By Isabel Valle, Peak Performance Strategist and Leadership Coach
We are facing an unprecedented time in our history. The world is navigating through uncharted territory in the midst of this global pandemic which is impacting our health, our businesses and the global economy.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched how this pandemic has heightened and many businesses have been forced to close or cut back substantially.
Consumers are now staying home, businesses are losing revenue and laying off staff and unemployment levels are rising. Most likely large-scale quarantines, travel restrictions, and social-distancing measures will drive a sharp fall in consumer and business spending, producing a recession.
What does all of this mean for consumer confidence and the health of our businesses?
As we all continue to navigate through these unique and evolving challenges, we need to explore new innovative ways in which to reach our potential customers, continue to have a digital presence and find unusual creative ways to keep our businesses awake.
I am of the opinion that something good comes out of even the worst situations. In the absence of “business as usual”, with so much fear and uncertainty surrounding us, we can’t just allow our worries to distract our efforts. Instead, we need to proactively find ways to ease the uncertainty, so that new windows of possibilities and creative opportunities may appear. We simply cannot let the tough times we are facing determine our approach to navigating through it, and businesses will need to work hard to fight against this.
At times like these, it’s not all bad news. With social distancing and self-isolation becoming the norm, this could potentially be the time to help us identify the weak links in our businesses so that we can fix them.
If for instance your business is over-reliant on a specific client or area, you rely on having a physical presence or have the need to attend trade shows and sales meetings, you may need to consider ways to invest in better digital sales and marketing initiatives, which would reduce your exposure to the risks posed by the pandemic, all while opening new opportunities.
Often my clients have been meaning to change things in their business but somehow never found the right time to do so. This could in fact be your opportunity to do it. It is human nature to get caught up in our daily busy lives, and we sometimes need to be up against the wall before we finally do what is needed to be done all along. So take this as an indication that your time to act on those areas is now.
So, what are we to do when the world is on edge – waiting to see what happens next? I wish I had a crystal ball to see into the future, but I’m in the same boat as everyone else. Waiting for each new day to find out which direction the landscape has shifted and how the general public will react. So, what are the best moves for smart businesses to make in these uncertain times? What can set you up for success now and into the future, whatever that brings? I wrote an article for Austcham back in May 2019 with all details on how successful people overcome adversity that you can read here
The pandemic has added yet another critical layer of complexity. The way forward, not matter how ambiguous our circumstances, is to focus on the areas we can impact upon. I would like to share with you 3 areas to prioritize on your business. They are by no means exhaustive or detailed enough to substitute for a thorough analysis of a company’s particular situation:
This is the time to practice social distancing, and it needs to be taken seriously. If possible, reduce the need for yourself, your employees and your clients to travel to a physical location by offering virtual attendance options. Get into the daily habit of asking:
- What can I do to be of service?
- How can I continue to add value for my clients?
- What expertise can I share?”
and set about delivering that value via alternative methods.
In such a confusing and stressful time, I watch my clients in awe of the many creative ways they continue to add value. From medical online check-ups, to Zoom physio treatments, to online mentoring group classes, etc. The possibilities are endless. These businesses would have never thought of venturing into online platforms, and yet at a time of need, they are putting themselves out there and continuing to service customer needs.
For most companies, business as usual is not an option. This is an urgent time to skill up. I don’t think a lot of people truly understand how important it is to build up their digital brands and sales right now. It’s not only a must as the whole world goes virtual, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to add value to others virtually.
People feel connected to people who are 100% aligned with their values, and what they stand for. In this time of confusion with all that’s happening in the world, life can feel frightening and the world can seem scary, shaky and unreal as everything we know seems to be changing at lightning speed.
During these difficult times it’s important for business leaders to maintain an open and honest way of communicating to all of their stakeholders. You must be willing to face and share difficult times. To be open to resolving conflict before it worsens. Open to having difficult conversations with the intention of finding a way forward. Open to working through changes that are happening on an hourly basis and open to listening, seeing things from others point of view and being kind and respectful to each other.
Firstly, you must protect your employees by providing them with clear, simple language on how to deal with the current changes while providing them with autonomy so they feel empowered to deal with any quickly evolving situation. Establish two-way communications that provide a safe space for employees to express if they are feeling unsafe for any reason, as well as monitoring adherence to updated policies.
Maintaining an informed workforce helps ensure that business continues to flow as smoothly as possible. It also minimizes the internal rumour mill that may lead to employees posting false reports on social media, impacting your reputation.
Secondly, you must stay close to your customers and suppliers. Businesses are only as strong as the communities of which they are a part. Companies that navigate disruptions better often succeed because they invest in their core customer segments and anticipate their behaviours. People have dramatically shifted toward online shopping for all types of goods, including food and produce delivery. You do not want customers and suppliers to learn about the effect of the crisis in your business through third parties. Information on any crisis pertaining to your organization should come from you first.
Staying transparent and offering authentic, real-time information to your stakeholders will go a long way in terms of trust and engagement, and it will continue to add on your reputation as an ethical, transparent brand.
When everyone is pulling back, you must continue to deliver on your core business strategies. Our current situation is forcing us to find different ways to live and interact, so we need to adapt. Even if production, manufacturing or shipping is not feasible right now, you must continue to engage with your audience, build on it, and continue to share your message to market.
Your clients will appreciate your continued engagement and will remain loyal to your brand. Also, don’t be afraid to openly ask them for ways in which you could continue to do business. I have been pleasantly surprised to find that by tweaking some details regarding delivery, production date, and loosening warranty and payment terms and conditions, many clients are still willing to continue to do business.
Strategically speaking, this could be the right time for you to increase your reach and opportunities into other markets, so you don’t put your all your eggs in one basket. While everyone else is checking out, you can be sharpening your saw.
“The only thing we can be sure of in business is change”.
Now’s the time to ask some critical — potentially game-changing — questions to reflect on what you really want in business, such as the ones I suggest below:
This is a historic crisis. But that also means it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to be a role model, to optimize your business, to demonstrate a positive attitude, to show compassion, to set the emotional tone for your circle of influence, to remain calm and conscientious, to lead authentically, to exemplify the values and service that your brand and your business stand for.
The underlying message here is clear: people before business. Our economy can recover over the long-term. We cannot bring back lives lost. Business will return, and until that happens, we need to do our best to protect ourselves and our people. Help keep them safe and protected.
Let’s try and maintain a level of optimism. Success in this instance will look like an adaptation of life – and business – as we know it. Let’s be proactive now and redefine our business activities so that when we conquer COVID 19 you are ready to propel forward decisively and with impact.
Sending virtual hugs to you all. Let’s hold on and give it our very best. Stay safe!