Note: Originally published on Forbes
Last year saw a tremendous upheaval as everyone — businesses, governments, families, doctors — experienced challenges and even loss. Yet, it was also a year of heroism and defiance as the world faced a common foe in Covid-19. Although vanquishing that foe is still a question mark, business leaders understand they must move forward. They are asking themselves, “What can I do now to position my firm for recovery and growth?”
This isn’t an easy question to answer, and because the pandemic left a significant number of businesses with economic uncertainty and revenue losses, it will not be quickly remedied. They may also have suffered from major supply chain disruptions that prevented them from fulfilling even the orders they had.
On the plus side, firms that experienced an operational slowdown or disruption had a rare opportunity to reevaluate and refine business approaches. Shrewd leaders developed a “plan of attack” for their eventual return, brainstorming ways they could modernize their efforts to improve competitive standing.
Some used the period as a “fruitful pause,” taking the time as an opportunity to wrap up projects and ready them for the market. One example, cited by global research firm McKinsey in its “2020 Year in Review” report, was a CEO at a FinTech CIO who took the moment to aggressively test and market the company’s product, recognizing that it was “now or never” to get the product to succeed at scale.
Ingenuity and strategy lead the way
Ingenuity establishes a baseline for acceleration. At our company, we decided to make the most of our “year off.” As a firm that specializes in metrics, we understood that our traditional business and economic metrics and assumptions had been rendered largely irrelevant. We needed to reimagine our own destiny and make it happen.
We determined that working on software enhancements for our products, streamlining work methodologies and realigning our operational/management structure were the best ways to accelerate our competitiveness. After we found our footing, that determination drove our outcomes and we surprised even ourselves. By the end of 2020, we had achieved more than in some of our “normal” operating years. The empty space in the market created by the pandemic had given us the opportunity to expend extra effort on award applications, partnership opportunities and much more.
Nevertheless, we knew that no matter how many sound decisions we made and successful projects we completed, their value would be limited if we didn’t also apply our newfound awareness to our strategy for the future. The world had changed, and we needed to ensure our approach evolved with it.
For every firm determined to thrive and regain any competitive footing it lost, now is the perfect time to make strategic decisions for how their firm should look, act and respond moving forward. It’s also a great opportunity to design and launch new business models propelled by technology. Following are some suggestions for my fellow business leaders based on my experience and observations.
Reflection drives opportunity
The first step, from my perspective, is to identify what worked during the pandemic. Then, determine whether those successes, even if seemingly minor, can form the foundation for new business initiatives.
- Did teams discover newfound camaraderie and ingenuity while overcoming challenges that can become part of corporate culture?
- Did technology foster client engagement drivers that should become permanent?
- Did specific personnel have brilliant inspirations that could lead to future improvements?
- Whether the firm flourished or struggled, the path forward should leverage silver linings that came out of company and team efforts.
New leaders emerge
Times of crisis often result in unexpected personnel stepping up to the proverbial plate. Leadership should ask themselves which personnel, both staff and management, shined the brightest.
- Who were the real drivers of momentum, whether near the top or a few levels away, that refused to let adversity hold them back?
- Who stood up and said, “Follow me,” even though they might not have assumed a leadership role before?
- Who invented new ways of thinking or was inspired to use technologies in new ways to keep the business moving forward?
Leadership now has an opportunity — and an imperative — to embrace the reality of change and give inventive personnel a chance to help achieve it.
Resiliency becomes mission-critical
Finally, resiliency must become baked into the corporate culture as well as into its business and technology systems. This won’t be our last global crisis.
- Outside forces, from climate change to cyberattacks, will increasingly force businesses into resiliency mode.
- Unforeseen impediments such as supply chain disruptions have made company leaders rethink everything from how they buy to how they supply.
- Firms that rely on outside vendors, whether for their Wi-Fi service or their software code, will almost certainly reward resilient companies with their business.
- Resiliency must extend not only to recovering daily operations but also to restarting production at pace and scale.
Momentum must be relentless
After a company comes through a crisis, it should celebrate its achievement and strategize to maintain or accelerate its momentum. In firms that excelled or even just got by, it’s easy for leadership to say, “Whew! Let’s take a breath.” As mentioned earlier, while reflection is good, stagnation is not.
For business leaders who found themselves acting as inspirational cheerleaders during the downturn, maintaining that intensity can be a challenge. Nevertheless, now is not the time for a breather. That’s another reason why it’s important to identify new support leadership. No one should be carrying the entire load, but together, everyone must shoulder it.
The past year’s impacts have made it clear that business leaders must reimagine how they think, act and react moving forward. I suspect that anyone reading this article probably has a good idea of what they need to do. The question then becomes, do you and your teams have the resolve to do it? I hope my thoughts here have helped you answer that question.
Lance Knight is the President and Chief Operating Officer of ConnectALL. His responsibilities include sales, sales operations, customer success, and technical support. Previously, he held SVP/VP roles at LeadingAgile, Tasktop Technologies, and Accept Software, specializing in field operations, sales development, and customer success. Lance started his IT career with a large aerospace manufacturer where he learned about Lean Manufacturing and Systems Thinking. He’s a published author of books and white papers on leadership, software development, and software sales.