Productive Leaders

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

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future of american business

COVID-19 and the Future of American Business for 2020 and Beyond


The year 2020 will forever be marked by an unforeseen lesson in vision. We didn’t see it coming, but we all must now recognize where the lesson is leading us. And we, the business and organizational leaders, are obligated to confidently embrace this time for improvement. We must be creative, innovative, and progressive in offering improved employee and customer experiences, more successful business strategies, far more efficient operations, and stronger local, national, and global economies.

Some businesses are healthy and thriving, while countless others will never reopen. Some workers are lamenting their return to the office, while others enthusiastically prepare for a new normal. We, the business leadership community, need to acknowledge the facts of what was, what is, and the future we need to create. Leaders are challenged to set new standards that focus on people at every level, that serves every investor, employee, and customer, and delivers excellence at every product and service interaction.

The American experience has always been fraught with the tension between bold individualism and entrepreneurship and the establishing of a national community to ensure a common good. The interplay between government, business, education, and non-profits is a hallmark of our American economy.

Today, the CEOs of America, small business leaders in every state and entrepreneurs in every community have a new responsibility. 2020 marks the year in which we, the business leadership community, must provide a new vision for the American economy and confidently carve our own path in this new adventure that none of us could have foreseen.

The starting point is innovation of service to employees and customers. How do we serve a marketplace full of new demands with increased technological engagement and exacting expectations of convenience and safety? Our lives and our businesses are being largely remade by this global pandemic which has impacted our businesses, families, employees, customers, and other stakeholders. We can cooperate, compete, and improve. To that end we have diligently gathered a wealth of wisdom and insights from our contemporaries—CEOs and leaders from around the country— who are sharing their understanding of this sea change that is the intersection of commerce, customers, convenience, and caution. Additionally, we have scoured numerous articles, essays, and briefs being drafted in response to this ever-changing time. We have prepared this paper which we hope will guide us all toward quicker success in the coming months, years, and decades.

This paper is crafted for the great leaders we need during this critical time. Leaders need insights, understanding, and strategies for the future. We are in a time of great challenge and transition. The current global pandemic is forcing companies, organizations, and leaders in all areas to move in new directions toward new goals. Some businesses will collapse. Some will thrive. There is no question that all businesses will be different.

It is our desire to provide leaders with ideas and realities in six fundamental areas that will determine future success. We outline some of the most significant challenges CEOs are facing today, including relating to the health of their workers and customers, ensuring the continuity of business operations and distribution channels, adopting new technologies and processes, and adapting business strategies to a new and evolving marketplace.

This paper also shares insights and ideas on how to successfully emerge from this crisis. We present various strategies and solutions to aid you in navigating the changes from unprecedented work stoppages, lack of consumer confidence and spending, new legal requirements and limitations, and ever-changing work from home (WFH) expectations.

The most successful businesses are those that are able to pivot quickly, adapt to new technologies, and lead their people through necessary transitions. Some organizations will not be able to adjust to these new realities brought about by this pandemic, and sadly, they will risk closing. Organizations willing to move quickly, think strategically, and find new opportunities will capitalize on a new talent pool, new resources, and fewer barriers to entry. 

The four of us hope these insights help!

future of american business


The entrepreneur is the ultimate display of “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” While the Instagram-world may have recently discovered upcycling, the entrepreneurial spirit has been repurposing resources for millennia, and the names of notable inventors, startups, and industry leaders is long. Today, we need to continue to discover new ways of combining resources to create something new and better than the components themselves. Entrepreneurship is marked by critical thinking, innovation, calculated risk, and a relentless pursuit of solutions (sometimes even in search of a problem).

future of american business

Challenges: Creating a Culture that Fosters and Rewards Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship thinking is not limited to an individual coming up with an idea to start his or her own company. Intrapreneurship is entrepreneurship within an existing organization, and now is the time to identify new ideas that can rapidly be brought to market in an ever-changing world.

Opportunity: Not every person is intrinsically comfortable with the risk. The employees who “dream big,” and encourage others to “have courage” can be a new source of innovative thinking. In recent months, many people have been solving numerous personal and professional problems and managing a seemingly endless array of tensions. Their improved skill set is ready to help resolve your company’s biggest problems. Leaders need to identify those within the organization that have an entrepreneurial mindset and encourage creative thinking to solve new problems and create new opportunities. Leaders need to set the tone and create a culture where Intrapreneurship can thrive.

Solution: Invite greater participation, brainstorming, and conversation. Be transparent with the challenges your company is faced with and ask for help. Encourage all levels of employees to participate, not just management. Sometimes the best ideas come from customer service, workers on the plant floor, and young, recently hired employees. These individuals know what challenges customers face, they know what efficiencies can be created, and they are often not confined with a “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality.

Use every means of communication available to you, especially one-on-one conversations, to solicit ideas. Publically make the promise that in pursuit of new solutions failure will be acknowledged, affirmed, and applauded. Reward those who come up with new ideas, and make the reward very meaningful, for example, provide a percentage of the first-year new revenue generated or costs saved as a bonus to the individual and/or team that created the idea. Stick to your promise. Lead by being authentic and vulnerable; reveal your past business mistakes and your current work struggles and invite others to come alongside you and help everyone win!

Challenge: Increasing Critical Thinking Skills

Every business rule, process, product, and program should be evaluated to determine if it best fits in the short-term and post-COVID-19 world.

Opportunity: Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs need to be more creative and innovative than ever before. Everything is on the table for reinventing, reimagining, and revamping. The necessary speed of change is leading people to worry about whether or not they have the skill set to continue in their business and others to have a new excitement about future possibilities.

Leaders have a responsibility to solicit feedback from all levels. Just because a process has been in place for years does not mean that it is the best process moving forward. Just because the leader had the idea does not necessarily make it a good one. Encourage critical thinking and questioning within all areas of the organization.

Solution: Get involved with like-minded people (facilitated peer council, industry associations, or mastermind) and think harder, push each other, and become a deeper thinker. Read more. Listen more. Learn more. Other people help us become better.

Put in place a means for employees to share ideas and speak up. This might mean creating an anonymous idea bucket or online forum where employees can anonymously question existing ways of thinking without fear of reprisal. As a leader, it is your responsibility to identify and, if necessary, remove “yes men and women” as blindly following instructions is not what the agile companies of today and tomorrow need if they are going to survive and thrive.

If you have critical thinkers in your company, develop and empower them. If you don’t, go hire them!

Challenge: Immediately Adapt Business Models to New Opportunities and Needs

Many companies sold limited product lines and provided certain solutions to specific industries and were very successful until the pandemic interrupted their cash cow.

Opportunity: Many businesses will need to pivot within months if not weeks to survive. This is a great opportunity to be transparent with your teams and invite entrepreneurial thinking. Ask your management team and entire employee base, “How can we do more with less?” Or better, “How can we make more doing things differently?”

For many organizations, immediate cash flow is necessary because cash reserves may have been dramatically depleted. Review your existing product/solution offerings and determine if anything can quickly be repurposed and/or repackaged to sell into new markets, generating “fast cash.” For example, if you’re a packaging company that historically sells into the restaurant industry, how quickly could you repurpose your equipment and sell into the medical industry? If you’re a service company that has a unique offering, could you record your expertise, package it, and sell it online as a course? What are the commonalities of your existing core customers and are there similar industries that can benefit from your expertise, e.g., if your primary audience was doctors, could you now offer a similar solution with a slight twist in either product or packaging to dentists?

Solution: Identify employees willing to take calculated risks and try new ideas, and encourage them to test those ideas with the expectation of future implementation. Establish compensation structures whereby anyone who comes up with a new idea that is successfully implemented can benefit financially. Provide scheduled individual and small group “think time” and larger interdepartmental forums to discuss real customer problems and brainstorm opportunities to solve those problems. Hire individuals who demonstrate creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

Provide employees at all levels with the freedom to develop and share new ideas on how to leverage your assets to generate revenue. There are always three ways to acquire revenue, in order from least to most difficult: (1) existing revenue from current customers, (2) new and additional revenue from current customers, and (3) new revenue from new customers.

Challenge: Overcoming the Complacency Fueled by pre-COVID-19 Success

In the last decade businesses drove tremendous economic growth by capitalizing on what has worked. CEOs are explaining that many business leaders admit they have become complacent. Critical thinkers have been underwhelmed and underutilized, problems were assessed as minor and ignored, and as for product lines and services, confidence in ever-present cash cows led to lack of research for the next rising star. We no longer have this luxury of an “it is what it is” mindset.

Opportunity: In many organizations, employees have long been pleading to be heard as it relates to policies that make no sense, regulations that stifle creativity, and processes that cause numerous delays and reworks. They want to offer their ideas, insights, and solutions. And frankly, in this recent season of widespread problem solving, people are better at it than ever.

Solution: Take advantage of this new enthusiasm for implementing improvements. Create two-way conversations with simple dialogue. Invite employees to answer three simple questions: (1) What should we start doing? (2) What should we stop doing? and (3) What should we keep doing? 

Now is the time to do the hard work of identifying the ineffective and inefficient parts of your company, no matter where they are, and not matter how large or how small.

Meridith Elliott-Powell

Voted one of the Top 15 Business Growth Experts and Top 50 Sales Speakers, Meridith helps leaders develop strategies that turn uncertainty into competitive advantages.

sam richter

Sam Richter

Named one of the Top 50 Sales Speakers and Top 25 Most Influential Sales Leaders, Sam is a Hall of Fame speaker and considered one of the world’s experts on Sales Intelligence and Digital Reputation Management.

mark hunter

Mark Hunter

Recognized as one of the top 50 global sales and marketing experts multiple years in a row, Mark has taught in 30 countries on 5 continents and has written two best-selling books.

Mary Kelly, CSP, PHD

An economic leadership advisor, Mary helps leaders strategically plan and make difficult decisions. A Hall of Fame speaker and author of 13 books, Mary has been cited in Forbes, Success, and other periodicals.


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