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COVID-19: How Tech CEOs Can Lead Through a Disruptive Crisis in Four Phases

By Rene Buest | April 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

According to Gartner’s recent Tech CEO Research Circle survey “COVID-19: Recession”, almost half (45%) of tech CEOs are worried about a recession impacting their revenue growth. Given its unprecedented nature, tech CEOs need a structure for leading their company through this crisis.

Each company and industry will experience its own challenges, but the four-phase model in the graphic below offers a framework starting point for creating a way of thinking about how to lead through this disruption.

Four Phases for Leading in a Disruptive Crisis

The graphic above is not a Hype Cycle. It reflects Gartner research into leadership patterns observed in times of significant change. Tech CEOs in this pattern recognize the reality of the situation, believe in their customers and organization’s future, focus on that future and their ambition, and take action to achieve it. In the context of COVID-19, these phases can be described as:

  • React and respond — Lasting a few weeks to a month after the initial event. Tech CEOs stabilize the organization and get it working again. In the COVID-19 context, the event was public health requirements to “stay at home.” This phase ends as companies reorient to working in the changed environment.
  • Redirect to new realities — Lasting a few months/quarters. Customer demand falls as companies seek to control cash and expenses. Markets slow down and business opportunities concentrate on current products and customers. Sluggish growth can be expected even when governments lift public health closures as it will take time for companies to adjust. This is the time when aggressive firms may begin to target acquisition and starts once the company’s operations stabilize. The duration of this phase depends on the effectiveness of public health, government programs and overall economic activity.
  • Rebound to the future — Lasting a few months/quarters. Business activity begins to shift as the economy recovers. This is most likely tied to relaxing public health restrictions and government stimulus. There is no guarantee that there will not be local or regional outbreaks, but overall economic activity is returning and, with it, customer interest in new solutions and value. This phase starts with increased demand, particularly for new solutions and it ends when activity reaches pre-crisis levels.
  • Accelerate opportunity — Open-ended and ongoing time frame. This represents when markets recover and grow beyond a return to pre-crisis levels. Customer demand for new solutions is strong, and investments in new growth opportunities will pay off. Markets are best able to accelerate when the potential for future disruptions due to the health crisis appears manageable.

A health crisis is unique, reaching into every part of our lives. Individual economics, industries or companies will, of course, move at varying paces. Regardless of speed, though, technology companies will ultimately face the actions and decisions described in each of these phases.

What is your posture toward economic downturn preparations and what are your predictions for how your business will be affected? Join the discussion with your tech CEO peers and Gartner analysts in the exclusive community here: Gartner Tech CEO Research Circle

If you are searching for more guidance, Gartner has composed a collection of resources and complimentary research on how to protect your people, maintain operations and sustain your organization during the pandemic and beyond. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center.

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