Protecting and growing the business is demanding enough without interference from a global pandemic. Almost no one alive has been through the likes of COVID-19 with a company. The most perplexing part is no one knows what business-as-usual will eventually look like in our 21st century business and social climate. But we know one thing for certain. As the classic Sam Cooke song goes, “A change is gonna come.”
What are you doing to secure your company’s future? Granted, there’s no precedent, but if you want to survive, your brand isn’t enough to carry you through and inaction is not an option. Mercifully, there are four ageless strategies that have guided millions of companies through catastrophic events, and they’re all about fortifying the weight-bearing bones of your business.
1. Make solid leadership your top priority
Employees need guidance: Company leadership must help employees adjust, cope, stay informed and remain productive and healthy during uncertain times. If you have not done so, establish formal internal policies and procedures to protect and keep your people safe. Ensure they have information and the supplies they need to adhere to CDC protection and prevention guidelines while at work and encourage them to follow guidelines at home. Communicate with staff at least bi-weekly about the state of your business and industry, and your sales projections and financial outlook. Let them know your evolving needs to maintain or modify hours or staffing, and confirm or clarify sick leave and other policies. Acknowledge that while you cannot predict impact, you are committed to sharing updates and information as quickly as possible.
Customers, prospects and partners want reassurance: It is important that leaders drive the right messaging and communications to external audiences. While customers and partners know your brand and what you do, these times call for direct and empathic communications about your commitment to each relationship and their needs. The same goes for prospective customers you are pursuing. It’s okay to market during the pandemic, but it must be done with sensitivity and awareness of your constituents’ new realities. In other words, let there be less emphasis on selling and more emphasis on how you and your products or services might help them navigate unique challenges. The goal is to stay connected and involved so they stay with you during and after the crisis subsides.
2. Adopt a nimble structure
In business, we know positioning is everything, and that there must be operational agility to make good positioning work. Being agile isn’t just about IT anymore. It’s about breathing oxygen into newer, better ways of operating from the inside out. Whether you go with it or try to resist, this is exactly what companies are being forced to do right now and for the foreseeable future.
There’s an interesting parallel between medical strategy and business strategy for fighting off COVID-19. Some critical care experts are finding success with patients by flipping them over on their sides or bellies to increase the amount of oxygen that gets to their lungs. It’s called prone positioning and through it, some patients are able to return to normal oxygen levels.
What is the correlation here for businesses impacted by COVID-19? Don’t spend this time lying flat on your back! Flip your strategy into a new position. Watch what other companies are doing to generate revenue in the new reality. Bring your best minds to the (virtual) table and explore innovative ideas. Get creative! For the moment, we know there’s no cure, but adjusting your position and tactics can be the shot your company needs to transcend the pandemic.
3. Let great people be your light at the end of the tunnel
During the pandemic and going forward, your employees’ skill sets, talents and leadership traits, along with your business model, must coalesce to meet the future. Once you assess where you need to go as a company and have a plan, identify the shining stars within your ranks, or potential job candidates, who are best suited to help bring your plan to fruition.
As an example, many companies are tapping under-utilized employees to substantially up company commitments to continuous improvement during the pandemic. These employees are charged with conceiving and rolling out better processes, raising customer service standards, and servicing operations and customers with available but unused technologies. Continuous improvement is one of the strongest drivers of customer satisfaction and retention, and this is just one example of how great people lead companies to long-term success.
4. Be financially and operationally astute
Many companies are blessed to employ finance, accounting and operations executives, including IT chiefs, while others rely on outside resources to manage these functions, and still others operate with insufficient acumen in one or more of these areas. Regardless of your approach to finance and operations, I can’t think of a time in history when hyper-vigilant stewardship of these functions was more important to a company’s survival than it is today.
Now is the time to be smart, lean and exacting, with total transparency of where your company stands at all times. My advice to leadership is to bring your division heads and chiefs to the table on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, scrutinize all spending, identify and rectify operational deficiencies, and invest only in ways that are necessary to preserve and protect the integrity and growth of the business. And it is always wise to keep a pulse on access to capital by maintaining or establishing strong bank or lender relationships.
Don’t Rely on Your Brand. Protect It Instead.
As you can see, against the backdrop of our fast-changing business climate, brand recognition cannot carry you through to the other side. Your brand is an asset that you must protect, not the other way around. Make every effort to shore up your strengths as described above – and then dare to explore and embrace your ascendency during this time of uncertainty.