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C-Suite Series: Strengthening in Advance of a Recovery

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April 22, 2020

Adrian Bartha

As organizations consider what a recovery could mean to them, it is forcing foresight into what will change, what won’t, and to reimagine how they shape up in a new environment.

Our last C-suite blog focused on finding the silver lining in these times of crisis, both personally and as leaders of our organizations. We have more in our control and great leaders have already been taking decisive action, not only ensuring organizational survival but finding new ways to reinforce their social contract.

Most organizations, whether they’re admitting to it or not, are focused on surviving or at least finding a way to stay relevant as priorities have shifted to flattening the curve. Different frameworks for responding to the crisis have popped up from the likes of Bain and McKinsey, yet for most business owners and C-suite executives, it boils down to a few key questions which are increasingly becoming top of mind.

Although it may feel premature, many pundits are debating what life will be like post-pandemic.  Economists are struggling with describing the shape of the recovery in letters: “V”, “U”, “W”, and the even “L”. We won’t speak about the last one…. Public health professionals remind us that viruses never really ‘disappear’ but change over time, usually becoming more benign until the next one rears its ugly head. Finally, others argue that the pandemic will not so much change our society fundamentally but simply speed up some trends that were already occurring.

Would it be premature to imagine what challenges and opportunities the C-suite will face as we flash-forward a few steps? Although the future feels more uncertain than ever, would simply asking the right questions today change anything about how we operate in the next 8-12 weeks?

Would simply asking the right questions today change anything about how we operate in the next 8-12 weeks?

For example, imagine a (stabilized) post-crisis world…  how does the social and business environment shift and where would that place our business?

  • Are we operating in the same niches and lines of business?
  • What will be valued more (or less) by our customers and stakeholders?
  • How does the “new normal” change our ability to attract and retain customers/projects?

Following this theme and reflecting on how we operate, some similar questions include:

  • Did we live up to our corporate values? Which ones and why or why not?
  • Who really stepped up to the plate and demonstrated their future leadership potential?
  • What crisis-era norms worked for us that we want to continue to use going forward?
  • What pre-crisis management processes did we have that won’t work in the next environment?

Research from the last three recessions shows that while 17% of companies failed, another 9% flourished at the tail end of the recessions. Some of the common themes in how these successful companies navigated the downturns include decentralizing decision-making and makes for an interesting read.

Reflecting on these themes reminds me of what an owner of a successful energy service company told me during the last oil price shock. Grizzled but remarkably calm for someone who went through three decades of commodity cycles, he drew a chart like the this one and said [paraphrasing]:

“We all do decently well in good cycles, and we all usually suffer in bad times, but we bounce back 50% stronger than our peers in the good cycles because of the decisions and actions we took during bad times: which employees we hold on to, which customers we doubled-down on, what lines of business we focused on, and so on… It’s the choices we make through the toughest of times which are the true source for success in the best of times.”

This perspective influenced me considerably, as our leadership team built a tech start up during what will subsequently become known as the great economic boom of ~ 2010-2020. It forced us to ask critical questions about how we built our business to persist across economic cycles. This meant we missed out on some opportunities during good times (cheap debt financing, flashy sponsorships, etc.) but also built a business that’s demonstrating resiliency in the rough patches, including the one we’re persevering through today.

It’s the choices we make through the toughest of times which are often a source for success in the best of times.

Looking forward, I can’t help but imagine that forcing ourselves to think with the same foresight to whatever that new normal will look like will mean some small but meaningful changes in the decisions and actions we make today. While these may be different for each C-suite reader, there is probably no better time for active reflection on how our organizations shape up to a changed future.

Stay safe,


Founder eCompliance & President, EcoOnline North America

Check out previous C-suite blogs on topics such as finding the silver lining through the crisis and creating environments for leaders to grow here.

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