A suggestion to focus on the operations of your business right now might sound like an odd piece of advice. You may be thinking, “That’s the only thing I think I’m doing these days!” No doubt that’s true, but don’t let the urgent needs of today cloud your ability to see the important as well. Below are some key areas that may not be so obvious from an operations perspective and may make sense to evaluate depending on your business and situation.
- Remember what is most important. First and foremost, make sure that you are doing the right thing: Protect your employees and follow governmental orders. That may sound like common sense, but crises have a way of causing humans to forget the obvious or talk themselves into things that they later regret. As my older brother, who runs a host of auto dealerships, reminded me this week, your business will be judged later on how you responded to this event, by your people and your customers. So, don’t let yourself cut corners. Ethics are as important as legality in times like these—as well as after they pass.
- Don’t overreact. This might sound counterintuitive in these unprecedented times. Society has been locked down, and people are dying. However, be careful not to succumb to a knee-jerk reaction for your business. Just like our retirement planners continue to tell us, it is only a matter of time before some sort of normalcy returns. Try to avoid talking yourself into changing your business model completely or starting a new, unrelated stream of business. This could make 2020 even more challenging when the business environment eventually begins to right itself.
- Do react to the facts. None of us have seen anything like this. Trying to wrap your brain around the exponential impact of the virus on society and your business is hard, if not almost impossible. The facts on the ground do not always match what you think you hear or what “the book” says to do. Try not to escalate the situation and create an even worse situation for your business or, more importantly, your people. Make sure you are listening to the data and facts and not your personal beliefs and emotions.
- Review your contracts.If you are concerned about the consequences of not being able to fulfill promised work, remember that most contracts contain a force majeure clause that could protect you. Sometimes, contracts explicitly list qualifying events, but often, the clause mentions a “an event beyond the parties’ control,” and is open to interpretation. Review your contracts and the fine print. Now is the time to make sure you understand the details around your obligations—and your rights—due to the impact of the coronavirus.
- Organize your team’s playbook.If you haven’t already, organize a system for decision making to help you and your team to focus on the facts rather than their emotions. Something as simple as a three-level ranking can slow down the madness and make the situation more manageable and focused. This includes looking at the immediate needs, like this week’s production; the mid-term impacts, like possible workforce changes; and the long-term impacts, like a possible recession. This prioritization alone can help make activities feel more energizing rather than draining for the team.
- Overcommunicate, both internally and externally. During any crisis, humans crave information, not out of curiosity, but out of pure instinct and, often, fear. Define the narrative at your organization. Don’t let it be written by rumor and word of mouth. Make building trust one of your daily “things to do” with your team. Make the time to reassure your employees, your customers and even the public about what measures and actions you are taking to respond to the pandemic. Don’t wait until you have important news or updates—everything is important right now. Use social media as a two-way platform to both inform and ask for ideas and feedback. No one ever critiques someone after a crisis for putting out too much information, but we all do when there wasn’t enough.
- Use available productivity. Work to make the most out of the sudden capacity that the outbreak may have created within your organization. What development around new products, services or even procedures have you not had time for in the past? Most importantly, make sure you directly involve your team. They will take more ownership and make such efforts more successful, and it will help them to feel productive and empowered at a time when they need that more than ever.
- Plan for the dawn. It might not feel like it at the moment, but the sun is going to rise again. So, make sure you take the time to assess the operational aspects of restarting your business for when that time comes. What equipment, processes and notifications could use a “pre-start checklist” to ensure they are ready to go when the societal and economic landscapes allow? What things were turned off? What access or security measures will need to revert to previous ways? What inventories need to be reviewed and/or restocked? Even if your business has not been fully shut down during the crisis, it certainly has been impacted and operational adjustments have been made. Make sure you know what it takes to return to normal, so you are ready when it does.
- Plan for tomorrow. Finally, don’t forget to plan for when the coronavirus is an unwelcomed memory. Again, it may not feel like that day will ever be the case, but it will come to pass. John F. Kennedy once commented that, “Written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters—one represents danger and one represents opportunity. The danger signs are all around us, [but] along with danger, crisis is represented by opportunity.” What opportunities for improvement have been highlighted for your business by this crisis? Don’t just limit yourself to reviewing the organization’s contingency plans and resulting reaction. What technology modernizations are needed? What new business opportunities have been uncovered? What did the organization learn about working remotely? How should the supply chain be reconsidered in light of these globalization lessons? Depending on the pandemic’s impact on your business, it may be too soon to begin to work on these, but it is not too soon to at least write them down for deeper consideration at the right time.
Indeed, the sun is going to rise again.
How we can help
At Clark Schaefer Hackett, our operations and supply chain advisors are happy to discuss your situation and connect you to resources that can help. Please contact Dave Mills ([email protected]) to start the conversation.