COVID-19 Resilient Recovery Planning

If you have not already, now is the time to ensure your team is thinking strategically about recovery.

It is easy to get overwhelmed with the response process and the complexities of adapting operations to our new normal. But it is vital for long term success to allow time for some strategic thinking. If you are a small business owner, this means extracting yourself from the operations. If you are a larger organisation it may be helpful to assign a separate team to start thinking strategically about recovery for your organisation.


Whilst there is still significant uncertainty as to how the pandemic will play out, planning at this stage requires adaptive decision making that evolves as uncertainty resolves. Your planning framework needs to deliver a clear unity of purpose across decision making and operational teams – this is a complex and chaotic space that requires structure and process to help people navigate uncertainties. Your forward-thinking needs to springboard off existing planning, coupled with critical reflection on what needs to evolve, and creating the right conditions for new and innovative approaches to be tabled.

  • 1

    Define or reaffirm what lies at the heart of recovery for your organisation.

    This includes your core purpose or mission as an organisation, your vision, and your values. This may include financial and non-financial objectives – such as community outcomes, staff wellbeing, and reputation.

    These principles should be the guiding light and common thread that holds your strategic thinking together.

  • 2

    Dust off and review your pre-COVID-19 strategy.

    Refresh yourself on what you were trying to achieve in the long term, and the short and medium-term actions you were taking to get there.

  • 3

    Take stock of the changed, and changing environment around you.

    Take time to talk to key business partners, customers, suppliers, and peak body groups. Are there emerging trends in your key market? What are your competitors doing? Where are your suppliers located and what is happening there? Where are their suppliers located? What is the global economy doing? What could the economy do?

    Think as broadly as possible – business disruptions can come from unusual places.

  • 4

    Test your current strategy against a range of possible futures.

    None of us have a crystal ball. Too often we ‘lock on’ to a single perspective of what the future might look like and design a strategy that works really well in that world. However, if the future is different to what we imagine, our strategy can be severely undermined.

    Create different future scenarios

    Now that you have a good sense of what is happening, get creative and think of what could possibly happen in the future. Using the situational awareness you have developed, create 3-6 credible and diverse scenarios of what the future might look like. For example reopening of NZ borders within 6 months; within 18 months; a resurgence of COVID-19 within NZ; wide adoption of working from home. Base your scenarios around the factors that will influence your business the most.

    Evaluate your current strategy against those scenarios

    What works and what doesn’t work in each of those scenarios? You want to prioritise actions that work best across multiple possible futures, even if that decision is not optimised for your assumed future. For example, if pursuing a new type of customer works well in one scenario but not at all in another, you should consider how you can hedge your bets – potentially investing a little, but not putting all your eggs in the one basket.

    Also, check if there any opportunities in those futures that you haven’t currently included in your strategy?

  • 5

    Design a strategy that is deliberatively flexible.

    Now you know the parts of your strategy that work best, and those vulnerable to disruption, it’s time to build some flexibility into your strategy. One way to do this is to develop a staged strategy with key decisions points along the way. For each decision point think about alternate paths that could be taken if your initial strategy is no longer viable. Aim for strategic decisions that are equal part least regret and opportunity. And that maximise the diversity of your operations – be it the market you serve, the suppliers you use, or the staff you employ.

    Diversity can be an insurance policy for your business. Make sure that you recognise and act on opportunities that emerge from a crisis. It may mean you need to re-prioritise, defer or create new strategic aims.

  • 6

    Have some critical friends review your strategy.

    Organisations don’t operate in a vacuum. The success of their strategy depends on staff, current customers, potential customers, funders, shareholders, suppliers, etc. So it is important that the strategy is reviewed in light of these diverse perspectives.

    You can do this yourself, or better yet, get some key partners to cast a critical eye over the strategy. The review process should be ongoing. Where possible identify triggers that might indicate you need to review your strategy. For example, if sales of a particular product reduce by 20% or if a competitor closes. Be prepared to review your plans frequently as new information comes to light and be prepared to change direction to avoid losses or to seize an opportunity.

Don’t forget to bring your team along on the journey with you. They’ll have great ideas and will be more invested long term.
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