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Posted May 7, 2020 by John Spence

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I reached out to several CEOs around the world that I’ve been working with and coaching to ask them two key questions about how they are dealing with the pandemic.  I looked across all the answers and grouped them under a few main topics. I left the answers word-for-word and removed only a few that were highly industry-specific. You’ll see that there is a significant amount of redundancy. This is excellent as it shows a very clear pattern of what these highly talented business leaders are focused on to keep their companies strong and set themselves up for success as we move through these challenging times. 

What are your three biggest learnings from the pandemic so far?

People 

  • Empathy and compassion are potentially the most important traits of a leader. 
  • Every minute you spend putting your team first will pay off in years of loyalty and engagement from the team. 
  • People are good and want to do the right thing for their families, their friends, and their employer. 
  • Our people really rose to the occasion – the culture gas tank was full and it shows. 
  • Employees will follow you and help push you through bad times if they feel you are in it with them, take in the good every day. 
  • Collaboration is powerful and critical to navigating the crisis. 
  • The current situation has blown our cohesive office environment to bits, and we now have 200+ employees working in 200+ individual offices – each likely full of distractions and other challenges.  To survive this, both mentally and literally, we need to trust one another. 

Flexibility

  • Today’s technology is excellent as you can see in the resurgence of Facebook, Zoom, Whatsapp, and such. 
  • How easy it is to work remotely & the impact of over-communicating. Work in the future will look very different: 4 day weeks, working remotely, video updates, social media platforms.  
  • Our organization is more agile/flexible than I thought. 
  • Our employees are working more effectively from home than I expected. 
  • Video conferencing meetings are more effective than I realized, and I don’t have to spend time in traffic going from meeting to meeting. 
  • There were a lot of commitments on my calendar that were not as important as I originally thought.  
  • People are resilient. Change and uncertainly are always challenging, but we adapt and move on. 
  • The government needs to speed up its adoption of electronic signatures for financial and real estate transactions. 
  • How quickly ideas can be put into place when you don’t have the time to test until you are completely satisfied you have the perfect solution.  You accept the results and quickly work to improve upon.
  • When the pandemic passes, companies that are currently in re-invention mode and not survival mode will win. 
  • What you are thinking today will likely change tomorrow. 
  • Everything feels magnified right now, both the negative and the positive. 
  • Focus on opportunities. 
  • Tailor your message to your customers in a way that will allow them to deliver value in their own businesses (they need your creativity). 

Financial

  • A strong balance sheet can get you through. 
  • Diversity in your client base matters. 
  • Having a strong balance sheet has been key. 
  • Keep multiple banking relationships. 
  • Never ever be overleveraged personally or professionally – excess debt will kill some companies over the coming months and leave lifelong scars for some individuals. 
  • Diversify clients (no more than 20% from the same industry, no “whale” clients). 

What are the three pieces of advice you would give to the leader of another organization? 

Communication 

  • Centralize communications – one voice. 
  • Communicate what’s going on in the organization often. 
  • Communicate with your team again. 
  • Communication is key – with managers, employees, customers, and vendors partners. 
  • Communicate often with your staff and your exec team, be open and vulnerable. 
  • Human connection – don’t handle it with an email if you can help it.  Video, then call, then email.  Why? Because the human connection is key.   
  • Messaging is key – convey your value. Communication for the same commutation is a waste of time. Dollar Shave Club gave me Covid-19 advice. I don’t need Covid-19 advice from the Dollar Shave Club.
  • Stay connected very intentionally to those you lead, friends, and family. 
  • Communicate properly: tone, timing, leadership, and concise. 
  • Over-communicate your status to your people and customers directly and on your social media platforms. 
  • Organize your priorities and communicate them.  For us, the top three priorities are employee safety, customers, and the balance sheet/financial statement. 
  • Be honest and authentic – employees want to hear the truth and understand sacrifices have to be made. 
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate…  Everyone is anxious and stressed and a lot of that anxiety and stress are a result of the unknown.  Help reduce that by keeping everyone up to date on what is happening and the plans to move forward. 
  • Communicate more than you need to. Absent frequent communication, your team will fill the void with their own narrative which could be based on fear. 
  • Leverage and empower your team; talk with them more than you ever have (via Zoom, Teams, or the trusty old phone). 
  • Overcommunicate and be transparent with your staff. 
  • Ensure the team that their safety is of the utmost importance. 
  • Observe who in your company is positive, creative, and productive during this crisis, they are your company.  
  • Respect and understand that your team members are all in different stages of dealing with this situation. 
  • Find ways to be encouraging even when you feel discouraged. It’s a winwin. 
  • Be intentional about gathering people together for meetings. My former mantra was don’t meet just to meet but now we need to be intentional since the organic contact we had is missing. 

Plan 

  • Plan, plan, plan. 
  • Create a plan but make it highly adaptable to changing circumstances. 
  • Have a plan; a well organized and thoughtful plan.  
  • Make sure your executive team is diverse with everyone complementing each other’s talents. 
  • Reinvent and innovate your business right now, you can leapfrog your competition. 
  • Rewrite job descriptions and align compensation with your new goals and objectives. 
  • Diversify the client base as much as you think you can commit to. 
  • Remind customers that your company is not the same nameless organization, but is made up of good people trying to do good things while facing the same threats as they are.   
  • Call your clients and have a pulse on what they are feeling/seeing, help where you can, they will remember that you did. 

Leadership

  • Keep fit physically & mentally. 
  • Stay calm!  The leader sets the tone.     
  • Take care of yourself and if possible to an even greater extent than normal.  Being healthy and sane helps keep you calm.  
  • Spend time to take care of yourself so you can take care of the people that depend on you (eat well, exercise, read something uplifting, and work on a hobby). 
  • Rather than spending time worrying about what you cannot control, take action on what you can control. 
  • Things are usually not as good or as bad as they seem; never lose hope and never give up. 
  • To value what we have: family, friends, and fulfilling work that makes a difference.  
  • Don’t take the good things in life for granted. 
  • Focus on what you can control and move beyond what you have no control over.  
  • The reality is that we don’t control nearly as much as we’d like to in this world, and as a type-A person, this is often difficult for me to come to grips with.  One needs to look no further than the virus itself to know that nature and other large forces can toss us around like toothpicks. 
  • Laugh and have a sense of humor.  

From John  

During the Great Recession, I served as an advisor to several companies, and here are the lessons I took away from that experience that remain prevalent in our business world today. 

Take amazing care of your people.  Let them know that you value them highly and you are extremely happy that they are on your team.  Show them this by giving them the support, training, help, and resources they need to do great work.  To keep them motivated, show lots of genuine appreciation, and celebrate wins both big and small. Your people truly are your most important asset so you need to invest in them and do everything you can to support themfrom both a business and an emotional perspective 

Now is the time that your company must deliver the best products and services you ever have. Use this as an opportunity to deliver amazing work and exceed your customers expectations. Be indispensable to your clients and customers. If they have to cut back in challenging times, help them as much as you can and they will remember that. Your happy customers are your best sales force right now. Be so good that they can’t ignore you and continue to refer you new business.

Be closer to your customers than ever before. Now is the time to strengthen the bond of trust and understanding between your organization and your customersCommunicate often, be a reliable resource, and help as you can.  

Your employees and your customers are going to remember long after this has passed how you treated them now.   

Lastly, focus on the financials. If you don’t take care of your people, deliver amazing products and services, and get close to your customers – your financials will be devastated anyway.  The key here is not to freak out. You need to be thoughtful and prudent in how you manage your money.  Try to make decisions before you get emotional; create red flags that if you cross one you know that it’s time to make a difficult decision. Don’t shoot from the hip, think things through, and make well-reasoned decisions. 

This is not your faultSeveral CEOs and executives I work with as a consultant our coach run great businesses that are highly profitable, have excellent cultures, and have been doing everything right. Yet two weeks later, the world changed and revenues dropped. This hurts me terribly as I consider my clients and their employees as friends. Many of us feel overwhelmed by what has happened to our businesses, and it’s hard not to feel like we did something wrong, but we did not. The only thing we can do now is to put our heads down, work hard and smart, and figure out how to position ourselves for success now and in the future.   

I hope you find this information of value and if there’s anything I can do to assist you, please send me a note.  

Stay safe and be strong.

–John  

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