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Thought Leadership

Need to Know: Leading Through a Crisis

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has altered American life greatly, especially in the area of business. Jobs, the economy and financial markets, at least in the short term, have changed and with it, people are trying to make sense of these changes.

 As an educational institution, we at Poole College of Management want to help our students, community members and industry partners navigate this uncertain and confusing time by doing what we do best: educate.

 The Need to Know series taps the expertise of our faculty members in providing necessary information in business, finance, economics and related disciplines so our Poole Pack can stay apprised of important terms, concepts and principles.

Dr. Roger C. Mayer, professor of management, innovation & entrepreneurship at Poole College, explains how business leaders can not only survive a crisis – but how companies can become stronger on the other side.

Business leaders need to:

  • Keep your business afloat by focusing on your core competencies. During times of crisis, or even simply over time, businesses can lose sight of their core competencies. Ask yourself: What do we need most? Focus on that.
  • Look for new opportunities. There was a small shop in Ohio that saw the need for the N95 masks. The business owner conducted research online, figured out how he could get fabric from the government to make the masks to N95 specs, and started doing it. There wasn’t a need for these masks several weeks ago but there’s a need now – and they capitalized on it.
  • Use this time to reduce inefficiencies. Examine what you’ve always done out of habit that may have led to wasted time and energy. Focus on processes that are critical and meet the needs of your customers and stakeholders.
  • Partner with your suppliers. Consider Amazon, a company that plays a critical role in the supply chain. A few weeks ago one could order an item and receive it in a day or two. Now it might take a few weeks. That is a conscious decision by the company so they could deliver vital supplies and de-prioritize items that aren’t critical. Your supply chain is a huge part of your business that can’t be overlooked. Your suppliers may be willing to work with you to help you meet your priorities.
  • Redefine your priorities. Not everything you usually do needs to be done during a crisis. It’s not “business as usual.” Revise your schedule around your new priorities.
  • Be an advocate for your customers. Consider the Tylenol scare. After Tylenol’s product was tampered with, seven people died. The company took a proactive stance and pulled all their product off the shelves until they could determine what happened. They used that time to communicate their concern for their customers and desire to keep them safe. By the end of the crisis, the company gained a higher level of trust with the general public and their buying communities. The crisis actually made them a stronger company.
  • Engage with your employees. Your employees are a critical part of your business. Talk to them about their concerns and needs. Ask for their feedback and suggestions… immediately and continuously. We’re seeing this right here within Poole. Dean Frank Buckless is checking in with our faculty and staff every Monday in an online conference and asking us, “What are your challenges? What issues are getting in the way of you being able to do your job effectively? What can we do to help you?” He recognizes that faculty and staff are the ones providing the “service” so he’s requesting feedback and making improvements to help us continue to operate with less strain on the college’s staff.
  • Remember that now is a critical time to build trust. For example, if a company is in the midst of a crisis, could its leadership request to reduce everyone’s pay by a certain percentage, promising to reimburse that amount once business resumes normal operations? Can you, as a leader, communicate that it is in everyone’s best interest for the business to survive… even if that means a temporary pay cut? Your employees’ willingness to agree with a scenario like that depends on how much your employees trust your leadership. Your company can come up stronger than before if your employees realize the level of commitment and trustworthiness of your leadership. Absolutely critical is following up on promises made during the crisis.
  • Think beyond the current crisis. What do you want your business to look like on the other side of this? Are you just hoping to survive? Or will you be able to tell yourself, “Yes this is hard work, and we have made sacrifices, but we’re here as a company that is stronger than it was before this crisis. We built trust with our employees, customers and stakeholders.”

Leaders – be visible, talk to your people, and then listen! Listen to people at all levels of your company. The key to empowering employees and getting things done beyond your wildest dreams is to ask for help and encourage involvement and provide them with the vision, resources, and support to allow them to make it happen.

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