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Strategy during crisis – The four superpowers leaders are deploying today


19 May 2020 at 7:30 am
George Liacos
As we prepare to move into the “Next” phase of the COVID-19 crisis, George Liacos from Spark Strategy, shares some of the heroics being seen across the sector, that every CEO should put in their playbook.


George Liacos | 19 May 2020 at 7:30 am


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Strategy during crisis – The four superpowers leaders are deploying today
19 May 2020 at 7:30 am

As we prepare to move into the “Next” phase of the COVID-19 crisis, George Liacos from Spark Strategy, shares some of the heroics being seen across the sector, that every CEO should put in their playbook.

I bet you are feeling this crisis in every muscle and bone. It’s almost too much just keeping up with what’s happening each day. I also bet some days are good. You feel strong and like you have won. The reluctant superhero in you triumphed! 

Strategy in times of crisis is as much about who showed up. It’s about who just did something. It’s also about considered thought and well governed execution. It’s fluid and dynamic, long and short, fast and slow, proactive and reactive. 

My team and I are engaged with many, many leaders at this time. 

We are seeing heroics across the board and I wanted to share with you some of the superpowers these leaders are showing so as to give you comfort and help you feel more in control at the conjuncture of the first two phases of this crisis.

I’m seeing three crisis phases: Now – the first six months (survival); Next – six to 24 months (rebuilding); and After – 24 months-plus (thriving).

We have released a three-part Whitepaper series that maps these phases. The second paper is all about this Next phase. From global seismic shifts to sector specific predictions, this paper provides analysis and predictions to help tackle this phase, its opportunities and threats. It’s free on our website.

At this time of transition to phase two, we are seeing four superpowers emerge: 

  1. Split vision – taking the long and short view in thought and action.
  2. Tribe maker – bold partnerships, joint ventures and mergers.
  3. Connector – creating deep funder connections through smart engagement.
  4. Defender – resilience based on the true and trusted.

Superpower #1: Split vision

Leaders are digging deep in their ability to think short and long, slow and fast. As many of your peers pull their vision back to a focus on the problems (revenue, remote services, risk), smart leaders are also re-assessing their strategy (opportunities, new models, new markets). It’s a time for “And/And thinking”. It’s a time to grab your strategic plan in your left hand and assess how it stands up against the new world. Use our whitepaper as a checklist of opportunities and threats against which to revamp your strategy. In your right hand grab up your operating model and look for ways to make change – renovate it with things to create, enhance, reduce and eliminate for greater agility and effectiveness.

Superpower #2: Tribe maker 

Safety in numbers. It’s true in the natural world, it’s true in the Next world. Leaders continue to place purpose before organisation and come up with creative ways to team up with others. Grab up three or more of your peer organisations (“competitors”) and go to funders (e.g. government) as one with innovative ideas to solve their problem in your sector. Be bold. Instead of each of you asking for your current $800,000 in programmatic funding, go together as one and take the problem off their hands and ask for $8 million. Look to share back-office costs, share staff, share contracts. Most importantly don’t be proud and don’t chase power. Don’t initially worry about the structure (merger, joint venture, acquisition, partnership), that will come. Put purpose and strategy first and design the structure around that. Just between us, this is a really busy part of our practice today and if you aren’t in a discussion with your peers about this now… start one!

Superpower #3 Connector 

Please stop writing one off or intermittent letters to ministers or government. Nine times out of 10 they get an auto response or go no further than a clerk. We have seen organisations as small as two people get on first names basis with minister’s advisors, senior government officials and grant makers in a few short months by taking a relationship building engagement approach around a clear, simple and smart proposition. Levelling up your engagement doesn’t cost sheep farms nor take forever. It does require you to think a little short and long (as above) and its payoff could not only save your organisation but position it for stellar impact.

Superpower #4 Defender

Carrying on the theme of And/And, look at your business models. A business model is how you convert your resources (money, people, assets) into achieving your purpose. Pick out the core of what makes you great. We are seeing leaders jettisoning the rest and then looking to innovate new ways to achieve core purpose. They consider ways to re-use assets, intellectual property or relationships so as to balance where their funding comes from. We see strong NFP’s with about 40 per cent of their revenue coming from the sale of products and services to new customers (not their beneficiaries). Defend what’s good about what you do and extend into new activities that deliver both your purpose and profit. 

So, what is the NFP CEO playbook for this Next phase? Mobilise your people.

1. Engage your board to help you update your strategy.

2. Engage your COO, general manager or program leader to critically assess your operating model.

3. Personally take on: 

  • designing your best possible alliance with other organisations, push off distractions and laser like build this alliance / partnership / merger; and
  • the job of levelling up your funder engagement.

4. Ask your CMO or marketing leader to take up the mantle of innovating new propositions, products and services to balance your funding model.

You are at a point of conjuncture facing into a two-year window where economic pain will be massive, demand for your services will soar and the money to deliver them will dry up. But all is not lost. There is a superhero in you…


George Liacos  |  @ProBonoNews

George Liacos is the managing director of Spark Strategy, an agency that works with Not for Profits and social enterprises to realise their social mission objectives.

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