I’m what you call “old school.” I enjoy reading the news the old-fashioned way: on a newspaper that takes two hands to hold, with different sections falling out of my lap and newsprint on my fingers. However, with so much bad news in the headlines in 2020, I find myself failing to enjoy this previously cherished daily routine. In addition to troubling health news related to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s disheartening to read about so many businesses in our communities that are struggling in the economic fallout. Even as states “reopen,” companies continue to face hardships as they get back to business in our new version of “normal.”
As a business attorney for more than 30 years, I’ve spent much of my time recently counseling corporate clients to help them navigate this new and uncertain landscape. There’s no handbook to read from or simple fix to offer, because every business leader is dealing with different considerations specific to their location, industry and situation.
However, I’ve discovered one guiding principle for business leaders that remains the same across industries, whether you’re starting your business back up or starting fresh altogether: it’s essential to remain focused on the future and not allow yourself to get bogged down or discouraged by the past. Yes, this has been a challenging time that has completely thrown many businesses off course, or even taken them out of the race altogether. But it’s also an opportunity to face future challenges with more resiliency and emerge even stronger than before.
Here are the four ways CEOs can effectively look to the future to lead successfully in the current climate:
1. Address immediate needs first
Striving to achieve long-term goals right now might be more overwhelming than productive, so start by determining your company’s most immediate needs and addressing those issues first. Focusing on the future doesn’t have to mean looking that far ahead — some of the most important steps you need to take might be right in front of you.
Earlier this year, one of my largest corporate clients ran into a problem relating to requirements in its bylaws that mandate an annual shareholder meeting in March or April, partly for the election of directors. (Bylaws of an entity are much like the U.S Constitution: they are not suggestions.)
It became apparent this company could not hold a shareholders meeting in March or April due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as it would have required hundreds of people from numerous states to converge in one meeting room. It simply could not happen. To solve this issue, an emergency virtual board meeting was arranged to discuss how the company could elect directors. Fortunately, we were able to comply with emergency governance provisions and accomplish what was needed while still honoring the applicable bylaws.
Overcoming this simple but necessary issue got my client one step closer to business as usual, which is extremely valuable these days. There will always be new, and perhaps bigger problems to focus on, but it’s important to take it one step at a time.
2. Make operational improvements
The pandemic has changed the way many companies do business, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Whether your company has had to make significant adjustments to your operations to comply with social distancing guidelines or is experiencing a lull and looking for a way to keep workers busy, utilize this as an opportunity to rethink and improve your processes moving forward.
How can you adjust your business plan to better compete in the post-Covid-19 society? Is there a need in your community that your company can step in to fill? You may have already had to integrate new software to facilitate online sales and deliveries, or even shift your in-person services completely online. Perhaps now is the time to rethink the structure of your company, create a new revenue stream or invest in training your workforce to improve their expertise and certifications. If you’ve been wanting to sell, this upheaval might be the perfect time to pass the baton to the next generation.
Instead of viewing your situation as a hardship, take this opportunity to make things better and position your company to be more successful in the future.
3. Evaluate your team
Going through a difficult time has a way of illuminating the character of those around you. It’s not how people behave in good times that really matters, but how they step up when things get tough. As a business leader, now is the ideal time to take a step back and seriously evaluate your team to ensure everyone is aligned with the mission and values of your company.
Consider who you rely on to make your organization succeed and determine what motivates them. First, evaluate your employees. Do they share your concern for the business and other team members? Do they share your level of dedication to your customers or clients? Can you rely on them going forward in trying times, or is it time to look elsewhere?
Then, take a look at vendors, contractors and other skilled professionals you regularly do business with. For example, could you call your attorney up on their cell phone at any time? Does your accountant not only have the skills necessary to help your business succeed, but also have a passion for your success? The quality of your external “team members” are just as essential to helping you achieve your business goals.
4. Cater to your most high-value clients
It’s easier to nurture existing, loyal clients and customers than to attain new ones, especially during and after a crisis. That’s why it’s critical now more than ever to focus on your primary clients, sincerely show how much you value the relationship and cater to their current wants and needs (which may be different today than previously).
Identify your most loyal, high-value clients and do everything in your power to keep that relationship top of mind — both yours and theirs. If you’re unsure about exactly who your best customers are, invest in data analysis software to point your sales and marketing team in the right direction. Then, create a list and email or call them up, even if just to check in. What are their concerns? What issues are they and their families facing? Consider sharing regular company newsletters or blogs with tips, advice and other resources. If possible, you might even consider offering sales or adjusting billing procedures to address customer or client financial difficulties due to the pandemic.
Those you serve will remember whether you truly cared and met their needs during this situation for years to come — will you rise to the occasion?
The issues businesses face in this new post-Covid-19 era will continue to be varied and challenging. But, as we’ve witnessed in the past in the aftermath of other global disasters and conflicts like World War II and even September 11, 2001, when there is devastation, there is also the potential for great social resilience and economic opportunity.
Consider the lessons of the past, but stay focused on the future to remain successful. Or, in the words of Thomas Edison when his laboratory burned to the ground: “Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start fresh.”