How to Set New Strategic Goals to Survive COVID-19

by Stacey Barr

Last year’s strategic direction is irrelevant now. Our organisations need new goals to survive through and thrive beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

Flowers growing through a barren landscape. Credit:

The world’s COVID-19 responses, such as lock downs, social distancing and working from home, have certainly put the economy into a downturn that very few of us have experienced first-hand. But those responses have also unintentionally created some unanticipated personal experiences that are worth noticing.

Some of those experiences might just be the silver lining of this crisis. Slowing down. Less stress. Cleaning and decluttering. Exercising more. Gardening and home cooking. Less time in traffic. Clearer skies.

However temporary they might be, these experiences are giving us a glimpse of living differently. And perhaps they inspire us, like nothing has been able to before, to create a better world after COVID-19.

[There are some experiences, also, that might not lead to a better future. Hoarding is one example. But we won’t dwell on these.]

In the same way that fractals exist in nature’s systems, like ferns and trees and ice crystals and river systems, fractals might also exist in human systems. If they do, then the unanticipated personal experiences triggered by COVID-19 might just make sense at the larger scale of organisational experience too.

My thoughts about this correlation, which I share with you below, are very emergent and not ratified. But I share them with you in the hope it might offer one way to think beyond, and more deliberately about, the kinds of goals our organisations should focus on now. Even more so, to help you find new goals that will lead to a stronger future after COVID-19 has had its time.

You already appreciate, I’m sure, that these thoughts are just one possible framework for finding focus in a business environment that none of us have had to navigate before. It’s not easy to predict or plan through this. Thusly, surviving COVID-19’s economic crisis is not as simple as cutting costs and letting employees go. It’s not as simple as pivoting to new delivery modes or new markets. And there is no expert with the answers that are just right for you.

We need to think together, then decide individually, which new goals matter for our own organisations. So, I hope the following offers you one more thinking tool, to move you forward in at least some useful way:

Personal Experience: Cleaning behind our fridge, our garden shed, the top shelf of our cupboards.

Organisational Equivalent: Eliminate or reduce waste from business operations, like bureaucratic hoops, inventory and low-value tasks.

Prompts to Set New Goals:

  • What are the obvious areas of wasted time in your organisation?
  • What tasks or processes are done that aren’t necessary for surviving through and thriving beyond the crisis?

Personal Experience: Decluttering our linen cupboard, the utensils drawer, the filing cabinet.

Organisational Equivalent: Stop whatever is not core business, draw attention and focus to core business as the priority.

Prompts to Set New Goals:

  • What is the core business implied by your organisation’s mission?
  • Which business processes deliver your core products or services to customers?
  • Which business processes directly support and enable your core business?

Personal Experience: Exercising more.

Organisational Equivalent: Work on the business (not just in it).

Prompts to Set New Goals:

  • Which change projects are vital to survive through and thrive beyond the crisis?
  • What are the most vital, and observable, results these change projects must deliver?

Personal Experience: Home cooking, teaching our kids to bake.

Organisational Equivalent: Rely more on internal capabilities.

Prompts to Set New Goals:

  • How well are the right people matched to the right jobs (based on their passion, energy and skill)?
  • How much are you outsourcing that can be done well by the people you already have?
  • How agile are your people to switch up the way they work, and the results they contribute to?

Personal Experience: Shopping within our local suburb and supporting our local businesses.

Organisational Equivalent: Buy local.

Prompts to Set New Goals:

  • What do you need for delivering your core services or products, and how much of this can you get from local suppliers?
  • What do your local suppliers offer than might help you switch delivery modes?

Personal Experience: Deeper one-to-one connections.

Organisational Equivalent: More personalized customer care.

Prompts to Set New Goals:

  • Who are your most important (e.g. most loyal or most profitable) customers?
  • What impact or results do they now most need from your organisation’s services or products?
  • What is the best way you can support your most important customers, even if they’re not buying from you right now?

Personal Experience: Simpler living, like gardening and DIY projects around the house.

Organisational Equivalent: Spending less, and only on things that help us survive.

Prompts to Set New Goals:

  • Which of your suppliers are the most important to you in the longer term?
  • What do you most need from them right now, and how well have your articulated that to them?
  • What resources have you traditionally purchased, that you can find internal alternatives for, that will take less out of your cash flow?

Personal Experience: Slowing down, less rushing, less stress, and maybe having enough time to feel a little bored.

Organisational Equivalent: More lead time to meet milestones.

Prompts to Set New Goals:

  • Is taking pressure of your existing employees a priority right now?
  • Do you need to create some space for course-correcting through the unknown?
  • Which results are more important for employees to focus on than hitting targets and meeting tight deadlines?

Personal Experience: Less pollution, few traffic accidents, less time on the roads.

Organisational Equivalent: Reduce unwanted impact on people and the planet.

Prompts to Set New Goals:

  • How can you tell (or find out) if working from home is more or less productive than working in the office?
  • What are the results that are most important for employees to deliver on, and how can you know they are being delivered?
  • How much can CO2 emissions reduce from continuing remote working practices in your organisation?
  • How engaged are people in working remotely?

Personal Experience: Paying more attention to the little things, noticing more, even if it was already there.

Organisational Equivalent: Monitoring the details that matter, with more care and attention.

Prompts to Set New Goals:

  • What would happen if you measured the new goals you set for surviving through  and thriving beyond COVID-19?
  • If you only measured the new goals you set, and a few existing vital business-as-usual measures, how can you streamline the process of implementing and using those measures?

Because these thoughts are still emergent, I would love and appreciate your discussion about them and your contributions to them.

What are the goals that matter now, in your organisation, to survive through and thrive beyond COVID-19?
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  1. Fabulous article and the parallels are brilliant! I learn so much from you! Thanks and hugs!

    Hoping you, Claire, and all your loved ones are safe and well!

    Warmly, Nila

  2. Wesley Ykema says:

    Article from FEE (a US-focused organization) on statistical communication and measurement errors in COVID and public policy more broadly:

    • Stacey Barr says:

      A great point, Wesley. Most data isn’t up to scratch when it comes to accuracy and precision. That we can realise this, accept it, and try hard to account for it in our decision making is the skill that needs more attention. Data and measurement errors are often too costly and complicated to fix, so we must learn to work with them.

      On the flip-side to the point made in the article you linked to, there is a good illustration of what happens when we fail to use contextual information to helps us make sense of data or measures with inherent errors. One suggestion in the article was that “they would have died anyway” and so COVID-19 is not causing those deaths. Contextual information that would have led to the author possibly drawing a different conclusion is a comparison between daily deaths before the impact of COVID-19 and after. Clearly, in many countries around the world, COVID-19 has dramatically increased the number of deaths per day. The % of hospital capacity used and the stress on burial operations are also part of the context for interpreting the severity of COVID-19 based on its imperfect metrics.

      Most of us already know that trends and patterns in variability often can be more accurate than each measure value, which is another reminder not to throw the baby (insights) out with the bathwater (imperfect data).

  3. Harald Matzke says:

    very useful way of thinking. Maybe too much to digest. I need to come back to the article and make more thoughts about it.
    I fully believe that we need to rethink the way we do business. For me personally this was crystall clear before the crisis, but now we have a unique chance to convince more people.
    As a society we need most to care about our basic infrastructure called “Earth”. So I think we need to take the CO2 emissions serious. The climate crisis will stay much longer than Covid-19.
    I love the analogy of cleaning inside the house and garden and do the same within the business. There are so many “we do it because we done it like this the last 10 years” without even thinking about it.
    Thanks for a lot of inspirational thoughts Stacey.
    Regards from Baiermühle in Germany

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Harald thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels the Earth impacts are important and COVID-19 might be the springboard to take it more seriously. Great to hear you’re well. Will catch up with you soon.

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