Strategy in a Time of Uncertainty

Posted by Ben Krupowicz on Apr 2, 2020 10:18:07 AM

Co-authored by Ben Krupowicz, Executive Director of the IMEC Recognition Program and Holly Bender, IMEC Recognition Program Specialist.

It all happened in March.  The impact of the Coronavirus became real with social distancing and the stay-at-home order in Illinois.  We listen for updates, statistics and clarity on a daily, even hourly basis.   This is a period of great uncertainty.  We look for answers. How serious is this pandemic, and how long will it last?

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”  If this is true, what is the opportunity for your organization?  Where is the guidebook?  How can we lead the organization to not only survive but thrive in the future? 

The Baldrige Framework, which was developed in the 1980’s to help with the crisis of foreign competition, can lead us to some answers.

Ensure Organizational Continuity

Can an organization ever be fully prepared for a disaster, emergency or crisis?  Many are currently learning if they were adequately prepared.  Different organizations are more susceptible to risks and disruptions of their operations.  Viable options for some organizations such as remote work may not prove viable for others such as the restaurant industry. 

Effective business continuity planning considers prevention (where possible), continuity of operations and recovery.  This includes considering your workforce, supply network, and clients.  How we respond in a crisis allows us to reinforce our organizational culture inclusive of open communication, workforce health, and an engaged workforce.  Employee drivers of engagement may change during a crisis.  The Framework asks us to identify engagement drivers--which can be both emotional and intellectual. 

IMEC’s response to the crisis has included several initiatives aimed at employee engagement and open communications.  Leaders have established meetings to explain and discuss recent developments.  A voluntary meeting for teams to discuss what is on their minds and the minds of clients has been established.  The president has established open discussion calls with groups of employees to address concerns or ideas.  Family care packages including candy, gift cards for dinner delivery and other items have been delivered to all employees.   

To address client concerns, IMEC has established a Manufacturing Helpline to address questions and needs within one business day.  The website has been modified to connect suppliers with those in need of supplies based on COVID-19 items in demand including masks and ventilators.  These actions have allowed the organizational culture to be maintained while living the vision, mission and values.

The Baldrige Framework encourages organizations to consider such actions in Item 6.2c(1) Business Continuity, 5.2b Organizational Culture, 1.1b Senior Leader Communication, 5.1b(1) Workforce Environment, 5.2a(1) Drivers of Engagement. 3.1a(1) Listening to Customers and 1.2c(1) Societal Well-Being.


The coronavirus pandemic has caused us many difficulties, but in crisis there lies great opportunity.  As an example, think about what is happening with colleges and universities today.  Across the country students have been sent home and courses have been shifted online.  This has been a growing trend over the past decade, but most undergraduate training until recently has still been conducted in person.  Moving online was the only option to avoid cancelling the semester.  Certainly, challenges and risks exist, but they are being identified and will be resolved.  What will be the new norm?  The crisis has accelerated a trend which was already underway.  It is unlikely colleges and universities will revert to exclusive use of their old model.  Innovation will likely transform the future of higher education for the better.

This is a time to reconsider our approaches and business models.  Can we define a strategic opportunity?  The Framework asks us to consider when circumstances require a shift in our plans and then rapid execution of those new plans.  How do we integrate the need for transformational change and organizational agility?  What should we stop doing, start doing or do differently going forward as we move toward recovery? 

It is likely we will have limited time for such reflection.  It is important that we recognize when the time is available to reconsider our plans.  Strategic opportunities may emerge in this economic slowdown.  Consider what you have learned as an organization.  Has the marketplace changed?  Have customer needs and expectations changed?  With our example of colleges and universities, students may expect and demand a more flexible learning environment moving forward.  Take this time to identify your potential strategic opportunities and ability to innovate.

The Baldrige Framework encourages organizations to consider such actions in Item 2.2b Action Plan Modification, 2.1a(1) Strategic Planning Process, 2.1a(2) Innovation.


We have the opportunity to lead and shape our new normal.  How can we sustain improvements once we have reflected, adjusted and implemented our new strategy?  The Framework helps us to identify and leverage our strengths and prepare to face our challenges.  It guides us to address issues which are deemed important by your organization.  However, it does not prescribe how you should structure your operations.  These decisions are made by your organization by defining processes around leadership, strategy, customers, measurement, workforce, operations and results.

Once an organization defines all components of their system, they can be managed to achieve the mission of your organization, its ongoing success and performance excellence.  This is called a systems perspective.  Regular internal assessment by your organization helps you to maintain and improve the system moving forward.

This crisis has caused many difficulties for people and organizations, but it has also created opportunities for innovation. This is a time to take innovative risks, focus on what really matters and embrace the opportunity to lead.  The Framework can serve as our guidebook to find our opportunity in crisis.  We can lead our organizations to not only survive but thrive in the future.

The Baldrige Framework encourages organizations to consider such an approach on page ii of the Framework.

Interested in learning more about the Baldrige Framework and how it can help guide your organization through trying times? Contact IMEC! 

Ben Krupowicz

Written by Ben Krupowicz

Topics: baldrige, enterprise excellence, strategy, Leadership, crisis management, COVID-19

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