Last week, I held a CEO roundtable in Tokyo for business leaders share and exchange experiences, wisdom, and advice. If you lead a business, below are nine things you ought to be doing now if you want to thrive despite the crisis rather than just survive it.
- Address personal safety risk of staff first. Perception of personal risk trumps business risk. One expat manager I know was worried about what to do if she got sick, if she could access English language medical services, how to care for her children should she and her husband get sick at the same time, among other concerns. Address concerns and fears of staff first. Then your staff can support you in addressing needs of the business. Make sure managers in your organization do the same with their staff.
- Focus on creating value for customers, even if it means changing the way you do things. It is a myth that the crisis means a drop in revenues. The key is being innovative and perceptive about ways to create value rather than just doing more of the same to hit targets. Some businesses have either maintained or increased revenues during this crisis, even businesses whose products might be considered luxury or discretionary. It is just that demand for categories of product or service have changed, or the channel through which products are sought has shifted.
- Change selling methods to address personal safety risk to customers. One company I know created an enclosed pop-up store concept within a retail space that can accommodate customers one at a time, and can be disinfected after use. Other company CEOs have indicated to me that they can apply the same concept in their businesses, even ones that are not retail. Maybe you can too.
- Reach out to your customers now rather than waiting for customers to come to you. One company CEO related that while retail traffic to stores is down, conversion rates are up, even though the product his company sells is a substantial purchase. Consumers still need and want things. Those who are most serious or passionate about what you sell will go to you, but don’t hesitate to reach out to and accommodate customers proactively rather than just waiting for them to come to you.
- Redirect customers to online sales as much as you can. CEOs I know whose businesses have an online sales channel presence have seen some increase in online sales even if these do not offset decreases through other channels. If you have an online sales channel, or other type of remote channel whether direct-to-consumer or business-to-business, don’t hesitate to direct your customers to it. Some customers are already naturally shifting their purchases to remote channels. Add to the existing momentum. Improve your infrastructure to accommodate if need be.
- Make decisions rapidly, particularly when no option is clearly optimal. No one wanted to postpone the Tokyo Olympics, but it was the indecision that caused anxiety more than the postponement itself. Once the decision was made, even though it is unpalatable, businesses can move forward with planning. In your own business, make sure that you are making decisions, even if among unpalatable options, to provide at least some predictability to staff. Make sure mangers in your organization are doing the same with their staff. Indecision among a raft of unpalatable options creates more fear and anxiety than the decisiveness about just one of them.
- Improve organizational capability now. Now is the best time to be making improvements in your business and organizational capabilities while your people are focussed and have fewer options for routine ways of working. Nothing creates flexibility like a crisis. Managers and staff alike are having to learn how to work with each other remotely. Managers in particular are having to learn how to hold staff accountable for results without constantly being present in an office. Staff are having to learn to be self-directed and take the initiative rather than waiting for orders or approval, as well as teaching themselves new skills rather than waiting for HR to provide training. Flex time is now a practical reality for large numbers of people working from home. If managed well, flex time and working from home promise better work-life balance and improved productivity after the crisis if maintained. Capabilities needed to thrive in a crisis are just as important for thriving even in the best of times. Don’t let this time go to waste.
- Assert your leadership to fill any vacuum. Government creates the environment in the country through deliberate action or lack thereof. In your own company however you create the environment, not the government. Assert your leadership in your own organization rather than waiting for governmental clarity. The same goes for waiting for clarity from your head office overseas. You control the environment within the company you lead no matter what might be happening outside.
- Thrive, not just survive. It is a myth that your business must necessarily be weakened by this crisis and all you can do is take a defensive posture to minimize the damage. Even in the worst of recessions, some business always thrive. Yours can too, as long as your focus remains on how best to create value. And rest assured, we will get back to normal, likely sooner than many people believe, even if that normal is different from the one before.