Becoming An Expert Pivoter

As we deal with today’s crises and prepare for inevitable future problems, we would do well to remember the lessons we’ve learned over the past two years.

About 1.3 million businesses closed their doors in the first three quarters of 2021. As the pandemic lingers, new problems emerge and old ways of thinking become obsolete, organizations that don’t become experts at pivoting to rapidly changing business conditions might find themselves doing the same.

Although few leaders were immune to the disruption of the pandemic, many who adapted and innovated managed to persevere in spite of it. In the process, they gave others blueprints for surviving and even thriving during new crises—such as decades-high inflation rates, global conflict and continued supply chain challenges.

In many ways, the pandemic simply accelerated trends that were already well underway. Enterprise digital transformation, the shift to remote work, consumer preferences for online shopping, and other developments that unfolded during the pandemic began before it arrived. The companies that capitalized on them weren’t simply lucky; in reality, they paid attention to these trends and made actionable plans.

The past few years proved that having a plan isn’t optional and that planning only for the most likely scenarios isn’t sufficient. After all, when Covid-19 hit, it facilitated a confluence of trends that negatively impact businesses to this day. Leaders have had to contend with supply shortages, stagnant demand, labor issues, collapsing share prices and countless other challenges. The businesses that have pivoted successfully amid these challenges knew what steps to take because they planned for every “what if?” and clearly communicated those plans to the people on their teams.

We must understand that worst-case scenarios will become more common and devastating, especially considering the current climate crisis. Storm-related disasters, cyberthreats and economic upheaval could all shake the foundations of businesses of any size. What would happen to your business if cyberterrorists successfully shut down Google or Amazon Web Services for a week? What if inflation continues to jump, and you must significantly raise your prices? What if a climate disaster happens in your community? Without a tested plan ready to be executed the moment the next crisis arises, your business’s foundations could very well collapse.

As we deal with today’s crises and prepare for inevitable future problems, we would do well to remember the lessons we’ve learned over the past two years:

1. Think about the attitude you wish to convey. A positive mindset is perhaps the most essential trait shared by leaders who successfully navigated the pandemic and subsequent challenges. These individuals and teams refused to say no and inspired their organizations to persevere when circumstances were most dire.

However you manage your crisis task list, move “attitude” to the top, along with three or four bullets that describe the attitude you want to be remembered for when handling crises. When emergencies and disasters strike, your team and customers will appreciate rapid decision-making, empathy and optimism for better times ahead.

BKM conveyed early in the pandemic that we were in a position to help others. We returned to our virtual roots, running at 110% capacity so that we could make positive impacts on the community. Every employee had a discretionary charitable donation budget, and we ran a campaign allowing each client to make a $150 donation to an organization they felt needed assistance in their community.

2. Give your stakeholders a sense of control. Both your team and your customers feel a loss of control during crises. To counterbalance that, give them something they can control. Provide a channel that lets customers determine how to communicate with you.

For example, electric utilities use text, social media and automated phone messaging for two-way communications during power disruptions. Giving customers the easy task of signing up to receive updates makes them feel like they are in control of getting information.

In addition, have a plan to assign constructive tasks to your management team, and ask them to involve their team members in completing those tasks. For example, instructing direct reports to survey their employees about potential concerns and solutions creates a triple win: It provides immediate feelings of purpose and control to your team, removes this duty from your plate, and lets you receive valuable information that could benefit the whole organization.

3. Adapt your services to meet customers’ needs. Technological advancement is arguably the single biggest driver of change in the modern business landscape, and it’s happening faster than ever before. During the pandemic, restaurants without online takeout ordering failed. Corporations lacking remote access to secure data platforms faltered. As the pace of innovation accelerates exponentially, consumer behavior also evolves, and businesses must adapt accordingly.

It’s critical to find new ways to meet customers’ needs and maintain the relationships that are essential to your long-term success. During the pandemic, many companies did this by focusing relentlessly on listening and adapting their services. When new crises hit, that focus will be even more important.

At BKM, for example, we migrated phone services to Zoom Phone. This allowed employees to access video, office phones and contacts on all devices and helped clients reach employees more easily.

The Covid crisis and its continued fallout have taught us numerous lessons about human nature and our capacity to adapt. When the next crises arrive, you must have procedures in place to analyze these situations with multidimensional insights, identify evolving consumer and business needs, and pivot swiftly and methodically. With the right processes, crises become opportunities rather than threats, and you can confidently lead your organization to new heights during make-or-break times.

Bruce McMeekin is the CEO and founder of BKM Marketing, an integrated marketing agency based in the Boston area. Bruce is a highly regarded direct marketer, serves as a judge for the ANA International ECHO Awards and other awards programs, and frequently speaks at trade events. BKM Marketing serves results-driven clients with specific specialties in creating direct marketing campaigns for banks, franchise marketers, and other industries.