How To Prioritize When The Coronavirus Turns Everything Into Chaos - Part 2

March 30, 2020

By Adam Chapman, EyeForPharma on Mar 21, 2019

Complexity is the defining business and leadership challenge of our time. But it has never felt more urgent than this moment, with the coronavirus upending life and business as we know it. Governments are scrambling to mitigate the effects of the outbreak, and business leaders are rushing to protect their people, their customers, and their companies. For the next few weeks, we’ll be drawing on our deep knowledge base about what it takes to lead through the most complex and confounding problems, to offer you insights and advice about how to keep a steady hand on the wheel during the crisis, and how to guide your organization in its transition back to normalcy once the crisis winds down.

We have been studying complexity and helping leaders navigate it for nearly 20 years. While this crisis is absolutely unprecedented, all complex challenges – including this one – are best managed when you understand specific underlying characteristics they all exhibit, and tried-and-true ways to approach them. Today: How to bring together the right mix of people to work on your top priorities.

Complex problem

A month ago, you knew what your organization’s priorities were. Your leadership team may not have been aligned on how to achieve them, but at least you knew what mattered the most. Now, the coronavirus pandemic - and its impact on your people, customers and business - has plunged companies into chaos. In order to survive this crisis, it’s critical for leaders to figure out what matters most in order to survive this crisis - to draw order out of disorder.

In Part 1, we explained how understanding the genetic code of complexity can help you prioritize the topics that need your attention first. Once you have your list of priorities, it’s time to bring your team together to work on them.


Nobody in your company has led a business through a pandemic. Some were there during 9-11, SARS, MERS, and H1N1 and have some relevant wisdom to draw on, but the scope and scale of this crisis is altogether new. Your leadership team doesn’t have the answers, so your job is to tap into the collective intelligence of your people (and others) to create answers together.

You do this by asking the right questions and thinking differently about who to engage and involve in decision-making.

The right question will depend on what you’re trying to do. For example:

  • If you’re trying to quickly establish crisis management structure and decision authorities, you might ask your leadership team and a few experts: “What structures and rules must we establish in the next few days to ensure efficient, effective and clear management lines and decision authorities during the crisis?”
  • To ensure your daily war room meeting and communications are covering the most critical topics, your question to a broader audience might be: As we work our way through this crisis over the next few weeks, what will matter most to our people, our customers, our partners, and our business when it comes to managing day-to-day operations in a way that meets the immediate needs of all of our stakeholders?
  • And if you’re thinking ahead and building the plan for the transition back to normal after the crisis, consider a question like: What can we do right now to ensure that when life goes back to normal, our existing and prospective customers think of us as the most resilient, responsive and highest-value partner they have and/or need?

Once you know what questions to ask, assemble the right groups of people to answer them. For some questions, like the first example above, the group will be pretty clear and you just need to think about how to fill a few gaps in their knowledge. For other questions, like the second and third, the group should represent all corners of the organization - up-and-down the hierarchy, from the front-line to the back-office - and some outsiders like customers, partners, and subject matter experts.


Once you’ve identified the question and assigned it to a group, let them decide what conversations they need to have in order to answer it.

Start by asking them to capture their individual ideas about what needs to be discussed. Then they should share those ideas with each other, cluster them into thematic areas, and then rank the relative importance of the clusters. This can be done remotely using a collaborative brainstorming tool like Stormboard, or by a neutral analyst who collects all the individual thoughts, builds the clusters, and then sends them back out for ranking.


Now you have a ranked list of items to talk about for each question. For example:

Topic examples

You also have groups primed to tackle these discussions and make recommendations about actions related to each of them. Enabling these groups to have effective, efficient, and engaging conversations while they are working remotely is a subject we covered in another article.  

When so much is obscured by the coronavirus, it’s impossible for just a handful of leaders to figure out - on their own - what matters most. But the right mix of people from in and around your organization can help you uncover blind spots, reveal unknowns, and connect the dots. That’s why it’s so important to involve them in identifying what requires your focus and attention. What’s more, their involvement at a critical time will give them a sense of belonging, build trust and alignment, and mobilize them as champions and influencers throughout the organization — at a time when you need alignment and mobilization more than ever.

Original article posted in Forbes on March 30, 2020

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