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boldness now

Boldness is for Now

The CEO of a non-Japanese company in Japan reached out to me early this year with best wishes and the great news that his company had outstanding results in 2020. I was glad to hear it, but not surprised given the kind of leader he is and the business he runs. He is not an exception. Most of the CEOs in my community had excellent results in 2020, and for some it was even a record year.

A year ago, pre-pandemic, I was having a very different kind of conversation with the same CEO. He was pushing the organization to change and having success, but not as fast as he wanted. The company’s business model that served the company well for decades had exceeded its use-by date. The CEO knew the future would be in e-commerce direct-to-consumer sales, and while the company had made considerable progress in that direction, it was not enough. The inertia among staff to change, while not universal, was still substantial, and even among those open to change, motivation was often tepid. The CEO at times hesitated, not wanting to push too hard or too fast for change for fear of the damage that might cause, feeling his way for the right measured degree.

The pandemic changed all that. By March last year, the global leaders of the business viewed what was happening as an existential crisis. They called on leaders all over the world for help in addressing it, and address it they did. Nothing like a good crisis to galvanize unity, and sense of urgency and of purpose. The CEO achieved the change he had wanted all along, and fast too. After all, tentativeness was not option—or at least not if he wanted to succeed.

This is not to say that there was no pain, no setbacks, or no resistance. There always is, no matter the change or existing buy-in. The company survived intact, along with most staff nonetheless. Now the business thrives, even better than before, and the results bear out the success.

In any economic crisis, there is a cleansing effect. Poor performing companies and even some that are doing just OK but resistant to growth and change, tend not to come out on the other side, and this what I have seen in Japan.

Companies whose leaders had been pushing for ways to doing business with customer directly, both through technology and other means, have come through in good shape, even if their efforts had been facing resistance beforehand. Companies whose leaders had begun developing options for staff to work remotely, have done well, even though the idea of working from home had been an anathema among a majority of staff and managers. Companies whose leaders had cultivated a culture of flexibility and adaptability to capture market opportunities fast when change occurs or otherwise appears imminent, have emerged running at full speed. Companies whose leaders had insisted upon sales forces to regularly reach out to existing customers proactively rather than just responding to inbound inquiries, no matter how fast the response time, have equally done well. Perhaps even more importantly, companies that had set aside cash to carry them through hard times afforded themselves options for bold action to carry them though the crisis. Yet it is only those companies whose leaders had actively been pushing for growth and change beforehand that have emerged successfully, even if the change had been met with resistance and mixed success at the time.

As I write today, Japan is going through its darkest and most troubling time of this pandemic so far. Yet we can see the light. Vaccines are coming as is the approaching spring. The situation will become less volatile, and not just that. I foresee a business boom in Japan coming faster than you might believe.

Yet don’t let any of that lull you. Retain the boldness of action and change that has gotten you through to today. For the CEO whom I discussed above, there had been no more reason for him to be tentative in his push for change in his business pre-pandemic than there was after the crisis was upon him and the rest of us.

The time for boldness is always now—crisis optional. It’s up to you.

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