The vulnerability of companies of all sizes to a global virus has humbled the business world. While industries struggle to reinvent and evolve amid a pandemic, leaders are seeking survival strategies.

To help organizations proactively identify external threats as well as their own weaknesses, learning and development professionals (L&D) can use a technique called Kill the Company. It’s not only designed to help leaders identify where the organization’s biggest vulnerabilities are, but it can also help unite them around a shared cause. Logistically, L&D can facilitate each exercise remotely on any video platform that enables live polling.

When a premium cable company did a similar exercise recently, it generated three pages of weaknesses. An American mining company used it to identify additional market threats. And a city council in Texas has used it to steel itself against community risks.

Let’s walk through the exercise, using the coronavirus pandemic as an example.

It starts with gathering people from across your entire company and presenting this challenge: “Knowing what we do about the coronavirus, what are the factors that could put us out of business this year?”

Direct participants to brainstorm all the ways that coronavirus could render your company obsolete — and have them write each one down on a sticky note. Examples could be anything from “all of our locations must remain shuttered for six months” to “there are no orders for employees to fulfill.”

One by one, ask participants to reveal their sticky notes on camera, classify them as either a big or small threat, and share whether they think they will be easy or difficult to solve. As a group, take a vote on your top three threats.

Be sure to note if your biggest threats are all clustered in one area, which is indicative of a particularly vulnerable area that may need immediate attention. (Conversely, this exercise can also reveal overlooked strengths within your organization. If you clearly have a lock on technology, for example, determine how you can leverage that strength to survive.)

From there, ask participants for ideas on how they’d prevent those three threats from happening. This phase of the exercise is when you will start finding creative and innovative solutions. For example, a real-world response to shuttered locations is Universal Pictures’ recent decision to shift its in-theatre films to on-demand streaming via Comcast, Sky, iTunes and Amazon. Another is gourmet cheese shops and wineries that have pivoted to virtual tasting classes, shipping boxes of corresponding wine or cheese in advance to each registered attendee. Likewise, a path for retaining employees amid a lack of fulfillment orders is luxury goods maker LVMH’s converting its perfume factories into manufacturers of hand sanitizer or auto-part factories’ temporarily producing medical equipment like surgical masks and respirators.

Even in remote settings, participating in a group effort like this one can impart a sense of control and even optimism during tough times. It can also serve to empower otherwise dispirited employees — and help leaders tackle weaknesses and future-proof their business as quickly as possible.

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