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We welcome this guest post from Romy Hughes, director at Brightman.

If you distil “strategy” down to its simplest form, it is about looking at the world around you and making plans to thrive within it. Most public sector organisations and agencies are good at being tactical on a short- to medium-term basis, but they rarely look at their long-term strategy. They operate tactically. Yet while most tactically driven organisations can thrive for a long time, they can only do so as long as their environment doesn’t change significantly. But eventually the world or their environment will change, and they will not know how to change along with it. Well the world certainly has changed.

Strategic organisations are well placed to thrive in the world that is unfolding around us right now. That is because if you are used to writing strategies, you are used to thinking about the future and how it might impact you. If the future changes, it isn’t the end of the world – a strategic organisation simply takes account of the new data and adapts accordingly.

Those organisations with a clearly defined strategy for digital transformation for example were able to thrive during the lockdown, or at the very least, minimise the disruption to their operations. This is because they had already considered how such a change in their workplace would impact the organisation – from its people to its internal processes, how it interacts with staff and stakeholders, where its data will reside, which technology it would need (hardware, software and services etc.), what procurement and governance changes would be needed, reporting and monitoring etc.

By contrast, those organisations that had merely paid lip service to digital transformation before the lockdown simply bought Zoom and hoped for the best, while praying that everything returned to “normal” as quickly as possible.

People-first strategy under the “new normal”

It is fair to say the world post COVID-19 will not be the same as it was before, and there are many ways the next few years could play out; we may develop a vaccine next year and move on relatively quickly, or global pandemics will simply become a permanent background to our lives. The world may pull together for the common good in a post-COVID consensus, or populism and nationalism will lead to an escalation in global tensions. We may experience a short economic blip until the end of the year, or the longest and deepest recession in a hundred years. It is hard to say which of these scenarios will come to pass, but whenever things return to “normal,” they will not be the normal we were used to.

The difference between a strategic and a tactical organisation is that a strategic organisation has already considered all of these scenarios and is building its plans accordingly.

The first step in this “new normal strategy” is how to return the workforce to work. Communicating this strategy is important because employees are naturally concerned for their health as they face the prospect of returning to work. Will the right safeguards be put in place? Has my employer considered where we are most at risk? Have they got enough PPE?

Personal health aside, with the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) in the UK for example forecasting a £300bn budget deficit this year, public sector employees are naturally very concerned about the long-term viability of their jobs. Ultimately, employees are being asked to take a short-term risk by returning to work. They need to know the short-term risk is worth it. Would you want to risk your health by returning to work if you weren’t sure if you would still have a job next month?

It is for these reasons that every organisation (private as well as public) must have a post COVID-19 strategy worked out, and they MUST discuss this strategy with every member of staff. Notice I used the word “discuss,” not “present.” It is important to involve the workforce in the development of the strategy too. Don’t present it as final – empower the workforce to feed into the strategy and be prepared to amend it as you go along (i.e. be prepared to adapt as the data changes). The willingness to adapt the strategy as we go along is also critical, given the unprecedented situation where we are all learning as we go along.

Whichever of the post-COVID scenarios plays out, a strategic approach will ensure you have a plan for every single eventuality; you will know where challenges will present themselves, where and how you need to change, and your staff will have been empowered to help develop the solution.

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