We all know we need to be prepared for the worst—while striving for the best—when it comes to the effects of COVID-19, and the market has proven that leaders who remain calm and focused are better able to steer their team through turbulence and uncertainty. However, my experience is that many leaders and leadership teams do not know how to do this.
I'm being asked by CEOs worldwide, "What few things must I focus on now?" Even when leadership appears calm like a duck on the surface, many leaders today are paddling like mad underwater with only a finite few that have clear direction.
This is not the time to discard your quarterly plan or your planning process in your paddling frenzy. This is the time to double down on your dashboard, and communicate specifically on what’s important to your company right now. I don’t mean focus on your quarter plan and ignore the reality of the worldwide pandemic; I mean to double down on the use of your dashboard to focus on the right priorities.
Leverage Habits that are in Place for the Uncertainty that You Face
Use your dashboard and team weekly meeting structure as-is. Utilize habits already in place towards any uncertainty that you, your company and your team face. No need to panic; have unwritten, changing tactics; or change your operating system just because we face a new, invisible and fast-moving enemy. Changing your operating system would mean forcing your team to change the way they think about communication methods and processes to do it. It would mean wasting energy on how to report, discuss and solve problems or opportunities. That’s wrong-headed thinking at a time when you urgently need all minds on deck to consider possible solutions. The only recommended adjustment is the frequency of meetings (many companies have moved to 2x, 3x, or daily meeting frequencies).
If you’ve been following my recommendation of 3-5 priorities per quarter, you already have a dashboard and structure for your team meetings. A few of you have followed my advice to create a cash-flow runway to know exactly how long the cash you have will last. Some have built my recommended (minimum) 6-month cash runway in preparation for any unforeseen event. Congratulations.
I’m now recommending that you add a priority 0 (ZERO) titled something like: "COVID-19 Survive, Recover, and Thrive."
Adding this priority to your dashboard with a zero ranking allows your team to discuss this big issue first, attach any supporting priorities or KPI’s, have honest and focused conversations, and remove the obstacle in everyone’s mind by addressing it head-on. Action items can be added, updates shared and team energy can be harnessed. This is the COVID-19 CEO roadmap for their most important issues in the current time of remote working and heightened uncertainty.
The coronavirus crises has upended many operating models and caused firms to completely rewrite the way that they do business in a very short amount of time. Use this time to engineer your business to thrive in the post COVID-19 pandemic economy. Use a data driven approach to drive the results that you need, set the priority (or priorities) needed to help you with the digital transformation required in a world that has less face to face contact.
Here’s an example of how that might look:
Now, to the question in the back of your mind, “What about our current quarter priorities?” Tailor your own answer to your current status using my Triple-Gauge Comparison dashboard. When circumstances change, go back to this dashboard while considering any priority changes, including Priority #0. Here’s a visual to use (and share with your team):
For companies in the:
SURVIVE – Red Status. Pause (don't delete) any priority that is not pressing. Your number 1 COVID-19 focus is employee and customer safety (you'll need both for the recovery). Follow a regular communication plan with both. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Your number 2 focus should be cash. Not much else is important during times like this. Immediately pull in all cash that you can, including receivables, lines of credit, available HELOC, anything. Cash will be king.
Most other previous quarter priorities are not relevant at this time as you are in SURVIVE mode, and you must first manage triage. For example, you may be considering layoffs, determining who is critical personnel, negotiating over lines of credit, or trying to determine when you’re out of cash. People (employees, lenders, and suppliers) remember how you behave under duress and use that behavior as one filter when determining whether to come back to work with you. Assume any laid off workers are free agents, and the better ones could be picked up by opposing teams. How can you mitigate this possibility and protect your talent? You'll also find wasteful processes and should eliminate them for good.
RECOVER – Yellow Status. Again, pause (don't delete) any priority that is not pressing. Now, I make an unusual recommendation during these unprecedented times to look for any new, big opportunity, and add it to your quarter plan execution. Look for the immediate advantage that sparks a solid status of green. Consider things like how you can adapt more quickly than your competition? If you laid people off, do you have a “stay in touch” communication plan to better know who is available to come back and whether they are interested? If not, do you need rapid response on-boarding to bring new hires up to speed quickly enough to support sales and marketing? Look for opportunities to speed up your recovery. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
THRIVE – Green Status. No time to rest, and although you should be thankful, don’t celebrate too much. How do you maintain growth, support clients, build relationships further, and more? If your green status on the Triple Gauge Comparison is because you are the only game in town (not because you deliver well or have quality product), then your clients will leave when given a choice. You should be ready to go on the offensive when the economy roars back—and it will. The leader that keeps their team aligned and focused in the red-yellow status is the one that will move most quickly when things turn green—and will invest the cash more wisely when it's time to shape your company post COVID-19. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Yes, it is common knowledge to be prepared for the worst with COVID– 19, and as a business leader, I know you’re working for the best. A priority #0 COVID-19 Survive, Recover, and Thrive mentality will equip you to be the calm, focused leader, with a (more) calm, focused team. It will enable you to leverage current situations and steer your team through turbulence and uncertainty. Create your priority, communicate to your team, grab the helm and choose your direction! If you need any help creating a strategic plan, check our virtual strategic planning facilitation options designed for mid-market executive teams.
Has your company transitioned to working from home? Here are additional resources:
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images