Hardly anyone wants to hear it—it’s all so obvious—but the grim reality is front and center, so I’ll step up and say it. Nothing has torpedoed the U.S. economic growth engine like COVID-19. All at once, business ground to a halt back in March 2020 and we’ve all been grinding the gears and cycling the starter ever since, in a desperate bid to spark a restart.
The desire to revive the revenue machinery has caused many businesses to tear up the playbook, toss out the strategic plan, and feed the engine whatever fuel they can get their hands on.
In fact, Chief Outsiders recently surveyed almost a couple of hundred CEOs about the impact of COVID – and found that an overwhelming majority were compelled to execute right now – damn the strategy, full steam ahead.
To place this dynamic into context, I recently sat down (over Zoom of course) with Heath Beam – Principal at Singular Private Wealth and a member of the Forbes Finance Council. Heath and I explored the current desire of many businesses to recover whatever revenue they can by the end of 2020; the emotional toll the crisis has taken on employees; and the importance of getting back to business basics in safeguarding a company’s financial and emotional health.
Many business owners right now are in full execution mode – not an ideal time to advise them to stop and rebuild their strategic plan. Markets are so dynamic that on-the-fly planning is almost a necessity to keep pace.
This does not mean that the essentials of insight-gathering should be forsaken. Without even a minimal exploration of your product or service offering, and its acceptability in the current markets, you’re driving blindfolded.
First off, take some time to conduct honest conversations among your leadership about what products or services remain relevant, and which are not ideally suited for the volatility and demands of the current marketplace. Take a look at threats that are mounting in the market, and what opportunities might be coming down the pike. Now is the time to focus on building and leveraging your strengths, your advantages – your secret sauce – to position your company not just to survive but to thrive in this new reality.
“People are really struggling to find any sense of consistency or certainty,” Beam said. “Not only regarding where their business is going, but how humanity will navigate moving forward.”
“A lot of the conversations we are having right now are around helping businesses focus on the things they have immediate control over, rather than getting bogged down in the uncertainty – and the minutiae that go with it,” Beam continued. “Mentally engaging with uncertainty is the quickest path to that becoming a reality."
Of course, swimming upstream against a powerful current is made even more difficult by the emotional toll taken on employees. Business leaders often take great pains to minimize distractions in their company – but it’s truly an impossible task when the whole world constitutes one gigantic disruption.
“I think people are challenged with – I wouldn’t think of them as distractions, but as realities that have to be dealt with,” Beam said. “I think people are still determining what is the appropriate response, and how that response will impact operations.”
Overnight, professionals were cast out of offices and the marketplace, and into a Zoom-enabled world of virtual meetings over the kitchen table. This meant most employees were dealing with the emotional fallout of an unforeseen event while awakening each day wondering whether their company would make it through the morass, whether their job would survive, and whether their paycheck would arrive in time to make the mortgage payment.
Today, as businesses seek to return to a “new normal,” it’s even more critical to replace distractions with the levers needed to move the business forward. I’m not crazy about the word “pivot” – it’s been so overused in 2020 – but it’s an appropriate term to describe the transformation of thought that businesses must endure in determining how to execute in today’s world.
And, while setting forth this execution plan, CEOs must also play the role of Chief Empathy Officer – propping up employees, and supporting them, if the expectation is to be productive and get the business goals back on track.
“Alone together has been a popular hashtag during the COVID-19 pandemic, but I find that it also resonates as a mandate for how a business needs to navigate the crisis,” said Beam. “We are all really getting a masterclass in how to manage distractions, clear hurdles, and move beyond them.”
I agree. We can’t help our employees move forward if we don’t provide genuine empathy and understanding. Everyone is struggling. Don’t overlook this!
We also need clarity in our field of vision. Focus requires a keen understanding of three factors affecting most businesses:
As captains of industry we rely on predictability and control, accepting the three factors above represent a first step in being able to foster change. Success in today’s marketplace will be measured in inches, not miles – and establishing control of things like employee schedules, workforce efficiencies, and production milestones represents a movement to the positive.
With that in hand, business owners also need ways to gauge the economic health of their business, along with methods for using that measurement to understand what the company needs to survive and thrive in a post-pandemic marketplace. I’ll tackle that topic in my next blog entry.