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thoughtful-strategies-in-your-business-to-weather-the-crisis

With all that’s currently taking place across the globe, it’s important now more than ever to implement smart, thoughtful strategies in your business to weather the crisis. In this special blog series, Mike Sayre shares his advice for businesses navigating difficult waters.

People always come first!

Businesses are built and run by people. As a C-level leader, losing the trust and confidence of your people during a crisis can create additional challenges—or make your current crisis even worse.

How you treat your people, especially in times of crisis, will be remembered for years to come and will leave a lasting mark—positively or negatively—on your businesses’ brand.

Here are eight recommendations for how to care for your team during times of crisis:

  • Transparency and timely communication are always appreciated, whether the news is good or bad.
  • Refine and internalize your message so you can communicate it concisely, consistently and constantly. Consider your overall audience and keep your message simple and truthful when deciding how to deliver it. Don’t use jargon that some in your audience may not understand.
  • Deliver bad news with some kind of credible plan. Detail how your organization will move forward and provide specifics on what you need from your people to make that happen.
  • If your plan will take more time to develop, don’t wait to communicate. Let your team know you’re strategizing. Help them understand what they should be doing while the plan is being developed.
  • DWYSYWD (Do What You Say You Will Do!)—but don’t say you will do things you can’t. This is crucial to building trust in times of crisis and uncertainty.
  • Be visible, available, approachable, and open to the input of others—even if it needs to be through digital communication. Have an “open-door policy” via video conferencing, the telephone, text or email. Demonstrating that you are available and open to input shows respect. (And you may just get some better ideas than you currently have in mind.)
  • Already off on the wrong foot? Pause and reset. Be authentic, apologize, and adjust your communications strategy! There’s still time to build trust.
  • You can’t lead others if you can’t lead yourself! Right now, during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis, there are plenty of great posts, articles, and webinars that are focused on helping you get through this crisis by keeping you safe and improving both your physical and mental health. Carve out time. Make your own well-being a priority.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this blog series, Practical Advice for Businesses in Crisis: Cash, where we’ll tackle strategies for cash flow in times of crisis.

Mike Sayre has successfully piloted businesses through times of crisis for over 20 years as a CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director. If you would like to dive deeper into this topic or get help for your business, reach Mike at (740) 549-9500 x85 or mike@civilisconsulting.com.

A fast-growing, services-based company, with geographically dispersed teams working remotely, was experiencing service failures and growth was beginning to stagnate. As the company had grown and new employees came on board, departments/functions became siloed, collaboration suffered and communication between functions became almost non-existent. Critical information was getting lost or misunderstood, morale was declining, and more time was being spent correcting mistakes than spent effectively servicing customers.

We conducted a session with functional leaders examining 12 recent service failures including client complaints, client contract cancellations, staff turnover and operational mistakes. Performing a root cause analysis, we mapped current communication protocols between functional teams to identify how and where collaboration had broken down. From this, we developed and rolled out more efficient processes, along with tools for communicating between different functions as well as within functions and reorganized several teams. The rollout was supported with a “train the trainer” model for functional leaders after which we continued to follow up and guide adoption.

The new processes reduced the number of steps (volleys) by 25% between sales and operations, cutting amount of time (duration) and payroll (hours) to service a client. In the first year of implementation the number of client complaints was cut by 50% and the company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) improved from 6 to 9.

The following covers seven areas in your business that will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with some strategies for mitigating its negative effects. As you read through this article, keep in mind three things:

  1. As you consider how you will address a particular scenario, think about whether you need to be proactive or reactive. Do you need to put programs or mechanisms in place to prevent things from happening? Or do you need to have programs or mechanisms in place to ensure you react appropriately to certain happenings?
  2. Think about the mission-critical functions of your business and who on your staff is responsible for seeing they continue. What are the key functions, or people, or commodities that need to be maintained for you to weather the storm?
  3. What are the breaking points and what will be triggered when you reach them? In other words, how will you know if and when it’s time to act? 

We’ll cover seven functional areas for business continuity:

  • Operations: How will your day-to-day activities be impacted and how can you adapt the way you deliver your products and services?
  • Sales: How can you modify your sales processes and prepare your team so that lead and revenue generation can continue?
  • Finance: What’s important to keep an eye on right now?
  • Client Services: What can you do to make your business and your product or service more valuable and accommodating?
  • Human Resources: How will you deal with the health and welfare of your team while still delivering for your customers?  
  • Marketing: How is your business being perceived by your various constituencies in this time of crisis, and what immediate changes should you be making?
  • Tech: Are your systems prepared to handle big changes, and if not, what can you do now?

Let’s dive in…

Operations

The first thing to consider is the potential for significant supply chain disruption. The biggest concern here is that your business could be starved out of crucial materials. One of our newest clients is currently facing this dilemma. This business facilitates deals between overseas manufacturers and companies in the US that purchase component parts for their own manufacturing processes. They’re an established company with a stellar reputation, but most of their overseas relationships are based in China. Many of those manufacturers have been shut down due to widespread quarantines, so our client now faces challenges securing alternative manufacturing relationships, all while many other companies are doing the same.

The lesson here is that if you know you have limited options from where you source your products, you need to have a Plan B in place. Look into alternative products, from other manufacturers, possibly from other countries, that may be able to satisfy your demand. Leverage any and all relationships you may have with referral sources or others in the industry to get introductions to new manufacturing resources.

And know that if your business doesn’t purchase directly from China, it doesn’t mean your supply chain won’t be affected. Where do your suppliers or distributors get their products? This is obviously a global concern and the sooner you find those alternative sources, the better your business will be able to weather this disruption.

Besides finding alternative suppliers, look for alternative resources. Focus on building up stock on whatever resources you might need to produce the products you sell, or to complete the services you provide. For example, if you are a manufacturer of food products in the US and rely heavily on imported garlic, you should be out there right now exploring new local sources of garlic.

Just-in-time inventory processes can offer your business maximum profitability, but such processes only work if and when your whole system is running perfectly. Right now, that’s likely not to be the case. If your operational model is very linear, know that you’ll likely need to revamp your entire model to address those challenges you face tomorrow, then will revamp it again to address the challenges you will be facing next month…and next year…and beyond.

Consider the additional unexpected economic side effects that may affect you as well. For example, gas prices are falling as the Russia and Saudi Arabia oil price war continues and global travel demands decrease. Gas prices affect all of us in some way. How will gas prices impact your business?

Finally, it’s not just manufacturers who are facing these challenges. The ripple effect of this pandemic will impact every business in some way. If you’re in B2B, your clients are also being challenged. If your clients are out of business, you won’t be getting paid either, so do what you can to help you clients stay in business.

Sales

Closing new business is always challenging, even in the best of circumstances. The biggest issue your sales team will face is that prospective clients are going to be distracted. They’ll be inundated with calls and emails from employees, government officials, other service providers, and just good old-fashioned spam. So, getting their attention at this critical time will be difficult, if not impossible. Keep this in mind as your sales team settles into a new way of reaching prospects.

Businesses and consumers alike stop spending in times of uncertainty. So, it won’t be any easier to close new business when prospects are keeping a tighter grip on their purse strings. Work with your sales teams to come up with some creative ways to close business faster. Offer discounts if they close before the end of the month. Be willing to adjust your normal terms. Consider extended or delayed payments. Even when offering all of these options, be prepared for a dry spell.

Next, take steps to minimize travel or in-person exposure. Consider how your sales teams normally function. Are they out in the field? Do they conduct a lot of face to face meetings? Are they flying across the country? Be prepared to have fewer in-person meetings and look at alternatives. Zoom Video Conferencing, Cisco Webex, GoToMeeting, and others are safe, reliable platforms for staying in contact, reading body language and enabling human-to-human interaction while practicing social distancing. Make sure your salespeople do a few trial runs before using them with an actual prospect. And if the sales team is accustomed to distributing printed materials, make digital versions available for sharing via screen-share or as attachments in emails.

Lastly, It’s not all bad news. There may be silver linings in the midst of this crisis if you think creatively. Consider how your goods and services could benefit your clients, given they too are having their own COVID-19 challenges. What can you do to help your clients navigate them? Could you encourage customers to stock up on the necessary goods you supply? If you’re a business services provider, could you provide remote workplace solutions? Could you help your e-commerce customer ensure their shopping carts are functioning properly? Could you innovate new products or services today that would help your clients stay in business?

Finance

How’s your cashflow? Could it be squeezed if customers delay payments due to COVID-19 related stresses? Could credit sources be restricted if your creditors have unexpected losses? Times like these are likely to put a strain on your financial situation.

As the old saying goes, cash is king, so think about how you can get as much cash in your reserves now. As mentioned earlier, you might want to consider adjusting your terms, or offering discounts for upfront payments. If you struggle with collections, it’s time to get caught up. Can you shorten the time you allow for invoices to be paid? The goal is to have as much cash as you can and to speed up your receivables while reducing your payables.

Next, let’s consider credit. Credit sources have the potential to be restricted, particularly if your creditors experience unexpected losses. Think back to 2008, when banks went looking for money wherever they could find it and they would, in some cases, single out their financially healthier customers to recover cash. So, don’t be surprised if lines of credit are affected. You could actually be penalized for having a strong cash position or a good credit rating. Talk with your creditors, explore your options, and make sure you have a full understanding of the terms of your existing credit lines. You don’t want any surprises.

Lastly, evaluate your expenses. What can you cut or reduce? Where can you find savings?  What payables could be delayed? If you have debt under favorable terms, you might consider reducing those payments. Once again, hold on to as much cash as you can, at least until this crisis passes.

Client Services

What help will your clients need, and how can you become a resource to them? Some clients will be better prepared than others to deal with the change and uncertainty that a crisis like this presents. For your prepared clients, they’ll likely already have their crisis plans mapped out. Make sure you know those plans so you can adapt your own way of working with them.

Unfortunately, many of your clients will not be adequately prepared. They will be reacting in the moment and reeling from the chaos. Help them by providing perspective and a sense of calm. Make a list of the potential problems that they are likely to run into and work together to build their plan of action. Be available. Give your clients your cell phone number and invite them to contact you anytime. This is an opportunity to be more than just a vendor to your clients – be an invaluable asset.

One of our clients had spent a significant proportion of their marketing budget preparing for an annual trade show that was just cancelled. A pre-show marketing campaign was already underway, sales meeting appointments had been made, and marketing collateral was produced. In the interest of partnering with our client, we immediately helped them enact an alternative sales and marketing plan so they could mitigate their losses while maximizing opportunities to build relationships with those would-be show attendees. We’ve jumped right in there, alongside the business owners and their sales teams, to help them navigate these unprecedented circumstances. Not only does our client appreciate our partnership and expertise, our team gets great satisfaction from helping others meet these COVID-19 challenges head on.

Human Resources

Let’s remember that when all is said and done, COVID-19 is a human problem. Lives and livelihoods are at stake. First and foremost, consider how you will protect your team. What healthcare resources can you provide? What must you do to prepare for large numbers of your staff to become ill? What will you do if you lose a member of your staff who is responsible for a critical function that keeps your business running?

Let’s begin with what we refer to as “mass outages”, where a significant portion of your workforce is unable to come to work. Meet with your leadership and department heads now to decide what needs to happen under what circumstances. Determine the trigger point for taking action. Is it when 10% of your workforce is out? 20%?  Identify those scenarios and know what you’ll do when you reach them. Make sure your leadership team knows who is responsible for making those determinations and when to put your plans into action.

Also consider “micro outages”. You likely have at least one person or team through which one key function flows. Every business has at least one of these rock stars and their value is hard to measure. This person or persons may be solely responsible for a crucial function that keeps the wheels of your business turning. Document their tasks and major responsibilities and cross-train another person (or two or ten) to complete those functions in case your rock star is out. The same holds true if you have a lot of specialization on your team. Have at least two or three people trained on that job or function.

Most importantly, consider the actual health and wellbeing of your employees and their families. Begin by providing some basic education for your employees: proper hand washing techniques, how to keep a social distance, how to recognize symptoms. Ask your health insurance provider for information about wellness services, hotlines and other benefits your plan may already provide. And examine your policies regarding sick days and PTO and make adjustments, if necessary, to accommodate extended periods of time off work due to illness.

Lastly, familiarize yourself with all available resources from your local, state, and federal governments, including the CDC. Bookmark those websites and keep yourself – and your employees – up to date on the latest news.

Marketing

While these are uncertain and chaotic times, consider how your image will be affected by this crisis. Your customers and employees and their families will be looking for sources of calm in the storm, so how you handle this crisis today will affect their perception of your business after it has passed. Times of crisis are actually opportunities to build genuine relationships, so use your communication channels to show your true colors – to clients and non-clients alike.

This is also the time to review your content strategy. Messages promoting your services to leads, prospects, or active clients who are in the throes of a crisis will likely come off as insensitive or even offensive. If you have a scheduled or automated marketing campaign already underway, edit those messages or suspend them altogether. Think about what concise messaging you can offer your audience that demonstrates empathy and support.

Information Technology

School closures, quarantines, social distancing, and caring for sick loved ones will mean even your healthy employees will have to remain home. Security is the number one concern here, as you’ll be more vulnerable to cyber theft, scams, and loss of data if you’re not prepared for your business to operate remotely. If you don’t have IT capabilities in house, find a local IT services company and get help from professionals.

Make sure your email servers and company networks are protected and ready to be accessed remotely. So that you can stay in touch with your teams in real time, adopt a secure instant messaging platform – Slack, Google Hangout Chat, Facebook Workplace, Trillian – and put protocols in place for what kind of information should be communicated over IM.

On a positive note, your IT department is probably best equipped to handle any type of crisis. They usually have a lot of documentation, phone trees, and plans in place to deal with any IT disruptions; such a mindset is part of their day-to-day operation. So, look to your IT providers as a model for how to adapt and prepare other areas of your business, particularly when it comes to communication.

At Civilis, we have a crisis preparedness plan that we can easily “pull off the virtual shelf” and activate. It outlines who’s going to contact whom under what circumstances, and how we communicate with our clients in different scenarios. It is a step-by-step process that is already prepared and ready to be launched. Ideally, you’ll have something like that in place, but if not, contact us – we can help!

Keep Calm and Carry On

In times of crisis, your clients, employees and family members will be looking to you for perspective and comfort. So, give yourself and your people frequent breaks. Go outside and get some fresh air. Meditate. Go for a run. Call one of us if you just need a little pep talk. Spring will arrive. Flowers will bloom. The world – and we – will survive.

Our client, a non-profit organization, was being co-led by the three founders. Each founder had a distinct vision for the organizations’ goals and path forward. The misalignment among the leaders led to overall confusion and frustration among Staff, Volunteers, and Donors, which in turn resulted in consistent failure of the organization to meet its goals and fundraising targets..

We conducted in-depth interviews of the stakeholder groups (Board of Directors, Founders and Staff) to determine why each was involved in the organization, what they cared about, their own ideas of success, and how they felt their resources could be best utilized. From the interviews we pulled out common themes and used this as a foundation for a facilitated SWOT workshop with the Leadership and Board of Directors. From the workshop we built a strategic plan, a budget and a prioritized implementation roadmap that included a comprehensive marketing and messaging plan. Additionally, we recommended a change in organization structure from three Co-leaders to one Leader with the other two Founders taking an Executive Director role with distinct areas of responsibility and developed a decision-making protocol for both strategic and tactical decisions.

With the adoption of the strategic plan and roadmap, new leadership structure, and decision-making protocol the organization (including leaders, staff and volunteers) had clarity of purpose and an increased level of engagement. Within 12 months – and for the first time ever – the organization was consistently achieving its goals and fundraising targets.