Many leaders find themselves contemplating an operational shift during a crisis. COVID-19 has been no exception. Travel and hospitality businesses have had to respond to a steep dropoff in demand, while technology entities like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have had to accommodate a massive influx of new users.

If your organization is being pushed and pulled by a large-scale crisis, it may be time  for an operational shift. But how can you ensure that the decisions you make will lead to meaningful change? Here are the three essentials you need to pull off a major change in approach. 

Essential 1: Good Timing

You need to adapt before you lose your opportunity. As COVID-19 accelerates changes in your market landscape, you need to move at the right time.

Let’s look at Microsoft Teams as an example:


In November 2019, Teams had 20 million active users. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Teams reached 75 million active users by April of 2020.  This massive increase caused a crash. Microsoft acted quickly and presented a refined product in a matter of months. In less extreme circumstances, this iteration process may have taken years.

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The key lesson here is that you don’t want to wait until your organization is in dire need of a full operational shift and then start making changes. Instead, be proactive about analyzing your financial and operational data in real time. Then focus on setting  flexible, short-term goals that allow you to stay light on your feet and follow where your data leads. 

Essential 2: Smart Strategy

Your adjustments must be strategic. The circumstances of a crisis often demand that you move fast, but remember that speed won’t guarantee a positive result on its own. The organizations that move in the right direction will be the ones that maintain healthy margins during a crisis. Taking the wrong tack, on the other hand, can destabilize your whole organization.


A smart strategy should be based on an analysis of your organization’s latest financial and operational data, as well as the competitive landscape. You also need to make sure that you’re taking a proactive approach to your data, not just viewing it in retrospect. In other words, don’t wait for relevant insights to just show up. Now is the time to go looking for them.

If you’ve been relying on your analytics team to choose which insights to gather and present to you at a monthly meeting, it’s a good idea to start checking in with them a lot more often to provide hands-on direction about the kinds of insights you want to see.

Ask yourself: 

  • How does the data demonstrate changing customer needs? 
  • Is our strategy synchronized with our daily operations?

To successfully adapt your operating model, make sure you’re following the real rhythm of your business—daily operations and financial analysis.

Essential 3: Thoughtful Execution

Your operational change must be well-executed. A brilliant, new idea alone won’t sustain your organization through a crisis but smart execution of that idea will.

How can you make sure that changes happen smoothly and successfully? Although every industry and business sector has its own unique fingerprint, there’s one universal variable that affects the success of every organization—the people who work there.


Ask yourself: do you have the right teams in place to execute an operational shift?  Your employees will need to be engaged, flexible, and open-minded. You’ll need to kick your communication and collaboration into high gear.

As you prepare to make a shift, evaluate your employees’ readiness by asking yourself these key questions: 

  • Who are the best communicators?
  • Who are the strongest team players?
  • Who are the most productive contributors?

Everyone in your organization has strengths and weaknesses. Most employees won’t fall into all three of these categories. That means that you’ll need to be strategic in how you assign new responsibilities.

If you can match your employees to roles and responsibilities that match their strengths, you can successfully adapt your operating model. Remember: meaningful change doesn’t happen overnight—in fact, the most successful organizations embrace transformation as a constant process.

Looking Beyond A Crisis

Many businesses that try to maintain “business as usual” during a major disruption won’t survive beyond it.

A major crisis leaves lasting effects on businesses and customers. Organizations that use their data to adapt can not only make it through COVID-19, but also build a stronger operating model for the future. 

If your organization needs help to navigate a crisis, learn more by downloading our free guide: Leveraging Data To Overcome A Crisis.

Hannah Thomas
Hannah Thomas has spent the past 23 years in project and program management, working in biotech and healthcare. She received her Masters of Science in Clinical Research Administration from the George Washington School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Hannah has managed projects guiding clinical research and examining patient care. She works to bring big-data, analytics, and critical thinking to solving systemic and programmatic problems.

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