t’s humbling to think that just more than a month ago, the global economy was thriving. With unemployment low, many organizations struggled to find talent. Other companies turned down work because they were simply too busy. A vast global recession was the least of their worries. That all changed with the rapid escalation of the COVID-19 crisis.
In a matter of days, we were thrust into what will likely be the greatest social and economic disruption since the Second World War. Businesses are now focused on survival, retaining clients and employees, and managing the HR and employment law ramifications of pandemic-induced layoffs—among a raft of other operational challenges.
The economy has transformed to such an extent, and at such unprecedented speed, that many business owners have been left in a state of entrepreneurial shell shock, experiencing a paralysis in strategic decision-making as they wait for the next COVID-19 development to shake their business or industry to its core. Some are facing the opposite (albeit somewhat more pleasant) predicament as they struggle to meet demand—think manufacturers of medical equipment, for example.
It’s simply too early to say how the coronavirus pandemic will play out, but we should assume that it will take months before normalcy is restored. That’s why it’s so important to heed the lesson of previous recessions: companies that fail to innovate, provide exceptional service or adjust their business model will suffer. Strong, forward-thinking leadership is more important than ever.
In other words, we can’t bury our heads in the sand and hope this all goes away. It simply won’t.
Now is the time to be proactive and prepare to change in order to stave off financial disaster. Think practically: analyze your balance sheet to lower expenses and maximize efficiencies wherever possible. Tap into new programs such as the federal government’s Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy—which will aid qualifying businesses by covering up to the first 75 per cent of pre-crisis wages (to a maximum of $847 per week) of existing employees for up to three months—or apply for interest-free loans of as much as $40,000 from the Canada Emergency Business Account.
Be strategic and determine which of your existing customers are the most likely to remain solvent throughout the crisis. How can you service their needs? Do you need to work with them to defer billing or temporarily reduce prices or fees? How can you shake off the shock and pivot your business, finding opportunities to provide products or services to clients in new or different ways? Creativity and speed to market are key right now.
Ultimately, you need your people to remain focused and productive to increase your organization’s chances of survival. Some will be up to the task, while others won’t. That could necessitate some difficult HR decisions and possible terminations. But at this point you need to focus on fielding the very best team possible.
As a manager, it’s important to be available and visible. Communicating with employees on a daily basis will help maintain engagement as bleak headlines stoke their anxiety levels. And be prepared to lay it on the line—if your business is in critical condition, tell them. Make clear the level of urgency and remind them that by working together, you can successfully emerge from this situation a leaner, stronger company on the other end.
We may be sailing in uncharted waters, but a commitment to leadership and effective management can save businesses and position them for renewed growth once this is all over. The looming question: which of us is up to that entrepreneurial challenge?