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  • Madeline Weiss, Director


“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” according to Paul Romer, economist and Nobel laureate.

Tragically, many have lost their lives, loved ones, or friends in this Covid-19 crisis. But as we find ways to stabilize and ensure business continuity in our organizations, we discover possibilities for capitalizing on this unwanted crisis for future business value and resiliency should there be another pandemic. Four CIOs, members of the Advanced Practices Council, were panelists on SIM’s recent national conversation webinar. In the midst of stabilizing and ensuring business continuity, they described their experiences over the last month or so in leading their organizations through the current Covid-19 pandemic. Two themes related to capitalizing on this crisis for future success emerged through the conversation: build on emerging dynamics to change the culture going forward and prepare for future crises.

Build on emerging dynamics to change the culture going forward

Richard Hook, CIO of Penske Automotive Group and Penske Corporation, mentioned that corporate decisions seem to be made faster than previously. He and his colleagues (Joe Bruhin, CIO of Breakthru Beverage Group, Tony Lombardi, CIO of The Andersons, and Edwina Payne, Senior Vice President of Technology Strategy and Portfolio of McKesson) concurred that their fellow executives – even those who were skeptical - have found that working remotely can be productive.

Such a change in mindset among executives could well lead to greater flexibility in the future regarding where work is done, possibly giving employees more choice. The panelists predicted that some employees might decide that they actually prefer working in the office to keep face-to-face social connections. Regardless of the option chosen, choice leads to benefits. Past research has demonstrated that greater choice often leads to higher levels of ownership and motivation.

Several panelists noted that their senior leadership teams now meet remotely regularly – in some cases as often as daily – to check in with each other. Edwina noted that her team not only checks in with each other on work issues, but also personal ones, such as “Did you walk today?” That would be an unlikely question to be asked pre-Covid-19. The McKesson senior leadership team conferred with each other early in the pandemic about how best to handle the company’s first death, which they thought was unfortunately inevitable. The growing empathy among executives could continue beyond this crisis, possibly leading to improved collaboration and engagement after Covid-19.

Tony described how corporation policies are now being questioned out of necessity. Do we really need actual (or even digital) signatures on documents when an online check-box acknowledgement will do? The new mantra, which is becoming “It’s good enough,” could lead to greater questioning of corporate policies. Might it also lead to greater questioning of current processes and structures? Tony suggested that a true shared services model might emerge from the crisis.

Several panelists described how necessity has forced greater collaboration across organizational boundaries – with suppliers, distributors, retailers, even competitors. Penske is exploring a totally on-line auto purchase and delivery option. McKesson has collaborated across boundaries to get Covid-19 PPE supplies to the right locations quickly. Joe has regular calls with suppliers. Although our panelists’ companies previously worked across organizational borders, perhaps the pandemic will lead to even greater openness and innovation.

Prepare for future crises

Panelists were unanimous in stating that their companies were not fully prepared for the Covid-19 crisis. Even Tony, who said that his company had a pandemic recovery plan, acknowledged that preparations were inadequate for the depth and speed at which remote working and shut-downs occurred. Panelists shared the elements of preparedness that helped, including sufficient remote collaborative technology (Microsoft Teams in a number of cases), adequate network capacity, efficient document sharing, and sufficient storage capacity. These capabilities seem foundational for preparing for future crises.

A real-time poll of webinar participants confirmed the panelists’ view that having a laptop-enabled workforce instead of an office full of workstations was another element of future preparedness.

Joe suggested that the more his company transitions to technology-enabled processes, such as B2B ecommerce solutions, the better prepared it would be in the future.

Blockchain is another example of technology enabling business processes that both cross organizational and geographic boundaries and prepare all those organizations for future crises. Dr. Mary Lacity, director of the Blockchain Center of Excellence at the University of Arkansas Walton College of Business, shared with Advanced Practices Council members blockchain’s benefits for managing multi-party, inter-organizational, and cross-border transactions. Although proofs of concept have taken place, live deployments have been slow to come because of legal, process, regulatory, and policy challenges. Blockchain and other technology-enabled innovations may be our future as we emerge from this crisis.

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