future of american businesses
manage and emerge

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

INTRODUCTION 

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!

 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

On December 31st of 2019, the Chinese Government informed the World Health Organization about a cluster of 41 people with a mysterious virus. By January 31, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency. In early February, the first cases and deaths outside of China appeared. On March 13th President Trump declared a national emergency. By March 31st one-third of the world was on lockdown, practicing social distancing, closing businesses, and forcing the global economy into a massive slowdown.

We acknowledge that first and foremost the COVID -19 coronavirus has been a health tragedy, impacting the lives of millions of people. It is also an economic tragedy causing massive disruption to the global economy that will take years, if not decades, to recover. The quick spreading COVID-19 coronavirus is an external shock that is impacting the world and redefining reality. Leaders have to change and shift quickly.

The goals of this white paper are to share the findings from our interviews with CEOs and corresponding research. We interviewed CEOs across a variety of sectors including manufacturing, financial, healthcare, technology, supply-chain, distribution, travel, tourism, and retail. We have organized our findings into six fundamental areas and present the challenges that need to be met, the opportunities presented by these times, and solutions that can accelerate recovery and growth. 

future of american business

  

Our findings presented pertain to:

  • Challenges CEOs and their respective companies are facing in the areas of health and safety, financial viability, and changing customer behaviors, legal matters, and business logistics
  • Ideas and strategies CEOs across industries are implementing to navigate this crisis to ensure continued success, both operationally and financially
  • Possible new opportunities and corresponding solutions 

 

OVERVIEW OF THE SIX FUNDAMENTAL AREAS

 

1. People

This pandemic has forever changed the need to view employees and customers as people and not resources. Newly tech-informed employees are ready to help.

2. Processes

This is the conduit of all success. Having the right people and practices applied in the best possible way is the method of all growth, profit, and stakeholder satisfaction.

3. Resources

Cash is king. When cash reserves are plentiful, decisions are easier and opportunities abound. Real estate holdings, underperforming assets, and expensive leases are draining the bottom line.

4. Technology

There has been a significant acceptance and accelerated learning in the realm of technology that is changing employee expectations, customer behavior, and IT departments.

5. Sales and Marketing

The focus must be on delivering better information and service through technology and personal relationships. Social Media, chatbots, video conferencing are here to stay.

6. Entrepreneurship

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are in greater need than ever. Leaders must have the right talent, the right vision, and the right focus for future success.

Part One of Six – PEOPLE

Leaders create processes and programs to attract and retain employees, to serve customers, to develop people professionally, and maintain goodwill within the communities they serve. Today, we also realize that our businesses are in jeopardy if our employees are ill or if our customers’ business expectations change. The centrality of people, all people, compels us to shift our priorities from shareholder value to stakeholder value. If we put our key stakeholders first, in this order – (1) employees, (2) customers, and (3) community then (4) shareholder value will be at its full potential.


future of american business

Challenge: Company’s Role for the Health of Employees and Customers

This pandemic increased awareness of the employer’s responsibility and liability for providing a safe work environment. Various questions have been raised regarding office environments, production facilities, travel obligations and caring for, and managing, sick or exposed employees, immune-compromised individuals, or those at the highest risk of danger.

Opportunity: CEOs need to make health and safety a strategic priority, and set (rather than follow) standards in their industry and community. By being pioneers and developing their own standards of safety they will enhance their market position, attract top talent, and assure valued customers. Top talent and preferred customers will be attracted to the companies that are initiating rather than merely following guidelines. COVID-19 has created a stronger role for the employer, and safety and health guidelines must ensure we are meeting the needs of our employees at every level.

Solution: Innovative CEOs and leaders are working with their teams and industries to develop, establish, and test new guidelines and policies pertaining to safety in the workplace. In addition, the CDC and the World Health Organization have outlined best practices for providing safe work environments and protecting both at-risk and exposed employees. This is a starting place.

Companies should first approach health and safety holistically. The policies and procedures created now must be cognizant of the physical, mental, and economic health of both the employee and their family members. While drafting or revisiting guidelines for in-office and travel safety, PTO, and WFH, consider all the ways your employees are impacted now, and the support they will need.

Second, engage employees in workspace initiatives. Work cooperatively—give them a voice and a role in establishing guidelines and policies. Challenge them to determine the level of risk they are willing to assume, how the changes are best implemented, and how this will be communicated in the organization. For these new initiatives to be effective, team engagement and ownership are vital, so design your program accordingly.

Third, be proactive in taking a leadership role in defining how the industry responds to the needed health changes. Make recommendations, offer to test new products, and volunteer to be a beta when new guidelines are initiated. This increased awareness is dramatically changing what is required of employers, and we believe it is better to have a seat at the table, rather than wait for direction.

Lastly, involve customers. Companies need to observe, listen to, and solicit input from customers on how they want to interact. What safety initiatives do they want? What is too cumbersome? Effectively engaging customers, and communicating with them on updates and changes, ensures they feel heard, valued, and part of the process.

Challenge: Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate

Communication — how, what, and when — is a more significant hurdle. Many CEOs admit they were underprepared for the level, the needed consistency, and the new mediums required for communicating during this crisis. The resulting lack of communication caused fear with employees, decreased productivity, and reduced engagement. It also created concern from customers who did not know if companies could still meet their needs, were safe, or even still in business.

Opportunity: CEOs who prioritize communication are far more likely to have a more engaged team and a more loyal customer base. The best CEOs and leaders understand that their employees and customers can handle bad news. What they cannot handle is no news. The best strategy is transparency. Be open and honest about where your company is doing well, what the challenges are, and how your employees can help.

Solution: Remain visible. Create a communication strategy that ensures employees are clear about what is expected of them, they have the tools and resources needed to achieve the expectations, and they receive regular, honest, and transparent updates.

Communication with employees needs to be increased during times of crisis, especially with a remote workforce. Starti each day with check-ins, get company updates on a weekly basis, and ensur coaching sessions are scheduled routinely. Employees need to be informed as they engage and talk with customers more often than leadership.

Ensure communication with employees is a two-way street. Employees need both (1) feedback on their performance and (2) the opportunity to share their concerns as well as their ideas for increasing productivity and service.

Regular communication is needed with customers on everything from how operational procedures have changed, how your products and services have been adjusted to solve their current challenges, and what the company is doing to keep both customers and employees safe.

Ensure that leadership from every level is intimately involved in communications. Customers and employees need to see and hear from the CEO, as well as from division, department, and team leaders. Using all mediums—especially video—is key to ensuring that messages are effectively communicated.

Challenge: Leading Remotely

In a matter of weeks, what was considered innovative became the norm. Companies had to determine how to transition from having employees working onsite to working from home. The challenges were many, including having a lack of proper technology, uncertainty as to how to manage and lead employees who were isolated from supervisors and coworkers, and a lack of systems and guidelines for workers and managers to adhere to. While most CEOs interviewed said their teams performed well under the pressure, most also admitted the experience caught them off guard and under-prepared.

Opportunity: Leaders recognize the long-term benefits of remote workforces, such as decreasing the need for expensive office space, increasing the pool of talent they can recruit, and fostering a new enthusiasm and loyalty from employees as a result of greater work-life balance. The effort needed to foster workplace community is inviting new ideas that are positively shaping the company’s culture.

Solution: CEOs and leaders should rethink their approach to facilities, employees, and managerial accountability. There is tremendous possibility in taking a holistic approach to how you invest resources, find top talent, and lead teams going forward.

Leaders need to update their business plans as it relates to the office space they actually need now that many workers will remain remote. What will that office space need to look like in terms of number of employees in the space, sanitation, air filters, handless doors and several additional safety measures?

While office space may be more expensive, many companies will need less of it.

Human resources will need to become proactive and strategic to capitalize on the opportunity that remote employment brings to the hiring pool. Leaders and CEOs have a tremendous opportunity to hire the talent they want and need without being restricted by geographical location and time zone. Rethink what your company needs from a talent perspective in the coming years, and then challenge human resources to find, recruit and onboard those needed individuals.

Training must also be revamped; everything needs to be reviewed, big and small. Employees new to the WFH environment will require a host of new technical skills. Supervisors will need to know how to lead and engage a remote workforce.

Adapt new training methods that include: more virtual, self-paced learning; shorter, more frequent training segments; and instruction that pertains to both professional and lifestyle issues.

Challenge: Personal and Professional Engagement with Furloughed Employees

Many CEOs interviewed were forced to furlough longstanding employees, initially with no idea of when or if they can have them return. As such, retaining workers is the priority. Artificially high unemployment benefits are deterring many from wanting to return to work; some will not return to the labor force.

Opportunity: Now is the time for leaders to show their empathy for employees, especially those who have been furloughed. Organizations that treat furloughed employees with compassion and respect are those most likely to have loyal employees eager to return to work. It is very possible that some reluctant employees will return to work and leaders need to ensure those employees, once again, become enthusiastic toward the organization and toward leadership.

SolutionMany CEOs are actively communicating with furloughed workers. Some have created internal communication strategies or small team projects to ensure regular and meaningful connections, helping to foster their desire to return to work.

Treat furloughed employees with compassion, empathy, and respect. It is the right thing to do, and from a company perspective, it’s imperative as all employees will be watching and judging leadership on their interactions. Leaders should remember that while power has shifted today, it won’t be long before attracting and retaining top-quality employees will become an issue again.

Challenge: Attracting, Recruiting, and Hiring the Right Talent

Before the pandemic, finding talented team members was almost impossible. Post pandemic, employers will be able to choose. Many CEOs understand that power has shifted in their favor. CEOs acknowledge that it is probable that some furloughed employees will not return to work and that the number of talented individuals looking for new opportunities will grow.

Opportunity: Employers are now in the power position, and the opportunity to find, hire, and engage top talent is at an all-time high. Before 2020, the unemployment rate in the United States was at a record low of 3.5%. But now, the National Bureau of Economic Research is reporting that 42% of those who have been laid off won’t get their jobs back. Millions of people have filed for unemployment. Many employees believe that this is a good time to make a change in their career, their industry, or their working environment. Many employees will not go back to their former employer, even if they are invited to return to their former position. This will result in an overabundance of new and expereinced candidates when companies start to hire again. Managers and leaders can scrutinize the talent they want.

Because of the increased use of technology and the resulting cost savings, companies may be able to offer employees a higher salary, more flexibility, and more benefits. There will likely be retirement-eligible workers returning to work.

Solution: Get clear on the talent needed in your organization, both presently and in the coming years. Work with Human Resources to bolster your recruiting strategy and network, even as it causes labor expenses to increase in the short-term. Employers should know their ideal employee avatar, so they are in agreement on the employee they are looking for. Short-term efforts to acquire the right talent will pay dividends in the long-term.

The Human Resources department needs to function like the sales department and create a proactive pipeline of the right talent. Hiring and keeping the right people is an investment in corporate culture. Attracting talent is one step. Engaging and retaining employees depends on the feeling of connectedness they have with the organization.

Talent remains a great competitive advantage, and with the pandemic employers now have more choices.

Challenge: Assessing Employee Performance

Organizations are changing how leaders perceive and judge performance. People working from home will be assessed on the results they provide, not just on their personality—their charisma— or on their location.

Opportunity: Every downturn forces executives and mid-level leaders to assess the contribution of each employee. The new environment of working from home means employees are being assessed based on a different set of standards than before the pandemic.

With only 29% of companies giving high marks to their own review process (Mercer) this is an opportunity to rethink how we assess employees, communicate and receive feedback, as well as review the purpose and anticipated results of performance evaluations. Companies are realizing that to be successful there is more needed from employees than numbers-based performance.

Solution: Redesign performance reviews to appraise both hard and soft skills required for superior employee performance. This year reemphasized the importance of teamwork, communication, persistence, resilience, diversity, and the ability to adapt and change.

Reassess existing goals to fit the circumstances such as a drop in sales or employees adjusting to the new practices of working at home. Compassion needs to balance with accountability.

Remote workers, because they lack direct in-office supervision, need to have performance reviews more often. Technology makes this possible. Schedule frequent communication to provide feedback more often to help team members stay focused, engaged, and on track.

Lastly, have compassion. This does not mean eliminating or reducing standards. Leaders need to support their employees with the care and resources they need to be successful. For employees not succeeding in spite of the communication, feedback, and resources, handle them honorably as you develop performance plans or part ways. The most talented employees are relieved when leaders hold non-performers accountable.

Challenge: Creating New and Relevant Training for Employees

Several CEOs who were interviewed shared newly required WFH employees were transitioned without the proper training, tools, and security protocols. Suddenly, employees had to learn new skills.

Opportunity: Training strategies and practices need to be updated and overhauled to reflect the needs of today’s employees. Leaders are identifying the skills and resources teams need to be successful in their new work environment, providing the training to meet those needs, and delivering it in a way that is easy and effective for team members to learn and implement.

Employees are aware of their skill-set deficiencies. They are willing to have a plan to help them improve. More employees are proactively seeking relevant development opportunities.

Online learning has exploded. The best professional speakers and trainers have pivoted to online delivery. This means organizations can now afford world-class training delivered virtually. While nothing replaces the energy, focus, relationship building. and learning opportunities afforded at in-person conferences and training events, employees themselves are more willing to learn virtually and more comfortable with online learning and programs.

Solution: Update the roles, responsibilities, and training needed for each employee. Develop individual training plans giving each employee a voice, and an opportunity to create their training plans. Training and development should be strategically-minded, personalized, and interactive. The most effective training considers how people learn best and offers current, relevant, and informational situations where coaching can occur.

Be ready to meet the learning needs of every team member. Some like to read a manual. Some like to have an expert provide one-on-one training. And some prefer to learn in a (now virtual) classroom or a conference setting. Find out how your employees like to learn, and then meet their needs.

Prepare a list of favorite conference speakers, authors, and trainers. Ask peers to recommend trainers and virtual training opportunities. Research the trainers and the services now being offered online. The cost of joining top business and leadership programs, as well as hiring some of the world’s best professional coaches, is easily managed as it replaces the previous hotel, food, travel, and entertainment expenses.

One of the most important parts of a leader’s job is to find the best talent they can afford, hire them, train them as needed, develop them to their full potential, and promote them to leadership. Organizations should include world-class training programs using both virtual and in-person opportunities to ensure the best talent is prepared for the next challenge.

Challenge: Managing Potential Conflict with Existing Union Rules and Contracts

Unions have historically played an important role in American industry, aiding workers when conditions become compromised. This pandemic has reignited the debate as to the role and relevance of unions which has historically been to (1) increase the number of jobs, (2) increase wages, and (3) increase safety.

Opportunity: Pre-COVID-19, unions were declining, with members questioning expensive dues, the value of membership, and even the need for unionizing given their healthy relationship with employers. There is now a renewed interest in the voice of the employee, especially essential employees, in terms of safety, sick leave, time to care for ill family members, and other new challenges.

Most union rules and labor contracts were developed in a pre-COVID-19 world. The old rules and contracts may no longer be relevant in a post-COVID world, creating tension at all levels which will only increase as operations come back online. Most parties are likely to be willing to discuss revisiting rules and contracts with the purpose of improving workplace conditions and potentially lowering operating costs. Unions want to save jobs that may be lost to automation. Employees want cleaner and safer working conditions.

The strong 2019 job market made it difficult to attract and retain top talent. The market favored employees which often led to management providing concessions to union representatives. Now, because of historic unemployment, management has more leverage. Many employees will have a realistic perspective of the marketplace and stay in jobs longer and accept job offers more quickly.

Solution: Non-union companies need to understand the risk of not prioritizing the care and safety of employees. Union companies should immediately reengage with union leaders to care for employees.

Employees, shop stewards, and local unions will each interpret new workplace rules differently. This confusion requires clear lines of communication and understanding by all supervisors and managers. Make certain that all front-line managers understand that they are not empowered to make any commitments or permanent alterations to procedures without first discussing the issues with HR.

Invite employees to the table. Ensure they are part of the discussion and part of the strategy to both protect workers and implement regulations.

Initiate conversations with union leaders. Everyone should take a fresh approach to the workplace and be open to questions and conversations about how to best proceed.

Negotiating power is now in favor of management, but now is not the time for leaders to take unfair advantage of the current high unemployment. Leaders can use this leverage to implement long-needed changes, restructure organizational charts, and change workspaces. But remember that it won’t be long until the pendulum swings the other way and there will again be a shortage of available talented labor.

Challenge: Assess FMLA/Self-Quarantine Policies/Health Care/Mental Heath

Family Medical Leave Act policies were created to help employees balance their work and family obligations, as well as create equal opportunities for men and women. While important, FMLA was not developed to cover the impact of a pandemic.

Opportunity: Health and mental care needs and costs are likely to increase. The good news is there is time to conduct analysis now in preparation for the upcoming enrollment period in October and November. As employees return to work, most are willing to accept a new normal, and this is a great time to solicit input into new policies. Leaders need to initiate and foster dialogue about what is important to their employees to increase employee engagement and satisfaction.

Legal requirements such as FMLA are on the forefront of human resources conversations. This time can be used to ensure that employees understand not only FMLA, but all employer-provided benefits. Increased scrutiny of current and future policies, and appropriate communication of all care options, reduces the potential of litigation.

It is likely that many employees will have a lingering mental health concern resulting from the challenges of this pandemic season. People have been physically ill, caring for ill family members, and experiencing worry and anxiety about work, finances, and health. It is important to remember that each employee will deal with the mental health implications differently.

Solution: Review the FMLA policies as it relates to mental health, and ensure that the proper resources are available to both aid employees and protect the company from future legal challenges. Work with HR, medical experts, finance, and other vested parties to create a financially viable plan to address the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 working environments. Determine what redundancies are needed to accommodate employees if self-quarantine decisions become the new social expectation.

Current health plans can and should be reviewed to ensure they meet the needs of employees and the financial realities of the company. Due diligence is critical. Rolling over existing plans maintains the status quo and may not provide what is needed. Brokers are desperate to make new offers in this period of instability. Even if the plan is to remain with the current broker it is prudent to pursue various bids to increase your negotiating strength, and you may find a better, lower-cost solution. Look closely at what may need to be addressed to cover mental health issues, COVID-19, self-quarantine, etc.

Challenge: Onboarding and Terminating Employees in Remote Environments

Historically, onboarding employees is an exciting process of meeting new team members, interactions with supervisors, and taking new employees out to lunch. Terminating employees was always conducted in person to show compassion when appropriate, and to mitigate any unfortunate reactions. With WFH, the positive benefits of onboarding in person and control mechanisms of terminating an employee, are gone.

Opportunity: With more employees successfully working from home, CEOs recognize the shortcomings of ad hoc communication about the who, what, when, where, and why relating to new and current employees who are not in the office. Employees are viewing this temporary change as their new permanent reality. They are asking questions about roles and responsibilities. Leaders must quickly answer these questions, shape the culture, and establish clean processes.

Being able to continue hiring and onboarding employees efficiently in a WFH or social distance environment is essential to the smooth running of the company. The ability to remotely terminate an employee is challenging. While uncomfortable, it must be done with care and safety.

Leaders should evaluate the positive impacts of in-person onboarding and outline ways to the replicate the benefits virtually as best as possible. For example, can other employees take a new employee “out” for a virtual lunch? Can a new employee have a detailed and organized schedule of online meetings with various department leaders and colleagues? Organizations have the opportunity to get creative with how they make new employees feel welcome and get them up to speed and productive as soon as possible.

Simultaneously, leaders need to determine how to best terminate an employee in a virtual setting while maintaining a sense of empathy and protecting the company brand. Employees can easily record virtual conversations and post them online—leaders should assume ALL conversations are being recorded. Technology policies and software resources need to be in place prior to termination to ensure online networks cannot be breached and company data cannot be stolen. Policies need to be in place with an inventory of what company property an employee has at their home, including computers, phones, hardware, documents, and any access to software, servers, cloud storage, or client lists. A procedure needs to be in place regarding who will travel to the employee’s home to collect any company property, or if the employee is responsible for returning property in-person or via a designated delivery service.

Non-compete and security policies need to be addressed so company information is not compromised.

Solution: HR, IT, and managers must work together to craft new and detailed plans for hiring, onboarding, and terminating. Poor onboarding experiences reduces employee performance, satisfaction, and retention. The risk of a poor termination exposes the company to high risk and liability if passwords, technology, company assets, and internal communication are not safeguarded.

Challenge: Recognizing Employee Service and Contributions

While working from home, employees do not receive formal and informal feedback from colleagues on a job well done, and thus, there is often increased uncertainty for an employee’s job performance.

Opportunity: Employees are looking for leadership. Leaders need to be more engaged with workers during times of crisis. Even the most self-motivated employees need more frequent communication, encouragement, and feedback for high-stress environments.

A leader can mitigate stress and the unknown with genuine, authentic, consistent, and more frequent communication. Leaders should model this communication and feedback to direct reports and express the expectation that managers should provide similar feedback to all employees.

When engaging with employees, evaluate what feedback mechanisms worked best prior to the work interruptions and what worked well in the virtual environment. Combine the best practices to create a new and more meaningful means of recognizing service and contributions.

Solution: Connect on a more personal level. Increase the frequency and visibility of employee recognition activities. Recognition does not need to involve a bonus. The key is not taking employees for granted. Meet and exceed expectations for feedback. Commit to awards, celebrations, annual reviews, and salary adjustments. Remember that individual people need individual attention. People are unique and they value different types of recognition. Some need words of affirmation—some prefer privately and not publically— to keep them engaged, others prefer monetary rewards or thank you gifts, and some might value extra paid time off.

Part Two of Six – PROCESSES

Ask the right questions to get the right answers. Everything should be examined. With so much change coming so quickly, the challenge is finding the right solution as quickly as possible. The caution is that we sacrifice the time needed for discovery—soliciting input from various levels of employees within the larger team, and identifying possible unintended consequences—in favor of action.

Even now, as the pace of work is even more hurried, we must be mindful of the insight of Albert Einstein, “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”

Identify lists of questions and share them with your board of directors, senior management, and employees at every level. Take the time to hear their questions as well. Define the problem, collaborate on solutions and strategically adjust processes to improve the organization.

future of american businesses processes

Challenge: Value to Customers

Business plans and strategies have historically focused primarily on shareholder value, not value to customers. Driving employee health and productivity will enhance every customer experience.

Opportunity: Shift business plan priorities from shareholder value to stakeholder value. If we put our key stakeholders first, (1) employees, (2) customers, and (3) community, then the shareholder value will take care of itself. This does not diminish profit growth as a goal. Rather, it means that profit is enhanced by caring for employees, customers, and the community.

Leaders have the opportunity to hit the “reset” button and focus on the value of customers. Business plans written earlier in 2020 are no longer valid. Companies may have new products, new service offerings, new vendor and distribution partnerships, and even new target audiences. Now is the time to review plans with a customer-centric focus.

Solution: Rewrite business plans and strategies with key goals and metrics to provide maximum value to stakeholders. Determine which outcomes impact profitability and thus value, and maximize opportunities to reach those outcomes. For example, if employees are more productive and happier working from home either part-time or full-time, establish programs that enable this and track the impact on customer satisfaction, procedures, and profitability.

Challenge: Workplace Safety

For manufacturing facilities and those companies with warehouses and physical plants, there are long-standing procedures for workplace safety. Now, all companies must make workplace safety a priority as the definition of workplace safety has dramatically expanded to now include social distancing, hand washing, more frequent disinfecting of common areas such as breakrooms, bathrooms, refrigerators, copy machines and even the proper use of coffee pots and microwaves.

Pre-COVID-19, other than for those in the hospitality and restaurant industries, organizations, in general, did not need to focus on customer expectations regarding organizational cleanliness and safety. Unless an organization did an inordinately poor job, most customers never noticed. Today and in the future, however, that will dramatically change. Everything from the front-desk appearance to the cleanliness of restrooms will be scrutinized, and customers will surely base decisions on who they will and will not work with based on the organization’s attention to cleanliness and safety detail.

Opportunity: Safety has taken on a new priority which means great enthusiasm for and willingness to participate in workplace safety training. And with this knowledge of safety expectations and protocols comes reduced injuries, personal time off, and production interruptions.

Leaders should gather ideas regarding workplace safety from all employees, not just managers or those in human resources. Front line employees will often have the best ideas, and they are also more likely to follow the rules if they were the ones who helped create them.

Customers want to be assured that the environments in which they shop, dine, visit,–and even the employees they interact with– are clean and safe. Additionally, questions have been raised regarding the cleanliness of home deliveries. If your products were already meeting standards, now is the time to broadcast that. If they weren’t, now is the time to change.

Cleanliness, safety standards, and crisis mitigation plans will be scrutinized during future vendor selection processes. Organizations that exceed expectations will capture market share.

Solution: Workplaces are now going to have to be cleaner and safer. Employees riding in trucks together are going to require to keep more distance. Shared workstations need to be simpler so there are fewer areas that need to be cleaned, and spaced out to ensure physical distancing. Invest in quality janitorial services to get and stay clean and build trust with your employees. Help employees understand that all safety, not just cleanliness, is part of their job.

Go the extra step to ensure a clean and safe work environment. Pay attention to the little things – is the lobby organized? Are front desks clean? Are restrooms sanitary? Advertise what you do to keep both employees and customers safe and healthy. Be visible about efforts to provide clean, safe, and healthy products and workspaces. Many company guidelines on COVID-19 response and preparedness will never be read by customers, but there is comfort in seeing a poster, email, or header indicating that one exists.

Challenge: Understanding and Exceeding Customer Service Tolerances and Expectations

The customer experience must now expand to now include post-COVID-19 requirements such as low or no-touch payments and cleaner facilities. In addition, customers who were willing to tolerate lower service standards during the height of the pandemic are now quickly returning to a desire and demand for exceptional service.

Opportunity: The customer experience is the new competitive advantage. Organizations that prioritize how to care for customers will be the ones that succeed. Customers are seeking enhanced health and safety, updated online opportunities, easier processes to follow, and faster and easier physical delivery methods.

Solution: Create improved customer experiences. New online chat, telephone, video, and in-person improvements will be game-changers for growing market share. Organizations that pivot quickly will gain new customers, and increase the loyalty of current customers.

Many companies struggle to implement customer support creating long delays, frustrating processes, and delayed deliveries. This is an opportunity to emphasize superior customer support to quickly differentiate from the competition. While customers may be more tolerant in the short-term, companies that do not improve their customer service as businesses open up will experience the wrath of social media negativity. As customers lose patience with poor attitudes or slow processes, they will share their negative interactions with friends and followers.

Customers expect businesses to be online, easily found with customer service numbers prominently displayed, and real people answering the phone. Successful businesses will be available to customers as often, and in as many ways as possible.

Some CEOs are utilizing geographically diverse remote employees to increase their customer service channels (phone, email, chat, and social media) to operating 24/7. Companies selling goods are providing easy-to-use return shipping forms with every customer shipment even though it increases the number of returns. Service companies are allowing customers to schedule appointments online.

Customer service may be the easiest part of any organization to improve as it simply begins with recognizing that we are all customers before we are employees. As such we, and every person on our teams, know what good customer service is and is not. Extensive surveys and costly assessments often yield to common sense and fresh perspectives. Now is the opportunity to capture market share by providing exceptional service, as some of your competitors will surely fall short.

Challenge: Managing Accounts Receivable and Customer Needs

During the pandemic, many customers and suppliers demanded lower prices and extended terms. And many organizations complied with these demands to ensure they retained clients. In the post-COVID-19 era, customers will continue to demand those same artificially low prices and extended terms.

Opportunity: Smart leaders are making tough decisions as to what level of discounting, terms, or debt forgiveness may be required, and how that impacts customer relationships. This is a time to both gain customers and end service to those you don’t want.

Any special accommodations should be explicitly stated in contracts and effectively communicated, so customers understand that the prices and terms they are receiving today are for special circumstances. People have short memories; clearly display the discount and state the end of the special pricing and terms. Do not expect your customers to remember and be willing to return to the pre-crisis prices on their own.

Solution: Build a viable plan for pricing, discounts, and term variation. Identify and empower employees accountable for decisions. Diligently discuss every promise, variation, and final agreement with each customer to ensure mutual understanding. Manage the tension between accommodating your customer’s short-term needs and the benefits of a long-term relationship. Generate ideas for adding more value so that when business is back to more normal conditions, you can charge more because you’re providing more.

Challenge: Managing Change at an Accelerated Pace

This is a season of forced change. Several CEOs have expressed that the pace of change was difficult before the pandemic, and the need for urgency is increasing. There is new technology, new ways to serve customers, new safety and health guidelines, new supply chains, and the list goes on.

Opportunity: Organizations and leaders must proactively manage change, and use it as a strength rather than a weakness. If this pandemic teaches us nothing else, it is that everything can change quickly. Outside forces beyond our control, can have an enormous impact on our ability to succeed. The opportunity lies in learning to use the pace of change to fuel growth.

Solution: Condition teams for change by creating a vision, soliciting input through genuine brainstorming sessions, crafting a strategic plan, challenging employees to own and manage their roles, and rewarding employees for success.

Many CEOs conveyed that they are short of the needed time to adequately manage all of these issues. Although resources may be scarce, now can be the right time to outsource part of developing strategic plans to avoid costly mistakes and delays.

Challenge: Preparing for and Managing a Sudden Outbreak

What plans are in place if there is a sudden outbreak in the office? Some employees can work from home, but what do factories and plants that require on-site workforces do? What happens if 10%, 20%, or even 30% or more of an organization’s employees are unable to work?

Opportunity: Many will continue to reduce their workforces, companies that maintain their workforces and cross-train them well will benefit from the redundancy of labor in difficult circumstances such as an outbreak. An added benefit of maintaining suitable labor levels is the ability to have the right talent at the right time to capitalize on post-COVID-19 opportunities.

Solution: Document the conscious and unconscious processes, tasks, and routines at every employee level to ensure redundancy so others can temporarily fill the gap. This builds an “insurance policy” in the event of widespread absenteeism. Additionally, proper documentation and training expedite the effectiveness of new employees.

Cross-train employees on other work functions to ensure employees are able to support one another. This also enables employees to learn new skills, prepares them for advancement opportunities within the company, and reduces overall employee turnover.

Once a crisis is identified leaders must act swiftly, enacting contingency plans already in place. Advance planning is critical. Anticipate and prepare plans to maintain operations if a percentage of the workforce becomes ill. Know which non-essential activities can be suspended. Have an interim leadership plan to ensure confidence and continuity. Train those who interact with media and community leaders to respond correctly if the crisis is widespread and becomes known within the community. Leaders cannot abdicate the organization’s crisis-response plan to others.

Challenge: Preparing for Senior Leadership Promotion, Retirement, Illness or Death

Organizations are usually only concerned with a sudden illness or death one leader at a time. Now, organizations must plan for the unlikely–yet realisti–possibility that multiple members of leadership could become sick or even die within a very short period of time.

Opportunity: Organizational leadership and boards of directors must have viable succession plans in place. This identifies key individuals for future leadership roles, trains future leaders, and documents roles and responsibilities. Honest discussions with possible new senior leaders fosters open dialogue, encourages new ideas and solutions, and breeds confidence in the future of the company.

Solution: Organizations need to review their current and future leadership roles and responsibilities and determine who would assume leadership in the event of a sudden leadership departure, regardless of circumstance. Now is a great time for leaders to assess their strategic plans, including their succession planning. Top-level leaders should be looking to hire leaders of the future, not filling positions for today. That means reassessing job descriptions, organizational charts, and aligning people with their strategic vision.

Leaders need to allocate ample time to document every position and the need for future skillsets. Include lists of daily routines and responsibilities, drafts of decision-making filters, documents pertaining to future planning, summaries of informal ideas, and agreements. Often, the most competent people are only consciously aware of 20-30% of what they do. The rest is done subconsciously as part of normal, everyday work. It may be necessary to have a third party observe leadership to document what goes into the leadership position so that the sudden change in leadership does not leave an organization with inconsistencies.

Leader identification and training must be planned for and implemented. The next generation of leaders should be formally trained. This can include participation in peer councils, facilitated or mastermind groups, or informal training via mentorship. For succession planning resources, visit WhoComesNext.com.

Challenge: Complying with Current and New Regulations

In recent years, many of the regulations and barriers to doing business have been lifted and most leaders are acknowledging it is easier to do business and be successful in this environment. COVID-19 will cause an increase in regulations, as well as change and updates to existing regulations and requirement.

Opportunity: Some audit and compliance firms are facing a slowdown in business as a result of recent inactivity and clients going out of business. Others have capitalized by assisting company compliance with the Paycheck Protection Program and are busier than ever. As such, be aware of how your business partners are functioning at this time. Some might be willing to negotiate lower fees. Some might be placing limits on in-person visits, or conducting more of the audit work remotely, which might make the process shorter and easier. 

For many businesses the need exists for annual audits, reviews, etc. to remain compliant with industry standards or even governmental regulations. These do not go away in a pandemic, at best a small reprieve in time is given.

Solution: Be proactive. Call your service providers and discuss the next steps. Ask them for the new whitepapers in their industries so you can plan accordingly. Talk to local representatives from OSHA, the Department of Health, or Code Enforcement Offices and ask them if there are new guidelines that you need to know.

Challenge: Complying with OSHA Regulations and Labor Laws

Hourly and salaried employees were not designed for a pandemic and the laws and rules in place often don’t fit the current COVID-19 reality, or what the reality looks like as businesses open up both short-term and long-term.

Opportunity: Given the widespread number of furloughed employees and the associated costs, examine how new employee work preferences and the possibility of increased temporary and contract labor will need to be adapted into your hiring, training, managing, developing, and terminating processes. Review legal requirements and implications for both on-site workers and also remote and WFH employees. Consider the repercussions to break rooms, rest rooms, locker rooms, entry/exit areas and transportation hubs as well as policies for WFH employees.

Solution: Identify which laws are the most likely to be violated and build a cost/benefit analysis to determine the best plan of action under a variety of scenarios. Develop clear and concise training and communication programs to ensure employee training, understanding, and compliance. Employees should know what is expected of them to reduce gray areas when it involves OSHA and Labor Laws. Document employee participation in training and their acknowledgement that they have been trained.

Challenge: Alleviating Lack of Operational Control due to Outsourcing and Global Supply Chains

Global and national commerce has numerous positives—widespread competition leads to better products, pricing, terms, and service. Decentralized suppliers allow for redundancy in the event of a regional catastrophe and has provided lower production costs. But our growing unease toward geopolitics, ever-changing international laws, known copyright infringement by foreign governments, and reliance on international shipping carriers makes full dependence upon international supply chains a risk that needs to be reviewed and managed.

Opportunity: A new understanding of the frailty of global supply chains has American businesses seeking to purchase goods from vendors a little closer to home. Sourcing locally or regionally can decrease transportation costs, inventory management expenses, inventory financing costs, and delivery times making companies more agile and creating more flexibility and control.

Consider the impact of just-in-time inventory and what it would do to your organization if your supply chain were to be cut off short-term or long-term. Would it be better to purchase inventory in larger quantities and store inventory even though that may increase overall costs? If you’re a supplier, who was used to orders on a regular basis, plan for larger and less frequent orders and the impact that might have on cash flow, and prepare your team to use the additional time for prospecting and growth.

Solution: Regional suppliers should reintroduce themselves to past clients and solidify relationships with current customers. Plan an aggressive sales strategy to contact prospective and former clients that may have chosen another vendor due to scale. Every prospective customer is worthy of fighting for, especially if they have experienced interruptions in their global supply chain. CEOs and business owners need to diversify their supply chains and work now to find regional and local suppliers.

Purchasing agents should analyze the costs of changing vendors. Unit prices and labor in America have historically been higher than overseas, but this new economy will reveal aggressive tactics from companies to secure new local customers.

Challenge: Mitigating Unstable Transportation Systems

The labor associated with receiving and shipping is creating additional work and adding costs. The increase in goods being delivered is creating delays for shipping companies. The significant increase in shipping rates is not easily absorbed into the cost of the product.

Opportunity: Many CEOs are indicating a moderate level of satisfaction with third-party delivery companies. The service may be sound, but the price is high. Consider developing your own delivery system (e.g. Dominos and Amazon).

Solution: It is possible to place a shipping surcharge on all shipments; however, this needs to be a last resort method due to customer perceptions. Customer observations reveal that people pay close attention to the price of gasoline, internet and mobile phone services, and shipping costs.

Predictability of delivery is the new norm for customers as tracking technology and various “free two-day delivery” options have become common and expected. It may be important to bypass potential choke points if delivery dates are likely at risk.

Challenge: Adapting Automation to Ensure Compliance with Health and Safety Requirements

People adapt when given the right tools and motivation. Employees need to be able to expect they have the right technology for the right task.

Opportunity: Technology has, and is, advancing more quickly than most realize. Tech companies are busy both inventing new technologies and repurposing technologies for new endeavors. These technologies may be able to be implemented to aid in the need for widespread taking of temperatures, automated self-cleaning, and contactless payments and delivery.

Solution: Ask “What if?” scenario questions. Assess whether current IT resources and processes are meeting needs. If not, explore whether a different solution is available. Be an avid reader and learner in the IT world as what you discover may lead to new ideas and solutions. Embrace IT and big data to discover ideas and solutions.

Part Three of Six – RESOURCES

Finite resources challenge every organization. Cash flow and reserves, client lists, real estate and holdings, buildings, inventory, equipment, and human talent all contribute to the success of the company. While cash might be king, CEOs who effectively allocate resources will rule industries.

As businesses begin to and continue to reopen, many are once again functioning like startups.

Consider: (1) limited cash flow and reserves, (2) a frantic pace of hiring and training, and (3) the opportunity to reassess products and services being offered and their corresponding prices. Customers have demonstrated they are willing to be flexible in the short-term which indicates that in the long-term they are prepared to accept new limited options, operating hours, and product lines. In the coming months, as resources are limited, be willing to make bold changes even if it changes your brand (just don’t diminish your existing brand).

future of american business resources

Challenge: Allocating Senior Management Talent

There are more demands than ever and few signs they will be decreasing through 2021. As the world of business changes, very few will be able to utter the phrase "that’s not in my job description" as for now, most everyone will need to take on new roles and tasks as a new reality takes hold.

Opportunity: Everyone understands that this season of change is demanding more attention from leaders and people are generally gracious in response. This is an opportunity to introduce new thinking toward the very helpful idea of “What is it that we are not going to do so that we can do what we need to do?” The COVID-19 world is forcing changes to how resources and people are allocated. The opportunity is that more people will be cross-trained with the unintended benefit of preparing more employees should a partial future shut down be necessary.

Solution: Focus the senior management team on strategic and critical thinking concerns, specifically as it relates to greater opportunities. Assess and redefine leadership responsibilities empower lower levels in the organization to be accountable for routine activities and involve more employees at all levels with making business decisions.

This is an excellent time to create a leader development initiative that starts with something simple— a weekly discussion group, a book club, a 90-day cohort roundtable focused on problem-solving, etc.

Challenge: Managing Cash Flow and Reserves

At the start of 2020, only 25% of businesses had more cash than debt. Now many businesses find themselves with a new challenge, debt incurred prior to the pandemic and new debt acquired to survive the shutdown. This burden is coupled with tightened cash flow due to economic slow-down.

Opportunity: Everyone understands cash flow, meeting payroll, paying vendors, and maintaining a “rainy day fund.” There is a saying in the ether, though often in a negative sense, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” A financial crisis always forces difficult conversations and often harder decisions. Companies who have wanted to pivot their brand, target audience, and product lines or services, have an artificial reason to do so, capitalizing on the opportunity to present and pursue a new vision due to the financial challenges. Stakeholders are more agreeable to change today because of the financial challenges and good decisions can be made to take advantage of this season.

Solution: Know your people, your customers, and your financials. Scrutinize every budget and line item. Develop a plan to get out of debt as quickly as possible and hire people who can. Clear old inventory to increase cash. Negotiate bad debt with customers. Revisit payment terms with vendors. Build a strong contingency and succession plan. It has been said that revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, but cash is king—this has never been more true.

Challenge: Recognizing and Accommodating Mental Health Concerns

For the foreseeable future, stress, anxiety, fear, and worry will be common among leadership and employees. Companies need to have sufficient mental health resources available to help people through these times.

Opportunity: Engendering goodwill and loyalty, and solidifying work expectations is often as simple as doing the right thing. Employees want to hear from their leaders that it is okay to have real-life issues and that there is no shame in addressing and resolving problems. Leaders who understand they are people, not machines, will show compassion and create a loyal and engaged following.

Solution: The ADA and FMLA updated guidelines related to mental health concerns. Ensure leadership and the company is aligned with those guidelines. Make the company a safe place to get help and discuss mental health issues. Establish and regularly communicate expectations that employees can and should use PTO for mental health needs as well as physical ailments.

Identify mental health options within your health care plan, or with new vendors, to ensure your people have the mental health support necessary. Provide onsite and teletherapy programs to your workforce in a confidential manner.

Challenge: Assessing Possible Company Mergers or Acquisitions

One of the fastest ways to increase revenue, enter new markets, and/or acquire new technology and talent is to purchase another company. However, mergers and acquisitions are complicated. Even in good times, the disruption to existing operations can be immense.

Opportunity: With numerous competitors under financial duress, opportunities will arise to merge with or acquire other companies. Company valuations are decreasing rapidly making the purchasing of companies more affordable. However, their earnings may be correspondingly less and suddenly unpredictable. If an acquisition is possible, you may be able to grow market share quickly.

Solution: Build an acquisition strategy that includes identifying potential takeover targets. Line up alternative funding sources or partners, and be ready to move when opportunities arise.

Reach out to existing networks to see what companies might be available. Talk to suppliers and customers, as they may know of great organizations that may be looking for new capital, partners, or owners.

Every merger or acquisition requires due diligence. If you decide to merge or acquire a company, put careful thought into creating a dedicated team to work with the other organization, so your core operation continues with limited disruption. Mergers and acquisitions rarely go as planned. Careful attention is needed to ensure the activity does not hurt your existing business, that teams will cooperate, and that customers are served.

Challenge: Assessing the Benefits of Employees versus Contractors versus Temp Labor

In times of uncertainty, when business needs to dramatically pivot to survive, working with only your current employees and their existing talents and skillsets can be a challenge. Speed and flexibility are needed. Hiring contract labor can decrease risk. It is imperative to follow labor laws to ensure contractors are properly designated.  

Opportunity: Now is the time to review and rethink the skills needed on the team to succeed in the current environment, and as the market continues to change. The COVID-19 crisis has provided a unique opportunity to hire high-end contract talent at reasonable rates that can complement existing employees and help your business achieve new goals faster, and more efficiently. As your company tries new ideas and takes calculated risks, it’s easier to hire contract talent and end the contract if the project does not work. If the idea works, it’s also much easier to hire contractors who have proven themselves as full-time employees.

Solution: Determine which tasks must be completed by employees and those that can be successfully accomplished by temporary labor or contractors. The flexible costs will help offset the higher rate needed for contract or temporary labor.

It is important to work with your human resources department and legal counsel as the hiring of contract employees can be fraught with challenges. Many states have recently redefined what it means to be a contractor versus an employee, and it’s imperative that you follow current laws to ensure you stay out of trouble later.

Challenge: Managing Real Estate, Office Space, and Physical Assets

Companies that are heavily invested in real estate and physical assets are watching as buildings go unused and real estate values begin to decline. Even empty property needs to be physically secure and maintained.

Opportunity: For many companies, WFH may become the new normal. According to MyErgonomicChair, 30% of remote workers save as much as $5,240 per year on automobile travel, parking, etc. and 91% report better work-life balance working from home. There are significant cost-savings benefits for companies as well. The new WFH environment may reduce long-term real estate, janitorial, security, and foodservice expenses. Future growth may not require as much capital spending, which can expedite expansion opportunities.

Solution: Find new operational uses for existing assets. Sell or lease real estate to increase cash on hand and cash flow to invest in other resources. Do not pay to store unused assets!

Partner with suppliers and vendors to share warehouse or production facilities.  

Assess real estate needs and identify which campuses, buildings, offices, and warehouses can be repurposed or eliminated. Review contractual obligations and lease agreements to know when to take the appropriate actions. Discuss options with lessors, as other companies change their business models and have new needs, there may be opportunities to negotiate an early termination of leases if mutually beneficial.

mark tomko quote

Part Four of Six – TECHNOLOGY

Technology alone will not save us. Bill Gates famously cautions, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” The intersection of talented people, definable, repeatable, amd measurable processes, and the acquisition and allocation of resources shape the future. The precise implementation of the correct technologies accelerates the progress.

The surprise arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced business leaders to face a change already happening all around us. We live in a moment of rapidly accelerating technological change. This shift was already happening. However, many businesses have suddenly had no choice but to intensify their rate of change to survive in an environment that shifted overnight. It was a forced acceleration of technology adoption. While some businesses struggled, others took advantage of the opportunity.

These changes in business go beyond merely adding more technological tools. The adoption of things like virtual meetings, touchless client interaction, remote collaboration, and process automation was already in progress. The shift that is happening now is about something deeper. It is now about allowing the possibilities technology has to offer to become part of our overall business strategy. In the past, leaders often developed strategies and then looked for technology tools to implement them. Now, a business strategy must begin with an understanding of technology.

What is novel is how we started leaving technology out of strategic thinking. Previous innovations—printing presses, industrial machinery, manufacturing automation, and even early robotics—required businesses to revisit their approach. Now, as we travel through one of the most significant leaps of innovation, too many leaders are failing to adopt a technological worldview that guides decision making. In the coming years, leaders will thrive or struggle, based on their ability to make this shift.

future of american business technology

Challenge: Increasing and Improving Employee Training

Prior to COVID-19, change in business already occurred at a rapid pace. Post COVID-19, your employees will need even more skills to thrive.

Opportunity: Employees are learning that the old is gone and the new is coming and are likely to be more enthusiastic for and even demand training on new hard and soft-skills, which is great news!

CEOs revealed that the pandemic has exposed countless technology and training needs—remote selling, remote customer service, leading remotely, new delivery methods, new technologies for online ordering, new accounting and payment system needs, etc. And in a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87 percent of executives revealed they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them soon. 

COVID-19 created an explosion in online learning opportunities as many world-class trainers and training companies expanded their virtual offerings. What once may have been cost-prohibitive may now be affordable, as were in the past you needed to gather your team at a physical location, now you can bring top-notch training right to your employee’s desktops.

Solution: Combine technological learning, development, and human resources into a cohesive strategic position in your company. Mandate both virtual and in-person training. Many companies are creating just-in-time short learning sessions to get employees and leaders through this crisis. Many quickly shifted to virtual learning and onboarding.

Work with professionals who have the correct expertise and designations in the industry, and who have proven experience delivering programs virtually. It’s easy for any person to create a great looking website and promotional video. When reviewing a potential speaker, trainer, and/or a training company’s website, look for real reviews, with real names.

Challenge: Managing the use of Personal Technology Devices

Several CEOs interviewed were challenged when stay-at-home mandates were enacted. Backorders of equipment including cameras for video conferencing put many managers and teams at a disadvantage. Company data was put at risk due to employees using personal computers. Employees living in rural areas struggled with slow internet speeds, making it difficult to perform crucial roles and stay connected.

Opportunity: With so many IT departments successfully integrating personal computers to their networks many companies were forced to relax policies around the use of personal equipment. This helped some employees leverage off-work hours to accomplish necessary tasks more easily, providing more flexibility to employees.

This created an artificial learning lab for millions of workers who learned how to use various teleconferencing software and file-sharing applications.

Employment candidates interviewed via online video-calls and used video interviewing platforms. Returning and new employees are likely to be better equipped to adapt to new and changing technology improvements.

Leaders need to determine which technologies worked well and created efficiencies during WFH, and which ones should be continued moving forward. In addition, it’s imperative that leadership ensure that the technologies employees used remotely are secure, as hackers see WFH as an easier means to access previously secure corporate technology infrastructure.

Solution: Leverage new skills. In the past, some resisted virtual meetings, now, most are comfortable meeting online. Even when employees return to work, assess where continuing remote work and its corresponding technologies, is appropriate. For example, in a multi-building campus, does meeting remotely decrease downtime by having more employees meet via video conference from their workspaces?

Divert resources traditionally spent in other areas (such as office space) to technology, and create a plan to be proactive to ensure a sufficient technology infrastructure, especially with regard to data safety and security. While this issue is most acute in health care and financial services, every CEO interviewed expressed concern. The opportunity goes beyond merely making data secure to using technology and security as a competitive advantage with both vendors and customers.

For companies with numerous geographic work centers, have employees identify high-speed internet localities where remote workers can have reliable connectivity and exercise a modified WFH plan.

BYOD “Bring Your Own Device” is something few IT departments have embraced, but with WFH being the norm, now might be the time to shift 100% to a BYOD environment with the right adjustment in compensation. Remote monitoring systems are needed but in a manner that does not violate personal privacy issues. Questions also need to be asked about corporate data residing on BYOD. If an employee is terminated, how will the company ensure that data on a BYOD is no longer accessible? Who owns the information on a BYOD? Decisions that were once possibly determined on a case-by-case basis now most likely need a written corporate policy, with corresponding technologies to ensure compliance. The implementation of shared company drives, automatic backups, regular IT maintenance, mandatory compartmentalized hard drives, and compulsory VPN facilitates solution for those working from home.

Challenge: Mitigating the Risk of Human-Labor Centric Business Models

In the long-term, automation can reduce costs and create massive efficiencies, but implementing automation is challenging.

Opportunity: Someone once said, “Robots make great employees—no overtime expectations, no sick time, and no complaining.” Robots don’t get COVID-style viruses, but they are susceptible to other viruses. As the cost of human labor increases, the deployment of robots and AI will as well. There is a widespread growing acceptance of the process of automation. As the cost of new technology becomes more affordable and implementation becomes more visible in the marketplace, longstanding resistance is diminishing. The worry, of course, it that automation contributes to displaced workers. Automation keeps reservations coming in, widgets being made, and accounts balanced, even if employees are unable to work.

Solution: Evaluate all organizational tasks and determine which ones lend themselves to automation. Engage employees at every level in the process of discovering what new technologies can be used to create new efficiencies. Research the automation that already exists that can be purchased off the shelf and what software as a service (SaaS) options need to be considered.
Continue to grow automated systems that result in shorter wait times and greater accuracy. Future customers will demand greater levels of automated efficiency.

Be mindful of the natural and understandable fear that automation brings to the workforce, especially in conversations within union environments. Focus on improving processes and acquiring better resources and technology to help make both the employee and customer experiences more efficient and effective. Stay away from discussing the link between automation and labor savings. Focus on the efficiency of the end-user.

When implementing automation technology, careful planning needs to be done on the front end to identify the exact processes the automation will enhance. First, create a detailed plan of existing business rules and processes, identifying areas of concern and possible improvement. Then, determine where automation will enhance performance and apply the change.

Once the technology is implemented, the leader must ensure that all those expected to use the technology are effectively trained and that each person understands their role in the process. One individual not following the processes correctly can nullify any technology and automation efficiency and profitability gains.

As one CEO with expertise in customer relationship management software automation explained, too often companies spend 90% of their budget on the technology, and leave little for outlining the business rules and processes as well as training. For technology to work—especially automation technology—the proper budget allocation should be 33% on the outlining of business rules, processes, and what the technology is expected to improve, 33% on the technology itself, and 33% on training.

Part Five of Six – SALES and MARKETING

Sales funnels, CRMs, cold-calling, industry conferences, trade shows, air travel, and site visits are all here to stay. They are just going to play a different role going forward. Business leaders and consumers have retracted their behavior and spending, and many are just trying to survive. Customers know how to get the information they need and business leaders trust their instincts and skills to solve their own problems. People, now more than ever, can become pseudo-experts overnight and the belief of not wanting “to be sold” has never been higher. Rather they want help discovering something they would have found on their own, just more quickly. This means the role of sales and marketing has never been more important to be able to break through to the customer.

The growth in computer technology, online resources, social media, mobile devices, and AI has created more ways to interact with customers. Even more significant is the way customers inform and influence each other. Protecting your image has never been greater and at the same time never been harder.

future of american business sales and marketing

Challenge: Assessing Customer Strength

Customers evolved during COVID-19. Leaders need to determine how they changed. Do they still need your solution and the value you provide or has their world changed and they need something different?

Opportunity: Every customer who has gone through this COVID-19 season has either positioned themselves to take advantage of this new norm or retreated into their old ways and regressed. Few will stay the same. This change is revealing new challenges to your customers; these new challenges for them are new opportunities for you.  

It’s important that leaders reach out to current customers immediately. Do not take long-standing customers for granted because in times of stress, loyal vendor/supplier relationships will take a back seat to price and value pressures. As a leader, you have an opportunity to reach out to existing customers and discuss their new needs, and how your company can provide new value.

Solution: The easier path to revenue almost always includes current customers. Examine each of your customers and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Call them and inquire about their plans to emerge successfully and work together to identify where your business relationship can grow. The more you know your customers (and your competition), the better you will be able to grow your business. Additionally, this customer research will also assist you in casting vision and strategies for the coming months and years.

Is your client a larger organization with multiple divisions? Use web research to find out the job title and the corresponding prospect’s name within another division that could benefit from your solution. Ask your existing customer to make an introduction.

Challenge: Understanding New Competition, Technology, and changing Marketplace

Just as you are pivoting your business to maximize opportunities within your markets, you need to realize that your existing competition is doing the same, and that other companies that might have never been in your industry are leveraging their assets to potentially venture into your world.

Opportunity: People like to discover new things. Your people are naturally curious and are the best resource to help you learn. One CEO mentioned that some of the best observations and insights come from their customer support team who learn from callers what is occurring in the industry.

Leaders must ensure that neither you nor anyone in your organization becomes complacent. Your complacency is another firm’s opportunity. It’s imperative that you involve yourself in association conferences (virtual today, in-person tomorrow) industry reading, and follow industry experts on social media. Encourage your management team and all employees to some degree to do the same.

Create a culture where competitive discovery is encouraged and rewarded. Regularly discuss the competition’s activities, marketing, pricing, etc. in staff meetings. Remember, very intelligent people may have been let go from their organizations and they now have discovered that they can take their great ideas and create their own companies and reap their own rewards. So it’s not only your past competitors that need to be monitored rather, you need to keep a close eye out for new innovations and new companies as well. 

Solution: Ensure that each employee understands that they are a valuable part of the decision making process. Their role is to help by listening to customers, observing competitors, and sharing their important discoveries with peers and leadership as often as possible.

Implement an educational awareness program whereby employees are encouraged to read industry publications, attend industry programs, and talk to current customers to discover something, anything, that is new and pertinent. Take this approach with everything you need to learn—industry news, customer behavior, competitor activity, marketing trends, technology breakthroughs, government legislation, etc. Do not leave competitive research to chance.

Challenge: Reinventing Outdated Sales and Marketing Strategies and Processes  

Sales and marketing strategies are not immune to the changes that have occurred in all areas of business. What once worked may not any longer. Other than for brand-building purposes, mass marketing is becoming much less effective. Today, buyers expect highly relevant and highly personalized messaging both in marketing and sales. Bottom line: your buyers are too busy for irrelevance.

Opportunity: COVID-19 certainly pushed more companies and people to sales automation where buyers use machine-learning and artificial intelligence to determine solutions. There is no question that "sales and marketing robots" will continue to improve and there will be a time when buyers will be able to "converse" with an AI-powered online sales robot which will guide the buyer to exactly the needed solutions.

However, anyone who has shopped for any complex product or solution – from a computer on Amazon to business insurance products – understands the frustration of trying to find a solution online with no human involvement. What a human could recommend in minutes too often takes hours of searching seemingly endless product options, and reviews that are too often difficult to determine if they are legitimate and valid.

All of that is a long way of saying that marketing and sales is as important as ever in the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 age. People have always bought from people, and that desire for personal interaction and trust and confidence will never go away. You are in business because you provide something useful, meaningful, or even trivial (pet rocks come to mind) that people need or want. You opened your doors because you are confident that you can solve a problem. People will always have needs, and as business leaders, it is your pleasure to solve those needs. Yet the role of both marketing and sales professionals has changed.

The role of trade shows, on-site sales calls, and other high touch sales activities have been stopped and how they return will vary by industry and geography. This is forcing both sales and marketing to shift significant resources to other methods to sustain sales.

In most cases, irrelevant and impersonal marketing and selling is over. While there will, of course, continue to be mass marketing and brand-building, when it comes to more direct marketing—direct mail, email, social media advertising, etc.—there is less of a willingness to accept irrelevance.

The same is true in sales. While there will most likely always be cold-calling, mass email messaging, and automated social media connection and communication campaigns, buyers are less patient with irrelevance when it comes to sales messaging.

Leaders who understand this dynamic are the ones who will thrive moving forward. Marketing and sales must both be more relevant with messaging tailored to the unique needs of each buyer segment, and when possible, each unique buyer. Relevant value is the phrase that should be in the minds of every leader when thinking about marketing and sales strategies.

Solution: Adapt new ways of identifying preferred prospects. Gather information and focus on prospects where you know something pertinent about their business and you know your message and offerings will help them succeed.

It may be old school, but now is a great time to conduct a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and determine how your solutions solve the unique challenges of each defined target. Where, in the past, leaders may have conducted a SWOT that "bundled" clients into one segment, now is the time to assess your SWOT based on each defined target audience—each “best customer” profile— to help determine where your unique value and offerings are aligned with each target’s needs.

Look for ways to make your marketing personal, relevant, and more educational. Content marketing is the new king whereby companies use video and written content that describes in greater detail the benefits a buyer has with a specific solution or company. Why? Because content marketing is searchable and more and more, buyers will seek out a solution versus waiting to have one pushed upon them.

Content marketing is more than making sure your website is optimized, more than creating blog posts, more than posting on social media, and more than engaging public relations firms to pitch stories to traditional and new media. Content marketing can now even include purchasing space in traditional and online publications – much like one can with an ad – however, now what is purchased is the opportunity to provide an educational piece of content, that weaves in a company’s key solution messages as part of the overall story.

Leaders must keep the sales funnel flowing but prospecting will no longer be a numbers game. It is more effective to make 100 relevant and personalized sales calls (or emails or social media connections) to the right audiences based on activity related to the prospect’s world—versus 1,000 phone calls with an irrelevant message that will be quickly dismissed by most. It’s imperative that leaders apply decision-making resources to pre-qualify leads based on defined and measurable criteria, and that sales teams then target those opportunities with relevant messages.

Stop talking about you. Make your customers the hero in their own story where they are solving problems. This will ensure that every sales call is relevant and meaningful. Invest in sales technology that helps you determine when a buyer might be interested in hearing your message. The key phrase going forward as it relates to sales should be: "find the right prospect, at the right time, with the right message." Who do you want to contact? Why do they want to hear from you today? How are you going to ensure your message is relevant to what they care about?

Don’t rely on your CRM system to be your sales person. CEOs are realizing, especially in the midst of success and complacency, that their companies are great at customer management but they are lacking in their relationships. Identify meaningful relationships and care for them as people, not revenue opportunities.

Challenge: Reinventing Personal Selling in a Social Distancing and WFH environment

For many companies, prospecting, relationships building, and selling occurred in one-on-one meetings, one to many presentations, at conferences, during trade shows, and at large and small events. Those days are gone for the short-term, and most likely are changed forever long-term.

Opportunity: Even when travel gets closer to pre-COVID-19 levels, business travel will most likely never be the same. For many organizations, gone are the days of getting on a plane for a one client meeting and returning home the next morning. It might be a while before very large trade shows and conferences return, and it’s likely that when they do, companies will not invest the same amount resources in in-person networking as they did before. 

Why? During COVID-19, virtually the entire business world quickly embraced video conferencing as the new norm. While there is nothing in business quite like a handshake, even the most aged and wise among us are now part of the “Zoom, Google, BlueJeans, Skype, WebEx, and GoToMeeting” party. More and more people are “online for business” than ever before and where once technology was a barrier to an effective meeting, now everything from one-on-one product demos to trade shows and industry events are being conducted virtually. With virtual meetings, key customer personnel can participate regardless of location. It’s easy to white-board ideas online, and engage all participants. Plus, you can record your online meetings (with participant agreement) and share the recordings, or even have the information easily transcribed, shared, and even input into a CRM system.

Leaders that embrace this new sales and marketing reality will be ones who will win.

Solution: Shift your marketing and sales budget from trade shows, travel, collateral, and site visits to on-line activity that will drive more visibility and engagement. Companies that are already focusing on and measuring SEO, social media activity, analytics, and pay-per click advertising, and geofencing will all succeed more quickly. This social convention is not going away and this is a great time for anyone, especially the first-timers, to jump into the fray.

Now is the time to ensure you can achieve 100% of your sales objectives via inside sales techniques this includes the lead generation process. Trade shows and events should not be factored into the business plan for 2021. Pushing the organization to an inside sales approach without trade shows will allow for the development of a more cost-effective plan lowering your cost of customer acquisition.

With the same budget, leaders can now possibly hire additional talent versus spending inordinate amounts of money on travel. Plus, we are only at the beginning of what technology will bring to the sales process. In the near future, it’s plausible the virtual meetings will advance to being virtual 3D programs, where buyers and sellers wear headsets that make all participants feel they are in the same room together. While still many years off, those sorts of advancements that may have been scoffed at in the past are now real possibilities, because everyone has embraced a new normal of virtual meetings. Now that the emotional barriers have been broken, the cost barrier of technology will certainly be solved. The end result will be a lower cost of customer acquisition.

Leaders need to embrace this change, and stay abreast of best practices and adopt technology to ensure that marketing messages are personalized, relevant, and timely.

Challenge: Determining Pricing and Discount Strategies

COVID-19 caused many buyers to search for lowest prices, and/or ask existing suppliers for lower prices and better terms. While sellers assumed that when the crisis was over, pricing and terms would return to normal, a more likely scenario is that buyers expect the pricing and terms they received during the crisis to become the new normal.

Opportunity: Consumers, small businesses, and large companies are all price sensitive for different reasons. The recent turmoil in markets, job losses, and business models have customers searching to arrive at a new normal. This provides every company the opportunity to assess their pricing strategy to ensure both customer satisfaction and company profitability.

Solution: It is easy to believe volume shortfalls can be overcome by price reductions, but short-term volume gains rarely translate into long-term share gain. Assessing pricing is a critical task of leadership that needs to be conducted annually, monthly, weekly, and in some cases (such as in the travel and hospitality sectors) daily.

Yes, it is advisable to discount as needed to give yourself a new reason to talk to your customers. Additionally, discounts help mediate the perceived risk of the cost of your value proposition. But do consider variable discount options tied to purchase quantity, delivery restrictions, and inventory type. And whenever possible, be flexible with payment terms instead of pricing discounts.

Revisit the costs related to packaging, guaranteed deliveries, carrying inventory, redundant labor, and inflated departmental budgets.

Eliminate failing products and services if they are not prepared to be a loss leader that drives your long-term success.

At the core of your decisions must be an understanding of whether your value proposition aligns with how decision-makers view and value your products and services.

Challenge: Moving into New Markets

Many businesses have discovered that with slight pivots to their existing model, they can enter into new markets rather quickly.

Opportunity: This crisis is leading to more new ideas, new services, and new products, all of which need a place to go. Consider moving into a new vertical, industry, or geography.

Solution: Review your existing markets and determine if there are other markets that with slight tweaks to your model, you could enter rather quickly.

Before making any move, ensure you know why you’re making the move and the reason you believe you will be successful. Once a move is made it is imperative there are enough resources in place to fully develop the new opportunity, all the while not disrupting your base business.

Know that with any move into a new market there will be unforeseen challenges and costs. You may need to hire talent with expertise in that market. Because you may be starting with no credibility in the new market, your marketing costs may be substantial for the short-term. To get to the new market faster and more efficiently, you may consider purchasing, merging with, or partnering with a company that already has expertise in the new market.

Our current worldwide tragedy is a slog, but it will have another side. And the organizations that thrive will be the ones that don’t rely on top-down management to go forward. It is peer-to-peer leadership and innovation that produces resilience, and leadership that turns any moment into a moment where we can make things better.

Part Six of Six – ENTREPRENEURSHIP

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 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.

CONCLUSION

Still reeling from the ongoing challenges created by this global pandemic and the response to it, every CEO, small business owner, entrepreneur, and leaders everywhere must respond quickly and confidently. This is a critical time for leaders for much is at stake and people are watching. If 2020 is teaching us anything, it is that the old is gone and the new has come. The year 2021 is likely to continue the lesson in change and we all need to invest the time, energy, and resources to prepare for what the future will bring. We need to view 2020 as the year of the reset button. This is the year we get to redo, realign, and pivot at a rate we never before thought possible.

There has been no better time for us all to consider the value of the insight of the Minimum Viable Product, that is, “that version of a new product [or service] which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” This idea, if applied to each of the six fundamental areas, will create nimble companies that are able to capitalize on their strengths, limit their weaknesses, and respond well to opportunities and threats.

There is never a wrong time to be asking questions provided you honor those who provide the answers. At the same time, do not expect all of the questions to have an answer. This season of change is reinventing the workforce and reshaping our employees. There is, perhaps, more potential, more problem-solving acumen, and more desire for developing new skills than ever before. There is also as much fear, worry, and concern as we have seen in decades. The status quo is no longer something we can view as an option nor is it something we can long for.

It is the role of our business leader community to confidently stand as signposts for our employees, customers, and communities. An old proverb, adapted for today says, “Without vision the people will perish.” In this new COVID-19 world our employees need to be led, developed, and cared for as never before. This must be your vision for 2020 and beyond.

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.

meridithelliottpowell.com

sam richter

Sam Richter

Featured in thousands of publications including Forbes, USA Today, and CNN, Sam is a best-selling author, tech entrepreneur, and expert in sales intelligence and reputation management.

samrichter.com

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.

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Mary Kelly, CSP, PHD

An economic leadership advisor, Mary helps leaders strategically plan and make difficult decisions. Author of 13 books, Mary has been cited in Forbes, Success, and 100s of other periodicals.

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