Finding opportunity in the middle of pandemic

How COVID-19 is allowing us to challenge our assumptions about preparedness, speed of execution and what’s important

Rebecca SchalmTo quote Albert Einstein, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” As difficult as this pandemic is, it’s also exposing a wealth of opportunities.

As businesses, leaders and individuals, we’re being confronted with the opportunity to challenge our assumptions on all fronts. There are some positive lessons to be learned through this COVID-19 crisis, and some painful ones as well.

Humans learn best through adversity. Let’s not let a profound learning opportunity pass us by. There are three assumptions we can challenge ourselves around right now.

Speed of execution

There’s research around CEO competencies to suggest chief executive officers differ from others in the speed with which they’re willing and able to make decisions. Decision-making speed is important, but I think more important is the speed with which decisions can be executed in order to capitalize on opportunity.

Faced with a ‘shut down or work from home’ alternative, our focus shifted rapidly to ‘how’ and ‘how fast.’

The speed with which businesses that could move employees to operating remotely is nothing short of remarkable. What, in normal circumstances, would have been a months-long feasibility study followed by extensive planning turned into a ‘make it so’ moment.

It proved to some of us we can actually execute on logical business decisions without studying them and their downstream implications at length. Even our governments, the poster children for dithering and delay, have proven able to respond at pace when they put their wills to it.


The hard knocks of opportunity by Dave Fuller


Will all the tactics we’ve chosen prove to be right?

No.

Will there be messes to clean up after this?

Of course. But at least there will be, hopefully, a mess to clean up.

The questions we can each ask ourselves during this time are:

  • How can we take this new-found ability to mobilize at pace and use it going forward?
  • What can we change or eliminate to make us more agile and nimble in the future?

What’s important

We’re being challenged as individuals, businesses and societies around a host of assumptions we’ve held. At the most basic level, we’re all adjusting our expectations and experience around ‘the necessities.’

It turns out my house can live without bananas. Bananas are a hallmark for me because, in our pre-isolation life, we would make a special stop at the grocery store every few days just to get bananas. Now we get a large bunch every 10 to 14 days, eat them even after they’re past their point of peak ripeness and then go without.

It turns out I care a lot more about how long-term care homes are being run, how well protected our medical staff are, and our ability as a nation to produce our own food, fuel and emergency supplies than I do about bananas.

The questions we can ask ourselves are:

  • What really is important to me, our businesses, our country?
  • Where have we invested time or money in things that have turned out to be superfluous and even distracting from our ability to focus on the essentials?
  • What have we not been paying attention to that’s critical?

Our preparedness

We’re in the middle of a crisis that will, in all probability, have a very long recovery tail. How ready are we to meet this challenge? What have we done in the past 10 years, 20 years, to prepare ourselves?

I’m pretty sure ‘global economic collapse caused by a pandemic compounded by record-low oil prices’ was not on most risk radars. We don’t have business continuity plans designed to address this and as leaders we find ourselves scrambling.

The Bank of Canada has been warning us for some time that our individual debt loads are excessive. Many of us don’t have the recommended three-month rainy day fund set aside, let alone the funds required to support us through extended shutdown and unemployment.

No one is being spared from financial fallout. Retirees, business owners, employees, freelancers, students – each of us will feel some economic pain. Governments are well aware of this, which is why they’re responding with rapid, sweeping financial supports.

The most important question we can ask ourselves right now is:

  • What will I do to weather this storm over the coming months?

The second most important question is:

  • How do I ensure I’m better prepared for the next time?

Rebecca Schalm, PhD, is founder and CEO of Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., a consultancy that provides organizations with advice and talent management solutions.

© Troy Media


finding opportunity pandemic speed

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Rebecca Schalm

Rebecca Schalm

Rebecca holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has assisted organizations for over 25 years in building talent capability that enables business strategy. Prior to founding Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., she was SVP & Chief Human Resources Officer of Finning International Inc. and spent over 10 years at RHR International LLP.

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