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How to Adapt to Lean Times with Resilience and Focus

By Steve Murphy, CEO | June 30, 2020

It’s no secret that the current COVID-19 business disruptions are causing serious limitations on budgets and people resources. Business leaders need to adapt and operate lean by using as few resources as possible. But this is easier said than done.

To succeed in the current climate, business leaders need to take strategic actions that promote resiliency. Below are five critical steps to help you focus while addressing the needs of your employees and customers, despite resource constraints.

  1. Assess and realign to meet your company’s strategic vision
  2. Take personal steps toward efficient problem solving
  3. Get personally involved with communication
  4. Keep your workforce engaged
  5. Connect creatively with customers to capture insight

1. Assess and Realign to Meet Your Company’s Strategic Vision

While I’m optimistic there will be an economic uptick in the coming months, it’s still important to perform consistent temperature checks on your business to avoid pitfalls. Use your resources to maximum effect by aligning market demand to what you’re working on to best serve your customers.  

You must assess your strategic initiatives with laser focus.

There are many great examples that highlight different ways manufacturers, retailers, and restaurant services are pivoting to align with market demand. For instance, manufacturers are altering production lines to support hospitals and medical care providers with needed equipment. Similarly, local retailers and restaurants are using software solutions to create and offer online or curbside ordering and pickup.

With fewer resources, you must assess your strategic initiatives with laser focus and rethink any activity that’s not aligned to your company’s vision. Review your business processes and listen to your employees. I suggest meeting with your first line managers as they tend to have a great pulse on both your company and customers. This can inform your actions and lead you to areas and resources that have potential for reallocation.

2. Take Personal Steps Toward Efficient Problem Solving

Business leaders know that time is a limited resource, and during challenging situations it’s more critical than ever to efficiently problem solve. Unfortunately, when it comes to streamlining business processes, organizations waste a lot of time because employees aren’t prepared, don’t know they need to be, or haven’t thought things through. It’s not that your people need to work longer— just smarter.   

Look for ways to lead by example and better manage your own time. For instance, I purposefully schedule shorter meetings and request that agendas and documents are shared in advance. I also challenge my direct reports to send concise emails with either 3-5 bullet points or a message that’s limited to about 30 words. Small steps like these can pay big dividends during the problem-solving cycle because it requires team members to focus and prioritize.

3. Get Personally Involved with Communication

There is a right and wrong time for leaders to delegate—and delegating communications during challenges is the wrong time. It’s not only weak, it can be destructive to your company culture. Senior managers and executives need to have direct and open communication with their teams. If a difficult decision needs to be made, all employees—including executives—need to bear the burden.

What does this look like in action? For example, you determine your company needs to reduce salaries for the remainder of the year to keep things running. First, make sure the reduction is shared by all employees from the top down. Next, the executive leadership team should communicate the decision and explain why it’s best for the company as a whole. Finally, follow through. If you say the reduction is for the remainder of the year, don’t extend the deadline.

Most important, uphold your word, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. You can earn trust, confidence, and grace from employees and customers when you live up to what you say.

4. Keep Your Workforce Engaged

Keeping your workforce engaged is one of the biggest internal challenges during this unique time. People need to feel connected, and right now they might not.

Listen to your employees while being mindful that each person has unique reactions to the situation.

To combat work from home isolation and drive your company culture virtually, find ways to break through the fog. Use social networking tools in creative ways. Recently, I hosted a virtual happy hour for the executive leadership team. We also continue to communicate via videos to employees—with a 60% increase in engagement. From a people manager standpoint, many are hosting all-hands meetings, virtual trivia, Pictionary, and coffee and tea breaks. These seemingly small efforts go a long way to keeping a global workforce engaged daily.

Also remember that when you engage with others, your own attitude as a business leader is important. Listen to your employees while being mindful that each person has unique reactions to the situation. Don’t dismiss or devalue someone else’s feelings if they differ from your own. At the same time, don’t fuel negative feelings with more of the same. Instead, be supportive and help others navigate any negative feelings into a more positive perspective.

5. Connect Creatively with Customers and Capture Insight  

At a time when physical meetings with customers are largely out of the question, it’s important to look for smart ways to connect and capture their insight.  

First, use the resources that are available to you. Instead of phone calls, use social networking tools with video, which allows you to better connect with your customers through virtual eye contact. It also gives them more confidence that you’re fully engaged and focused during the conversation. Video also helps you get more customer insight through body language and facial expressions, the same as you would during an in-person meeting.

The playing field is no longer the same, so keeping your initiatives the same doesn’t make sense.

Next, understand what type of learner you are, and gather insight accordingly. It’s a smart way to be more effective. For example, if you’re an aural learner, record your calls. I’m a tactical learner, so if write something down in my notebook, I have a very high probability of remembering it. I guess that means I’m old school!

The bottom line is to actively adapt and strategically realign to respond to disruption. The playing field is no longer the same, so keeping your initiatives the same doesn’t make sense. With limited resources, stay focused on your company’s long-term vision and align to your customers’ greatest needs. Swap out the “nice to haves” with the “need to haves,” and openly communicate the reasons for change to your employees. It will help them refocus and remain resilient while enthusiastically supporting your mission for success.

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