take action, proactively. This is a shift from instinctual, pattern-based thinking to analytical, methodical thinking, or System 1 to System 2 thinking, says Bailiwick's VP of Sales and Marketing Michelle Wolter, summarizing the concepts introduced by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

We need both systems of thinking to effectively lead in the midst of a global pandemic, the likes of which have never been experienced before. "As I think about 2021, it's not only defense with COVID, it's offense as well," Wolter says. "It's not just, 'What do I need to do to protect people and keep people safe?' Now it's, 'Wait a minute, how can this actually be a game-changer for me? How can this create an opportunity for me to make the strategic decisions I wanted to make?' They have more intensity and priority because they're being wrapped in the tailwinds of a pandemic."

Here, Michelle Wolter weighs in on the strategies leaders should be prioritizing to not only survive, but thrive in a COVID world.

Accelerate, adapt, or die

Amidst all of the havoc the pandemic has wreaked, it may have done one positive thing for businesses; it has forced them to expedite innovation efforts that may or may not have been in the works for years. "COVID is an accelerator for things companies already wanted to do," says Wolter. "I think we're going to see companies growing revenue and investing in their businesses the way they want to, while also achieving the things COVID requires them to do."

Digital menu boards, contactless payments solutions, online ordering, and on-demand curbside pickup—it's all part of adapting to meet customers' needs for speedy and, more importantly, safe service. And if you don't take this demand seriously, your competitors, or perhaps even new entrants to your industry that may not exist yet, will lure your regulars with better solutions.

Think of it this way, says Wolter: "If [a business] doesn't have a scalable e-commerce platform, a really impressive online experience for shopping, an impressive delivery mechanism, tracking mechanism, and individualization mechanism, why would a customer put up with that if they don't have to?"

person standing on road with arrow markings pointing in different directions, decision making concept COVID-19 may have sped up the innovation process to give consumers more options to engage with their favorite brands.

Rethink your footprint to reach more customers

While retail giants like Target were already on the path to buy online, pick up in store (or BOPIS) pre-COVID. The pandemic has only heightened the expectation from consumers that they can fill up their carts online from the safety of home, and then pick it up curbside... usually within a matter of hours. "COVID made this a demand, not a ‘nice-to-have,'" says Wolter.

This has prompted nearly every industry—from grocery chains and big-box retailers to clothing boutiques, jewelry shops, and pharmacies—to rethink the perhaps most overlooked part of their brick-and-mortar footprint: the parking lot. "It's free. It's already sunk costs for their business and it's square footage they can use as an asset however they want," Wolter says. "I think retailers and restaurants are viewing their parking lot not as a fixed asset of concrete, but as a platform to serve and delight the customer."

People eating outdoors Both full-service and quick service restaurants are taking advantage of their parking lot to keep serving the customer.

Fire a bullet, then fire a cannon

When it comes to following through on a strategy, it can be easy to fall into the "analysis paralysis" trap of overthinking, stalling any real action. We don't have that kind of time in the age of COVID. Rather than hemming and hawing over which concept is the best to implement, Wolter offers the advice of Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Great by Choice: fire a bullet, then fire a cannon.

"A bullet is really cheap, so fire a bullet, and if it hits the mark, pay attention. If it hits again, you've got something. Now go build a cannon and fire away," Wolter says, pointing to ideas that worked, like sneeze guards at many retail locations and Life Time Fitness's contactless temperature screenings, a technology the company can later repurpose when this safety measure is a thing of the past. "Companies need the ability to be quick to fire an inexpensive concept and accept it, regardless of the results. Get there, try it, fail fast or succeed fast, and then ramp up your engine and go after it."

Want to learn more?

  • Read: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnmen
  • Read: Good to Great and Great by Choice by Jim Collins

"Prioritizing in a Pandemic" is part of a series of three blog posts focused on running a business in the midst of the global pandemic. Stay tuned for upcoming articles on how COVID is impacting decision-making and fueling innovation.

Michelle Wolter profile picture Michelle Wolter is a senior leader, owner, and board member of Bailiwick. Michelle has been guiding our clients through the changing and complex world of IT and business leadership for 20+ years. During this COVID-19 era she is helping author Bailiwick's Return to Workplace (RTW) strategy, creating new solutions to help our clients respond to new COVID-19 challenges, and spearheading employee communications to ensure our Bailiwickers are informed and reassured at how we are taking care of them. Outside of Bailiwick she is an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas teaching an MBA course on storytelling in business. She is an avid traveler who is getting her wanderlust through virtual travel these days
Taylor Hugo profile picture Written By Taylor Hugo
Taylor Hugo is a freelance writer and editor, and owner of Taylor Hugo Creative, a content marketing agency based in Denver, Colorado.

Curiosity and creative problem solving.

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