COVID-19 Related Changes: Implications for Strategic Leadership (Part 1)



On March 10th, at the last face-to face meeting of the Chicago Chapter of the COO Forum, the members shared ideas to ensure a safe workplace and their contingency plans for a potential citywide shutdown. Many were focused on how they would acquire enough computer equipment to deploy to their support staffs who had never worked remotely.

The following day, The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic, after the disease caused by the new coronavirus spread to more than 100 countries and led to tens of thousands of cases within a few months.

Three days later, the governor of Illinois mandated that as of the following week, all schools and offices in the State would be closed, and everyone would be working from home. As the numbers of those infected with the virus and killed increased exponentially, I immersed myself in reaching out to colleagues and utilizing my coaching skills as millions of Americans filed for unemployment, healthcare workers found their lives at risk, and employees and their families were overwhelmed by fear, stress and anxiety.


Two weeks later, BK Simerson, Ed.D, a colleague, author and former professor of mine reached out to discuss a new idea he had “rumbling around in his head”. He asked me to collaborate on a research project to determine how the crisis had impacted business policies and practices, to what extent leaders considered the changes to be positive or negative and what strategic impact did they expect the changes would have on business.

Together, we conducted a study of senior-level leaders to discover how prepared leaders were for the crisis, how they led through the crisis and how they expected the COVID-19 related changes to play out into the future.

Our Study

  • We interviewed and surveyed 128 CEOs, Presidents, COOs, and senior-level executives spanning 50 industries across the United States, many of them having a global reach.

  • The interviews conducted and follow-on survey reveal that the crisis has led to deep—and surprisingly positive—adaptions to management policies, practices and priorities that change how we relate to one another.

  • The results of our study suggest that COVID-19 has helped set the stage for more open communication, frank and honest dialogue, and a kind of transparency that is rare in corporate America.

Four Important—Some Unsurprising— Findings

1. The investment of time in business continuity planning provided structure to the response.

2. Open, frank and honest dialog maintained employee engagement and increased productivity during the crisis.

3. Transparency played a key role in reducing employee anxiety and stress.

4. Investment in digital technology processes for employees and customers made the transition to remote work seamless.

In Short, Remote Work is Good for Business

Many executives assumed individuals working at home would not communicate as effectively or be as productive.

Our survey revealed that the opposite is true. Ad hoc conversations in doorways, hallways, lobbies and parking lots may be a thing of the past. Here are the reasons:

  • Key individuals whose expertise is needed in the conversation are often missing from ad hoc meetings.

  • Individuals do not bring agendas, clear goals or deliverables to ad hoc meetings and conversations.

  • The dialog is much more intentional when meetings and conversations are scheduled.

Almost half (49%) of the organizations reported that they will not have all their employees return to the office. Communication has actually improved…leaders are being much more intentional in planning, opening dialog, conducting meetings and following up.


Next Article: Six principles—drawn from our study—for ensuring your organization transitions seamlessly and smoothly through a crisis.

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