There are five fundamental qualities of effective leadership that distinguish successful CEOs than the rest. As a leader trying to guide your organisation through the COVID-19 crisis, it is important to take specific steps that can help soften up the crisis’s impact—and enable your organisation to emerge stronger.
Strong leadership during a crisis is key
COVID-19 and its rapid global spread have quickly eclipsed in both size and scope. In addition to the human toll and the economic damage, coronavirus has significantly changed the business landscape beyond recognition.
In the face of COVID-19 specific challenges and still-uncertain risks, business leaders are rightly concerned about how their organisation will continue to be affected. And what can they do next? However, there are several lessons from history, a pooled of fundamental qualities of effective leadership and leading practical practices that chief executives should consider.
COVID-19 impact on companies varies by geography and sector companies in different ways and due to their reaction capabilities has put businesses at different phases of dealing with the outbreak, and therefore the impacts. However, regardless of the extent of COVID-19 effect on an organisation, we believe that there are five fundamental qualities of effective leadership that distinguish successful CEOs from the rest:
Five fundamental qualities of effective leadership
- Build Positive/Trusting Relationships with a rationale
In a crisis, effective leadership occurs when leaders can bring their team along. Effective leaders are empathetic, walking compassionately in the shoes of employees, customers, and their broader ecosystems – By building trust and being open to differences. Effective leaders can create strong teams by building positive relationships. An individual may be willing to make a dramatic change, but it requires positive relationships to get others to support change. Yet effective leaders must simultaneously take a hard, rational line to protect financial performance from the invariable softness that accompanies such disruptions.
- Clarify the direction and stick to it
Effective leaders are skilled at triage, able to stabilise their organisations to meet the crisis at hand while finding opportunities amid severe constraints.
- Aim for decisive actions with courage
Effective leaders take decisive actions—with courage—based on imperfect information, knowing that suitability is essential. Effective leaders seize the narrative at the outset
- The Power of a Clear Leadership Narrative
Effective leaders shape and articulate powerful narratives of what’s possible even during the current realities of COVID-19. Effective leaders are capable of painting a compelling picture of the future enough to inspire others to persevere. With a unifying sense of purpose and collective ambition, your organisation will thrive.
- Champion long-view Change
Change takes courage, and an effective leader is willing to change and able to provide the leadership to ensure that the organisation will also change. Effective leadership means anticipating the new business models that are likely to emerge from the crisis and sparking the innovations that will define the post-COVID-19 future. Effective leaders embrace change and also encourage others to change.
Take specific tactical steps to elevate your business.
Any business during a crisis such as COVID-19 goes through three phases: mitigation, or lessening the force or intensity of the crisis and how the company deals with the present situation and manages continuity; preparedness, during which a company learns with concrete research-based set of actions that are taken as precautionary measures for a post-COVID-19 and emerges stronger; and future-proofing, where the company prepares for and shapes the “next to normal.” CEOs have substantial and added responsibility to nimbly consider all three-time frames concurrently and allocate resources accordingly.
Within the framework of these broad imperatives, effective leaders can take specific tactical steps to elevate these qualities during the current crisis, blunting its impact and helping their organisations emerge stronger. With the right approach, this crisis can become an opportunity to move forward and create even more value and positive societal impact, rather than just bounce back to the status quo.
Foresee the unforeseen
The outbreak of COVID-19 was an unpredictable crisis with extreme consequences and its westward march across the planet have introduced a new kind of unforeseen risk:
- Since World War II, all of the recessions have been caused by either economic policy mistakes, oil shocks, or financial bubbles – and the CIVID-19 is a new category on its own: a global societal collapse.
- The mass quarantining across the globe cut off consumption, stopped travel, hospitality, restaurant, and retail sectors. In China, for example, the mass shutdowns of factories evaporated the supply of products such as apparel, auto parts and electronic components and apparel.
Dial-up your empathetic self
Emotional intelligence is critical in a time of crisis – a good and effective leader recognises the impact uncertainty has on the people that drive the business. Resilient leaders express empathy for the human side of the upheaval— such as acknowledging their employees’ priorities shift towards their family health and safety. A resilient leader prioritises workers and protects their economic well-being. Effective leaders also encourage their people to adopt a calm and systematic approach to whatever happens next –
At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, Deloitte conducted a human capital policies and practices survey in China. And the survey revealed the following steps companies and not-for-profit organisations were considering in response:
- More than half of government and public service entities were focusing on addressing employees’ psychological stress.
- 90% said that it was an urgent requirement to provide their employees with remote and flexible work options.
- Companies in industries facing the most significant constraints on providing flexible and remote working options—such as energy, resources, and industrials—were focusing on providing physical protection (i.e. cleaner and safer work environments and PPE.
Cater to your audience
Because of COVID-19 customer experience takes on a new meaning – as customer’s needs dramatically shift from what you perceived before. Your customers are reverting down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to essential concerns due to COVID-19. A recent McKinsey survey of US consumers found that 64% of respondents have felt depressed, anxious, or both, and 39% stated that they would be unable to pay their bills after one month of unemployment.
Are you adapting your communications and your customer experience to fulfil their new needs? Show empathy towards your customers too —they are struggling through the crisis, and simple things can differentiate you from other businesses. Leading organisations are reorienting their customer-experience such us:
- UberEats asks customers if they want food left at the door rather than passed by hand
- Airlines are waiving cancellation fees and have emailed customers to describe their enhanced plane decontamination efforts
- Energy companies are not shutting off power for nonpayment, and in some cases, they are even reconnecting customers whose service had been turned off prior to the crisis.
- Restaurants have encouraged their staff to visibly use hand sanitisers
- Burger King provides two free kids meals to Americans who make any purchase through the Burger King app
Yet for the sake of those same employees and customers—as well as creditors and investors— leaders must stay vigilantly focused on protecting financial performance during and through the crisis – and making hard, fact-based decisions. The adage “cash is king” is most real in the midst of an existential event.
The following critical steps can help you protect your business performance:
- Centralise decision-making: uncertainty paralyses decision-makers. Allocate or create a crisis team that is capable of consistency, speed, and especially decisiveness when making decisions
- Articulating different economic scenarios (and fast) across all markets, generally scaling scenarios from mild to moderate to severe.
- Project the financial impact of the scenarios on profitability and especially liquidity. This includes assessing the probability of violating debt covenants and terms and determining when available cash sources should be drawn.
- Defining the non-negotiables: Which products, services, customer segments, business lines, employee segments, and so on are the most critical to ongoing and future cash flow and should be preserved, although even those non-negotiables may be impacted if scenarios tend to the more severe.
- Identifying the levers leadership has available (within the boundaries of the non-negotiables) to impact financial performance, such as discretionary expense reduction, hiring freezes, or temporary plant closures.
- Determining what actions to take and agree in advance on the hierarchy of levers to be pulled as the severity of scenarios unfolds.
It is important to develop a downturn planning playbook to have a head start since in crisis situations. A crisis playbook should include all scenarios, projections and non-negotiables so that it is easier to be adjusted for present circumstances. However, it is important to remind that a resilient leader knows a company’s purpose should remain unchangeable. Articulate a purpose beyond profit; in a recent survey by Forbes, 79% of business leaders believe that an organisation’s purpose is central to business success, yet 68% said that they do not use it in leadership decision-making processes within their organization.
COVID-19 has left under increased pressure, and stakeholders are paying close attention to every move. Therefore it is important to make decisions that tie back to the organisation’s purpose. Purpose-driven organisations tend to do better during challenging environments because:
- Purpose cultivates engaged employees
- Employees perform better when they feel that their work has meaning. It is important for companies to centre their business on an authentic purpose. Research shows that employees who feel that their work has meaning and have a greater sense of connection perform better during volatile times and are there to help companies recover and grow when stability returns.
- Purpose attracts loyal customers and helps grow sales
- Being a purpose-driven brand is 100% beneficial for your bottom line, no doubt about it. In fact, 8 in 10 consumers say they are more loyal to purpose-driven brands – a purpose-driven brand helps sustain customer relationships even during a crisis. When a business puts the purpose first, profits generally follow; however, when profits are first, the results can be more elusive.
- Purpose helps companies transform
- When companies face hard decisions, they tend to have a sharper sense for how they should evolve when guided by their purpose. Purpose makes for a cohesive transformation.
- Purpose always put the mission first
Organisations in the middle of a crisis are faced with a flurry of urgent issues across what seems like innumerable fronts. Resilient leaders zero in on the most pressing of these, establishing priority areas that can quickly cascade.
There are a number of leading practices which resilient leaders should take during any major emergency management such as COVID-19:
- Centralise command– launch and sustain a crisis command centre
- Leading companies established emergency response teams right away in order to assess the risks and formulate response strategies after conducting robust scenario planning, which significantly improved the epidemic response mechanism and toolkits.
- Support talent and strategy – retain & support talent, and they will enhance strategy
- After the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies began implementing flexible work and working from home arrangements. Resilient leaders saw this as an opportunity for improvement, and many companies have identified and addressed new ways of work and communication within the organisation
- Furthermore, leaders were quick to understand the side effect of WFH and have implemented a digital employee health declaration system in order to track their well-being.
- Maintain and plan yourfinancing and ensure business continuity
- Companies immediately began to update/develop business continuity plans to understand contractual obligations, evaluate financial impacts and liquidity requirements, formulate debt restructuring plans, and optimize assets to help restore economic viability. Another core focus was to understand the economic effects across the entire value chain.
- Support and trust your Supply chain
- For example, Chinese companies accelerated investment in digital trading solutions to combat supply chain interruptions, overcome logistics and labour shortages, and get better visibility into local access limitations to ensure product supply for the domestic market. Operational agility and data quality were critical in supply chain scenario planning.
- Customer engagement: Stay engaged with customers
- Companies quickly moved to maintain open and ongoing lines of communication with their customers on the impacts of COVID-19 on the business and the emergency actions implemented. This approach of working in partnership has built confidence amid the uncertainty.
- Invest in Digital capabilities and develop digital roads – Strengthen digital capabilities
- Revisiting your current marketing and e-commerce landscape for the short, medium, and long term is crucial for your business to success during a crisis. The current situation has many made companies realise that to increase resilience; they need to implement digital capabilities across the entire organisation, promoting “no-touch” experiences and stepping away from brick-and-mortar presence.
Apple’s bold decision-making of closing 11 retail stores in COVID-19 affected areas in the U.S demonstrates the courage inherent in Aim for speed over elegance. Apple also demonstrated several other principles:
- Empathising with the needs and concerns of its employees, including continuing to pay hourly workers as though operations followed a regular schedule and amending its leave policy for COVID-related health issues
- Reducing further shocks to an already depleted supply chain
- Staying connected to—and overtly demonstrating concern for—its customers and local communities
- Leveraging its at-scale digital presence by keeping its online store open and running
- Continuing to engage its business ecosystem via new channels, shifting the annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June to a digital-only gathering
- #7 – Engage with your business ecosystem
Aim for speed over elegance
Covid-19 has tested companies and their reaction time. The reality is the majority of the companies do not have the infrastructure to deliver accurate information or data, in real-time which has tested their operations. And COVID-19 will continue to test companies- are you ready to accept that you’ll need to act with imperfect information? Collect as much proxy data as you can to inform your decisions, so you’re not flying blind. When the crisis is over, you will have the opportunity to conduct a thorough review to see how to improve information quality in future crises—but during this one, you will likely have to set aside that kind of analysis.
Perfect is the enemy of the good, especially during crises when prompt action is required.
COVID-19 is forcing leaders to situations that were never anticipated – however, this is a great opportunity to encourage more initiative and decision rights at all levels of the organisation. An effective leader understands that teams and individuals who are deeply embedded in a specific context are likely to be in the best position to come up with creative approaches during a crisis.
Tip: Make the objective clear, but allow more flexible local autonomy.
Case study: one coffee shop chain gave each store leadership the flexibility to reconfigure tables to maintain social distancing.
This approach may have value beyond the current crisis as organisations learn to conduct business in more and more uncertain times.
Medium is the message
Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement “the medium is the message” in the midst of crisis is even more relevant during COVID-19 crisis.
Many psychologists assert that the majority of communication of today lacks eye contact, voice intonation, and body language essential to building a trust-based relationship.
Tip: Body language is essential in building a trust-based relationship with your team. Instead of emails encourage the use of video to connect emotionally with your teams – and avoid the overwhelming feeling a busy inbox leaves.
There is a fine balance between communicating in advance of having all of the facts and being late to comment. We have seen leading companies adopt a policy of shorter, more frequent communications based on what they do know and filling in details later. Communication is key; as a leader, your team and stakeholders depend on your regular guidance. Incomplete or conflicting communication will slow your business’ response your teams and stakeholders may start filling the void with misinformation and assumptions.
In a time of crisis, trust is paramount. This simple formula emphasises the key elements of trust for individuals and for organisations:
Trust = Transparency + Relationship + Experience
Trust starts with transparency: telling what you know and admitting what you don’t. Trust is also a function of relationships: some level of “knowing” each other among you and your employees, your customers, and your ecosystem. And lastly, it also depends on experience: Do you reliably do what you say? In times of growing uncertainty, trust is increasingly built by demonstrating an ability to address unanticipated situations and a steady commitment to address the needs of all stakeholders in the best way possible.
It’s also important to recognise and address the emotions of all stakeholders. This is not just about charts and numbers. Narratives can be powerful ways to acknowledge the fears that naturally surface in times of crisis, while at the same time framing the opportunity that can be achieved if stakeholders come together and commit to overcoming the challenges that stand in the way.
This is not just about charts and numbers. Narratives can be powerful ways to acknowledge the fears that naturally surface in times of crisis, while at the same time framing the opportunity that can be achieved if stakeholders come together and commit to overcoming the challenges that stand in the way.
Embrace the long view
Any period of volatility can create opportunities that businesses can leverage if they are prepared. In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, organisations that take a more assertive and longer-term approach can spark innovations that will define the next “normal.”
Harvard Business Review has assessed the corporate performance of over 4.7000 companies during the past three recessions and found that those that cut costs fastest and deepest had the lowest probability of outperforming competitors after the economy recovered. In other words, to emerge from a recession, your businesses need to strike the right balance between short- and long-term strategies by investing comprehensively in the future while selectively reducing costs to survive the recession. During the COVID-19 ……. particularly susceptible to a short-term mindset.
Plan structural changes and any lasting effects
COVID-19 is likely to accelerate fundamental and structural changes that were inevitable in any case—but are now expected to occur far faster than they would otherwise. Consider that the “digitalisation” of work—undertaken from home or elsewhere, with remote collaboration and reduced travel for physical colocation—has been evolving steadily. Today, all around the world, businesses—and their talent—are learning to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate on virtual platforms, and understanding the increased efficacy and efficiency such modalities of work can provide. Virtual work and collaboration tools are likely to create a booming new market space.
The necessity of operating differently gives businesses the opportunity to understand what they can do.
These structural changes will require you to alter your business strategy and planning. So ask yourself:
- How can I shift my staffing model to allow more telecommuting or remote work? And how will that shift affect our real estate portfolio?
- Are there cost savings we can achieve by shrinking our organisation’s physical footprint?
- What upgrades are required for video conferencing and network availability?
- Will I need more robust cybersecurity protocols?
- If I adopt a decentralised work model, what sort of new liabilities or challenges will I have to face?
- What changes do I need to make to management, employee training and communication policies to run a more distributed workforce?
COVID-19 is forcing businesses to operate differently from what they know best. However, this can give businesses the opportunity to understand what they can do.
Tip: Test your team while they are WFH. Testing can determine if your company can meet any future requirements if the current conditions persist – then with the appropriate data, you can consider whether you should continue doing so.
Only Market Shapers can thrive
Shaping your current strategies can create a source of new value that can ultimately help you in emerging from unanticipated crises. Those that shape the future of their industry rather than adapt to it will emerge stronger than the rest. Organisations emerging from this crisis and shifting into the “future-proofing” stage will need to reinvent themselves; from identifying and solving new opportunities to aligning themselves with the future-shapers of their industry, or even becoming the nexus of the next ecosystem while their competitors focus on the crisis.
COVID-19 impacts have created considerable investments in new manufacturing technologies that allow businesses to shorten the time between production to consumption—creating entirely new markets to be shaped.
Predict new business models and implement them
Newly shaped markets prompt new business models – COVID-19 has tested business infrastructures, and some have crumbled. The question is, how will emerging trends, structural changes, and new markets redefine how your company and industry will be organised tomorrow?
For example, many have long realised that education was ripe for significant changes enabled by digital technologies. With over 290 million students out of school globally due to COVID-19, according to the United Nations, the demand for online offerings, curricula, and platforms will likely accelerate. Yet some universities and faculty are just beginning to improvise remote offerings. Designing around the massive COVID-19 constraint demonstrates the real promise of potentially revolutionary changes in how we structure, locate, and operate our approaches to learning—which are likely to lead to dynamic new market-making opportunities in this area as well.
How will emerging trends, structural changes, and new markets redefine how your company and industry will be organised tomorrow?
As another example, consider the growth in adoption of AI and robotics.
Already playing a pivotal role in detecting and treating COVID-19, AI-equipped tools are scanning social media to analyse virus progression in real-time, recognising viral pneumonia in chest CT scans 45 times faster than humans with 96% accuracy, and conducting molecular synthesis and validation in days rather than months or years.
There is a real sense of urgency to stop the COVID-19 further damages. With private and public sectors partnering and investing on answers it is clear that the future health care models will change as the typical decade-long pharmaceutical R&D cycle is being slashed by over half and the regulatory framework is skipped.
COVID-19 will continue to test Resilient leadership
COVID-19 will re-define any resilient leadership. Between having to make decisions without perfect information, often with only a few hours or days to spare, leaders will need to lead their organisations. More than ever the myriad of decisions and challenges will significantly implicate the organisation’s whole system, from employees to customers, from clients to financial partners, from suppliers to investors, and other stakeholders—as well as for society as a whole.
Clarity of thinking, communications, and decision-making will be at a premium. Those CEOs who can make the best exhibit this clarity—and lead from the heart and the head—will inspire their organizations to persevere through this crisis, positioning their brand to emerge in a better place, prepared for whatever may come. Crises like these, with deep challenges to be navigated, will also lead to opportunities for learning and deepening trust with all stakeholders, while equipping organizations for a step change that creates more value not just for shareholders, but for society as a whole.
Launch and sustain a crisis command centre
Most organisations in the affected regions have launched some form of the crisis response unit, either as a result of a preestablished crisis response plan or on an ad hoc basis, in order to gain an enterprisewide understanding of the impact and coordinate their efforts across functions. Subteams have been created to manage specific workstreams such as communications, legal, finance, and operations. They are operating with a clear mandate provided by executive management and have been empowered to make swift decisions in the areas that follow.
Such a command centre doesn’t have to be entirely on the defensive: It can also help to break traditional orthodoxies. Airlines that are cancelling flights, for example, are making the downtime more productive by prioritizing scheduled maintenance for grounded aircraft—and reallocating larger planes to space-constrained routes—enabling them to make more efficient use of resources.
Such a command centre doesn’t have to be entirely on the defensive: It can also help to break traditional orthodoxies.
Support talent and enhance strategy: work, workforce, and workplace
It is key to support your talent while they support your strategy. To do so:
- Evaluate the actual work of your company and how it might be changed. Resilient leaders rapidly assess what work is mission-critical and what can be deferred or deprioritized, and then help teams understand where their focus needs to be (including what work is not strategically critical). Allow your people to focus on the most vital tasks and empower teams to be creative in how they deliver nonessential work in ways that minimize unnecessary risk or exposure to your employees and your customers. Where work has to be onsite, evaluate what safeguards can be put in places, such as revised cleaning protocols or personal protective equipment.
- Focus on the workforce: because the most effective plans encompass employees (as well as contractors, vendors, partners, and unions) who need to be included to keep the entire workforce safe. Address the immediate COVID-19-related human needs for information, including education on COVID-19 symptoms and prevention and access to employee assistance resources. As the work itself contracts and/or expands, ensure that you have operational plans for site disruption and reactivation, including communicating to affected employees. While assessing possible changes to leave policies (such as for employees caring for affected family members), also prepare for potentially higher absenteeism, lower productivity, and even work refusal until the situation ultimately normalises post-crisis.
- Understand that the workplace and its culture is critical: because of COVID-19 companies are in need to ensure the safety of working environments and prepare workplaces for containment and contamination. In the event that an employee is suspected of being infected with COVID-19, a clear process must be in place for adhering to local health care requirements for isolating and/or treating the employee at the facility.
As COVID-19 continues to change the culture of any workplace, as an effective leader, how you deploy your workforce, distribute work and engage your people will change too. Explore this new narrative to think about how you can elevate communications and create a more effective and healthy workforce.
Plan business continuity and financing
In almost every financial crisis, preservation of cash and liquidity is a top priority. When challenges impact all industries simultaneously, even the most financially stable can struggle. In the 2008–2009 recession Companies with strong balance sheets were among the many that still experienced liquidity constraints when commercial paper markets were suddenly interrupted. In some cases, this compromised their ability to meet basic short-term obligations.
The COVID-19 crisis will be no exception – there is a long period a large number of companies now face weeks, if not months, of disrupted markets. For many industries—such as travel and hospitality—the revenue lost during this period may be permanent, rather than made up later. That’s putting sudden, unanticipated pressure on working capital lines and liquidity.
Some companies may be able to maintain adequate flexibility by making drawdowns on their revolving credit facilities. Others are finding that they need to approach their banks to arrange temporarily larger facilities and/or covenant resets/waivers. Such efforts could prove unsuccessful, however, since banks may have reached their risk tolerance limits for a single credit. Revolving credit facilities may be frozen due to covenant limits and/or cross-defaults. Security packages hastily assembled to support new funding may be insufficient due to limited collateral availability or prolonged economic distress. Or companies may be looking for a highly customized, rolling short-term facility on terms that do not naturally fit into a bank’s standard product suite.
Beyond immediate cash needs, the finance function also must respond to potential accounting and financial reporting implications—if they can even get their books closed and/or audits completed in affected areas. For instance, some corporations implementing first-ever (and quite appropriate) remote work arrangements may face unexpected tax challenges when they are paying employees in a different local tax jurisdiction than their main office.
Supply chain due to diligence
As the “world’s factory,” any significant disruption in China puts global supply chains at risk. The COVID-19 crisis, originating from the highly industrialized province of Wuhan, highlights the potential perils of this dependency: More than 90 per cent of Fortune 1000 companies had Tier 1 and/or Tier 2 suppliers in the most-affected China provinces.
A decades-long focus on supply chain optimization to minimise costs, reduce inventories, and drive up asset utilization has improved many companies’ supply chain efficiency. But COVID-19 illustrates that many companies are not fully aware of the vulnerability of their supply chain relationships to global shocks when optimizing for efficiency over resilience. Further, COVID-19 demonstrates that a global outbreak can have many longer-lasting impacts than a local epidemic on a supply chain, which endures foreshocks and aftershocks as hot spots evolve around the globe.
Without a comprehensive plan or playbook—and most organizations lack one for addressing a global outbreak—companies can over adjust, causing greater disruption and incurring unnecessary expenses. For example, some companies have responded to the COVID-19 crisis by imposing across-the-board inventory increases out of fear of running short of necessary supplies. Such decisions need to thoughtfully consider the unintended consequences and shocks. For example, a bulge in retail apparel inventory concurrent with a rapid drop in consumer spending can exacerbate cash needs.
See the sidebar “Strengthening the supply chain” for important actions to consider to strengthen your global supply chain.
Strengthening your supply chain
Supply-side: For companies that produce, distribute, or source from suppliers in affected areas, steps may include:
- Enhance focus on workforce/labour planning
- Focus on Tier 1 supplier risk
- Illuminate the extended supply network
- Understand and activate alternate sources of supply
- Update inventory policy and planning parameters
- Enhance inbound materials visibility
- Prepare for plant closures
- Focus on production scheduling agility
- Evaluate alternative outbound logistics options and secure capacity
- Conduct global scenario planning
Demand-side: For companies that sell products or commodities to affected areas, steps may include:
- Understand the demand impact specific to your business
- Confirm short-term demand-supply synchronization strategy
- Prepare for potential channel shifts
- Evaluate alternative inbound logistics options
- Enhance the ability to allocate to customers based on priority
- Open channels of communication with key customers
- Prepare for the rebound
- Conduct global scenario planning
Inside: For companies that operate or have business relationships in affected areas, steps may include:
- Educate employees on COVID-19 symptoms and prevention
- Reinforce screening protocols
- Prepare for increased absenteeism
- Restrict nonessential travel and promote flexible working arrangements
- Align IT systems and support to evolving work requirements
- Prepare succession plans for key executive positions
- Focus on cash flow
Stay engaged with your customers.
More than ever, it is critical that you maintain a relationship with your audience, and it is time for your company’s brand to lead. During crises customer needs shift dramatically – from the rational to the emotional – it is your job as a leader to intercept that shift.
A study of consumer behaviour found that a business’s traditional customer segments are at risk during a downturn, as their purchasing behaviour is driven more by their emotional response to the economic volatility than by the characteristics businesses typically consider when defining their customer segments.
Particularly important is to take care to consider how your own sales efforts will appear. If you’re going to offer price cuts or marketing promotions, some might see that as an attempt to capitalize on a crisis—or worse, undermine public health efforts to encourage people to stay out of stores and other public places. Look at other benefits you can offer customers that help to sustain the customer relationship. For example, some hospitality companies are deferring the expiration of loyalty points.
Digital Transformation inside and outside
With the COVID-19 lockdowns happening more often than not and the recommended “social distancing” becoming permanent, organisations had to change. Resilient companies expanded their operations into the virtual and digital sphere.
Decisions like asking their workforce to WFH pushed companies into a digital transformation. 70% of companies had a digital transformation in place or were working on one. However, the COVID-19 really tested organisations and their digital capabilities. As a resilient leader if you are prepared to make remote work a reality, then you need to ensure that the organisation has the technology capacity to support it. Also, consider the impact of WFH on your team who are likely to feel socially isolated. Dispersing your workforce remotely comes with the potential loss of innovation as the isolation will limit in-person interaction.
The increase in online activity will have big implications on your system stability, network robustness, and data security, especially if you do business in parts of the world where telecom and systems infrastructure are lacking. The key here is to act quickly in ensuring your team has a system in place, ensuring smooth operation as the workplace and workforce evolve. There is also the cyber risk your organisation faces with such arrangements. Since the lockdowns, phishing scams and other cyber attacks have been on the rise, fraud rate has rised 33%. Implementing the proper cybersecurity protocols in place will safeguard your networks, data and team. Our article on how the COVID-19 increased identity theft cases: 7 steps to lessen your risk can help you understand all of the steps you can take to protect your business.
Maintaining customer connections virtually amid shifting behaviours also has challenges. As COVID-19 fears rose in the United States in early March, online sales increased 75% year over year, and the number of online shoppers increased too. While retailers may want to move more sales online to offset declining store traffic, they should ensure that their team has tested a scaled capability before making such a shift. Providing substandard service could do more damage to your brand long-term than the lost sales in the short term.
Embrace you business ecosystem and future-proof your company
With new business models emerging from the crisis COVID-19 is creating, you have an oportunity to become the nexus of a brand new future-proof ecosystem. This new global and digital ecosystem will add layers of complexity and potential vulnerabilities to your business—but they can also offer opportunities that can future-proof your company. As a effective leader conside the following questions:
- How can we use the ecosystem to improve the resilience of our organisation during COVID-19?
- How am I extending my stakeholder communication to embrace ecosystem partners that have become critical components of the business model?
- What additional data might my partners have to improve my operations?
- What level of communication is appropriate for the investor community—the more traditional “econosystem”
- As new business models emerge from the crisis, can I become the nexus of a new, emerging ecosystem that’s built for the new “normal”?
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