CXO Leadership

Working on Strategy During a Pandemic

Working on Strategy During a Pandemic

It is now September 2021 and we are not where we are supposed to be. This should be post-pandemic; however, the delta variant and the unvaccinated masses have conspired to return us to the throes of the pandemic. Instead of “back to (the new) normal” we are now back to contingency planning and watching the numbers with anxiety.

The challenge is that we’ve spent the last 18 months mostly working on managing the pandemic, planning to refocus on our strategic issues when the pandemic gives us a breather. The breather isn’t coming any time soon, so we have to find a way to focus on strategic issues even while managing through the day-to-day.

How do we do this, especially considering that our teams are burned out and exhausted?

First, recognize that working on strategic issues represents a break from working on the pandemic. Working on any other project is a break from pandemic-related work! That can make it *fun*. As you head into strategic planning or return to strategic projects, celebrate the difference between doing that work and fighting the fire that is the pandemic. The work can be more satisfying in that it can result in a strategic or business advantage for your organization, rather than simply helping you survive the pandemic.

Second, recognize that this work will take longer. People are busy. There’s still the pandemic work, which is unpredictable. And outside of work, there is still uncertainty in our personal lives. Child care or elder care is still hard to come by. Parents are sending their kids back to school with the specter of the delta variant threatening school closures and quarantines. Adjust timelines and deliverables to account for these uncertainties. Build flexibility into planning.

Third, leverage what we learned in the pandemic to be more agile around strategic planning and projects. The need to be agile during the pandemic resulted in us making decisions more quickly and executing in a more effective manner. What techniques did we use to do that, and can we integrate those techniques into our strategic projects?  For example, things as simple as daily virtual calls to check in on progress, or leveraging collaboration software to brainstorm ideas really helped us be effective during the pandemic. Let’s continue to use them going forward.

Finally provide relief to your key players from pandemic-related work by being more intentional about that work that you assign them. During the pandemic all-hands-on-deck approach, we asked our key resources to do tasks that would normally be performed by less skilled individuals. For example, when my university went to teaching and working remotely, we asked virtually our entire IT organization to provide end-user support because the need was so high.

We literally had network engineers and data architects supporting our faculty and staff getting set up for remote work and teaching. This was pretty common, and most organizations have ended that practice, as it’s no longer necessary. But there are probably pockets of this behavior occurring, so find it and intentionally stop it, thereby freeing up your critical resources for strategic initiatives.

Hopefully these tips will help you prepare to come out of the pandemic when that actually happens!

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Helen Norris

Helen Norris, Chief Information Officer, Chapman University

Helen Norris is the Chief Information Officer at Chapman University. She has almost 30 years’ experience working in IT including several years in the private sector in a variety of industries including advertising and consumer products. M... More   View all posts


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Helen Norris


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