Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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proactive strategic planning

Get Proactive: Steps to Survive and Thrive in the Virus Crisis


The 2020 vision we were planning for this year has radically changed. It’s natural to feel hopeless and helpless while supply chains are interrupted, jobs are in jeopardy, and businesses are suffering.

Business leaders have to shift their thinking. This virus is not going to disappear, so we have to innovatively problem-solve to stay relevant and stay in business.

Key issues to consider:
1. How does this change our strategic plan?
2. How can we better serve our customers?
3. How can we care for our employees and provide them with the flexibility they need?
4. What are we proactively doing to deal with the new reality brought on by the virus crisis?

According to the US Chamber of Commerce Special Report on the Coronavirus:

  • One quarter of small businesses already shut down. One in four (24%) small businesses have shut down temporarily in response to COVID-19.
  • More temporary shutdowns likely in coming weeks. Among those who haven’t temporarily shut down yet, 40% report it is likely they will do so within the next two weeks.
  • 54% of all small businesses report they are closed or could close within the coming weeks.
  • The clock is ticking on permanent shutdowns. 43% percent believe they have less than six months (including one in ten that say they have less than one month) until a permanent shutdown is unavoidable.
  • Retailers give themselves six months. Fifty-one percent of retailers believe their business can continue operating for no more than six months without shutting down permanently.
  • Months before return to normalcy. Almost half (46%) of small businesses believe it will take the U.S. economy six months to a year to return to normal.

If this is the new reality, we have to take steps now to protect our businesses AND be positioned to not just survive but prosper by serving others in the future.

How do we do that? I’ve been doing a series of interviews with CEOS, organizational presidents, and industry leaders. Here are some of the questions we’ve been discussing. Use these to kickstart your survive and thrive planning process and create an action plan for moving forward.

1. How has the virus changed buying habits for your customers?

Due to layoffs and furloughs, 22 million Americans filed for unemployment last month. This is a mammoth shift from April 2019, which saw a 50 year low in jobless claims. As a result, people have less disposable income (the money they have to spend after taxes) so customers are spending less. Retail sales were down 6.8% in March. Retail is the second largest sector in the US, behind health care. For many households, this is the first time they have had to create and stick to a budget. Businesses need to understand that people are being more careful about where they spend and what they buy, so the value has to be clear if people are going to consider your products.

Understanding how these changes will re-shape your customer’s needs, desires, and decision-making criteria will be key. Anticipating how you need to change your products and services, or create new ones, to deliver value will be key to your success.

2. How has the virus changed day to day activities, routines, and habits for your customers?

Habits and routines, those activities that we don’t have to think too hard about to accomplish, such as getting up, having coffee, eating breakfast, getting the kids to school, and driving to work, have all changed. Even for those people who are still going to some kind of work place, procedures have changed. Masks, hand sanitizer, and cleaning everything from the car to the mailbox to door handles is taking more time. Your customers have less time to think about you. You have to think more about them, and how you are going to help them with their daily challenges.

3. What are you doing to help people stay focused?

Solving challenges for your customers means solving challenges for your people as well.

Your employees need:
*More flexibility with working hours, as many are working from home and may be competing with children and other household members for time to work.
*More communication from their supervisors and leadership about the future of the company and the security of their job.
*More reminders about deadlines and projects as they are struggling with multi-tasking and constant disruptions.
*More details about the financial status of the organization. Now is not the time to treat your employees like children. Give them the numbers so they understand the reality, and the gravity of the situation.

4. What is your competition doing to better serve your customers?

Look at what your competition is doing. Are they pivoting better than you? Are they more agile? Are they meeting the needs of your clients faster? While it is uncomfortable, and it may be difficult to hear, many businesses were doing well because the economy was doing well. They were successful because success just wasn’t that difficult. There was plenty of pie to go around. If you are not serving your customers well, your competition will step in.

5. Are you making the difficult and necessary decisions now?

The virus crisis is forcing us to examine every element of our business processes, and those aspects that are doing poorly need to be improved and improved quickly. Some divisions that were not profitable in an economic boom will never be profitable and will need to be shut down or repurposed. Some people will need to be furloughed or let go. As leaders, we never want to let people go, but to save the business, some jobs may need to be eliminated. And this is made far more difficult when we as leaders have to tell someone over a computer screen that they are being released.

Tough times are when we need real leaders. Real leaders need to step up and do what is needed, necessary and correct to save their businesses, their employees, and the economy. We are all in this together.


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