Viral Overload

Use this fearful time to build relationships, demonstrate compassion and focus on small wins.

A wise mentor once told me there aren’t that many problems in business, more like a dozen or so. Where does COVID-19 fit in? We don’t know, and it changes by the day. 

Dan Sullivan, a business-strategy coach, advises using fearful times to build business relationships rather than puzzle over lost sales. Work internally to demonstrate outward compassion and helpfulness, focusing on the small wins that will bring you out of difficult times with gratitude: “New difficulties can either defeat you or reveal new strengths.” 

On the practical side, what if you do need to cut back? Do layoffs as one big cut, rather than individual changes. In All About Earnings: 100 Ways to Profit in Any Economy, Barry Schimel, Barry Friedman and Gary Kravitz advise business owners with declining revenue to ask their CPAs if estimated corporate tax payments can be lowered. “Keep bankers informed in good times and bad,” they write, advising businesses to secure two lines of credit – before they are needed. Truly strapped? Consider lowering your own compensation to what you truly need until the company recovers. 

By now, you’ve already had to face remote working, whether you had a policy or not. As systems potentially fail and things inevitably fall through the cracks, use your team as a network, not a hierarchy. Acknowledge past shortcomings, and work with employees to find a way forward. You can’t plan for every contingency, but you can improve your team’s ability to think quickly, flexibly and creatively by responding to faux “what if” scenarios, writes Nitin Nohria in the Harvard Business Review. And if the “what ifs” are real? The skill building still happens, albeit with higher stakes. 

And finally, for humanity’s sake, give back. Everyone is belt-tightening. Where can your company uniquely benefit the community? Here in Portland, OR, a local distillery started bottling hand sanitizer and giving it out for free (legally, they can’t sell it) as it ran short on store shelves.

So today, reassure your people. Control the controllables. Zero in on your financials, and realize that an economic downturn is an economic downturn, regardless of cause. Work with customers and vendors with an eye to the long-term relationship. Though I can’t predict in mid-March where we will be as you read this, I know one thing: We’ll get through it. 

Special thanks to Vistage Intl., an executive coaching organization of which I am a member, whose leaders shared several of the resources cited above.