It’s one thing to be a leader during “peacetime.” It’s entirely another to be a leader during “wartime.”
Ever since COVID-19 started spreading across the planet, leaders of all types of organizations—from global companies to family-owned restaurants—have needed to switch gears and enter “wartime” mode. Keep in mind, for the past three years, the economy has been at an all-time high. Business was good. Markets were frothy with lofty P/E ratios. And all of a sudden, that reality came to a screeching halt.
One of the big decisions leaders in today’s climate have had to make is what the right balance is between being conservative (to ensure the company stays alive in the long term), and being thoughtfully aggressive (to continue growing and thriving in the near term). You want to be more operationally focused, but you also want to be well-positioned for when things change—so you can hit the ground running.
So, what do you do?
To be blunt, this is what leadership—not just managing—is all about. There’s a reason Ben Horowitz’s book (renowned venture capitalist) is titled, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. In business, very rarely is one path dramatically easier and better than the other. In the end, they’re both hard—and the leaders who have a difficult time separating emotion from the decision process are the ones who end up struggling the most.
Here are the things leaders should be looking at closely in their businesses to come out of this turbulence positioned for success.
1. Are you keeping a healthy balance between tactical operations today versus strategic positioning going forward?
It’s one thing to cut costs in order to immediately reduce your overhead.
It’s entirely another to question how and where you can cut costs based on the type of organization you want to be moving forward.
Operationally, a lot of leaders are starting to realize many aspects of their business no longer make sense in today’s world. These are decisions in the here-and-now—and yet they can also have a dramatic impact on the way the business operates well into the future. For example, why do office buildings have so much physical space? Is that going to be necessary in a world where 50% of the workforce prefers to work remotely? Or what about employees who are clearly more productive when working from home? Should they be subject to the same policies moving forward, requiring them to show up to the office?
These are terrific questions. And now is a great time to contemplate them and understand what changes you can make now that will help you craft a business that makes sense in the new world we will be living in moving forward.
2. What will travel for your business and your industry look like even after the coronavirus has been flattened?
Business travel has never been under more scrutiny than it is today.
For decades, companies have assumed some level of travel was just “the cost of doing business.” But in the midst of a global pandemic, when few feel safe traveling, all of a sudden one of the pillars of most medium- to large-scale companies’ enterprise sales and marketing efforts are being pulled into question. Does it really make sense to physically fly or drive to see customers, clients, and partners as often? How much can we get done without needing to hop on a plane, or drive several hours, or stay overnight? The current times have accelerated the shift to virtual customer engagement for day-day conversations, mutual updates, and even business proposals. We always will need human direct interaction—I can see these partner/customer reunion-type events being even more valued and rewarding when they do occur.
This is going to be a big differentiator between organizations and leadership styles in our new world. Status quo organizations will return to requiring employees to work in the office five days per week, or for sales and marketing folks to travel “just for a visit and to look them in the eye.” Meanwhile, more forward-thinking organizations will learn from these months and are going to trend further in the direction of working from home, encouraging regular video calls with clients and customers as opposed to hopping on a plane, etc. For example, OpenText recently announced adoption of this direction with a plan to not reopen approximately 50% of their offices. And the chasm between these two groups of companies will only grow wider, forcing people in the workforce to make a decision: “What type of organization do I want to work for?”
3. Are you focusing your efforts on acquiring new customers or retaining existing customers?
Every business wants new customers.
But right now is not the time to be pushing new promotions. My email inbox is full of unread offers. What leaders should be focusing on is how to go above and beyond for their current customers. What do they need help with right now? For example, one of the things we’ve done at Reveille is take several customers that had been asking for additional services, and individually tailor a matching offering in our software maintenance packages (for the same price) at their next renewal. Not only does this show we’re willing to do more of the heavy lifting to ensure their success, but we’re also committed to giving them some extra support at a time they need it most. And the win-win is that in return, we continue nurturing our loyal book of business.
By understanding the specific needs of your customers, you can come up with creative ways to incentivize them to stick with you. Are they strapped for cash but really love your product? Or are they not liking your product and just looking for a deferral on payment? Segmenting your customers and then offering specific solutions to each group is what will benefit the organization most. Offering blanket discounts to everyone usually isn’t the answer.
At the end of the day, these tactical decisions are necessary, but they are only small pieces to a much larger puzzle. The real question is, how are you managing your business in the short-term to ensure people see the entire organization as a leader in the space after the coronavirus has come and gone.
Remember, you don’t want to emerge from this with your customers saying, “I wish you had done more.”