Keep Your Company in Crisis Mode to Stay Competitive

Business leaders ready to return to normal are operating with a losing strategy that could put them out of business

Peter Newell


A cloud on a black background is superimposed over a US dollar bill.
Image: John Lund/Photodisc/Getty Images

In times of crisis, companies innovate out of necessity. When the crisis is over, the urgency to act wanes, and we come to operate under a new version of “business as usual.” But are all the new ways of doing business necessarily better than the old ways? And, more importantly, which new systems are only Band-Aids for persistent and serious injury?

The businesses that think everything will go back to “the way things were” are operating on a losing strategy that could put them out of business. Customer behaviors will have changed irrevocably; old markets will close, and new ones will open. The businesses that will thrive in this new environment are those that will continue to leverage the tools and processes they adopted during the crisis. They’ll be the ones to capture new opportunities and bounce back faster than the competition.

Here’s how to prevent the backward slide into “business as usual,” retain the right crisis-driven innovative processes, and ensure your organization can adjust to a world with new business rules.

Roadblocks to innovation

First, it’s important to understand why innovation is or is not taking root in your organization. Drawing from years of enterprise-level diagnostic work, we’ve identified several common innovation bottlenecks.

For instance, most organizations lack a comprehensive innovation system. Innovation happens in silos. Often, there isn’t a companywide buy-in; senior leaders can’t drive innovation on their own. If there is a lack of insight into activities underway, you’ll lose a crucial — and often difficult-to-achieve — level of support from the rest of the team.

The key is to start now, in the heat of the battle, by capturing the changes your organization is making — and the processes by which the impossible is being accomplished.

Personal judgment — not validated data — tends to drive decision-making. Because data remains in silos, decision-makers are left to count on their experience alone, which leads to poor decisions. Too little time is als0 spent properly curating problems and building processes. Increased emphasis on prototyping and experimentation is often done at the expense of properly understanding and curating the right problems to work on and at the expense of building systems for scaling solutions out of the innovation pipeline.

Start thinking long term now

With a bit of due diligence, your company can avoid these sticking points and remain competitive post-pandemic. The key is to start now, in the heat of the battle, by capturing the changes your organization is making — and the processes by which the impossible is being accomplished. Lay those changes out in a framework that mirrors how innovation flows through your organization to help you understand how they relate to one another and your organization’s mission.

Businesses possess the way forward already.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a new collaborative software platform, a new sales process, or a change so small you almost didn’t notice it. To properly assess every change you’ve made during the Covid-19 crisis for its effectiveness in the future and to maintain the innovation momentum you’ve achieved through this emergency, follow these five steps:

1. Record the pandemic processes you adopted.

This will involve expanding beyond your usual points of contact and talking to people throughout your organization. Focus on how you were able to leverage existing processes for repeatable success. For instance, was there a product line you modified quickly to deliver something new? Taking stock will help you see clearly the makeup of your innovation pipeline and where there are gaps to address.

2. Analyze and copy the system you are using now to solve problems.

For instance, were certain approvals delegated down to lower levels? Perhaps there were special conference calls set up to quickly resolve issues. In this case, pay particular attention to what levels of leadership are required to navigate blockers and impediments. It may help to consolidate these leaders into a permanent executive action team that regularly reports directly to your organization’s senior leadership. Use this to foster a centralized innovation reporting mechanism to leadership that keeps everyone on the same page about what changes are being made throughout your organization.

3. Capture the data used to make hard decisions during the crisis and map it to your innovation pipeline.

Did you find new sources of data within your organization or outside your organization that suddenly became more relevant? Are you using a new dashboard or special analytic product? Now is a good time to collect this data and, if possible, create a “dashboard” for the organization’s crisis/innovation portfolio. This will improve your ability to strategically communicate leadership intent across the organization as well as maintain awareness of project statuses and highlight any impediments to progress to the executive action team.

4. Look at your efforts to rapidly scale solutions.

Leaping the “Valley of Death” from a prototyped solution to a fully scaled one remains a significant hurdle for most organizations. Identify the things done during this crisis to improve the odds of success. What things were your organization able to scale in a short period of time? An insightful study of these will pay dividends in the future as your “case studies” for what works in the new normal.

5. Review your strategic communication campaign.

Were your internal and external comms an integral part of your survival through this crisis, designed to improve organizational awareness and understanding of the resources and tools available for innovating? Or did it get lost in the chaos of the pandemic? What messages helped generate new resources or reinforce the innovation culture your organization is trying to build? Use the answers to these questions to improve your messaging moving forward — not only for future crises but for a more thoughtful and less reactive approach to communication in general.

Staying competitive post-pandemic will require a different approach than what we were used to beforehand, but businesses possess the way forward already. Make the most out of the processes that are already serving your company during these uncertain months. Necessity has probably already pushed you to adopt some winning tools and techniques. But if you want to thrive in this new world, you’ll need to do the work of recording, assessing, and implementing them at scale.

Co-authored by Ali Hawks. A version of this article originally appeared in