Solving 4 top leadership challenges to thrive in the new reality [new report]
When COVID-19 triggered an economic freefall, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) were among the first to tumble with it.
Many CEOs saw their revenue numbers plunge overnight. In our April CEO Confidence Index survey, 85% of CEOs reported revenue impacts of some extent. Others saw their business models fall flat. Some had to close their businesses temporarily, while other companies implemented remote working based on local shelter-in-place orders.
In the months since then, many CEOs are leading their businesses up the road to recovery. Yet there’s hardly a map to guide the way. COVID-19 has ushered in a new reality that presents unprecedented challenges for SMBs, particularly in how talent, customers, operations and financials are managed. Worse, many of the best practices from pre-COVID days that CEOs once relied on have lost their relevance.
New research from Vistage has identified some the toughest challenges facing CEOs today. Fortunately, it also sheds light on the most promising solutions. Here are suggestions for four common leadership challenges to consider as you navigate the current environment to rebuild your business and prepare for 2021.
1. How to engage your employees when work is remote and stress levels are high.
First, communicate clearly and often. Connect with your employees on a regular basis to share updates and use communication methods that are most convenient for them (e.g., text or email). Don’t leave room for speculation, as this will increase your employees’ anxiety and decrease their engagement.
Second, make diversity and inclusion a top priority. Work hard to both diversify your workforce and make all employees feel like they are valued and respected, irrespective of their background or identity.
Third, find creative ways to build your culture virtually. Reimagine the traditions and rituals that make your culture unique and make your company a desirable place to work. You might offer wellness sessions, virtual book clubs or professional development online, for example.
2. How to sustain your sales when prospects are risk-averse and sales cycles are slow.
Focus on getting closer to your existing customers. Chances are good that they’re struggling just as much as you are and could benefit from additional support. Take time to understand their current challenges — as well as the challenges of their customers — so you can better tailor your offerings and become a more trusted partner. This is also an optimal time to target competitive accounts.
Finally, refresh your sales messaging in all channels, from your lead generation efforts to post-sale customer service. The method you used to connect to prospective customers in 2019 is probably going to sound out-of-date or tone deaf in current conditions, so craft messages that really resonate in today’s world, and be prepared to modify them as things continue to change.
3. How to create a safe and secure environment for employees coming back to the office.
Create new policies that both set expectations and change behaviors, whether that’s wearing masks inside the office, abiding by daily temperature checks or reporting symptoms of COVID-19. Make your safety standards strong, clear and non-negotiable. You should also offer training to employees so they understand the reasons behind your policies, which will increase compliance. At the same time, ramp up your sanitation measures. Increase the frequency and rigor of cleaning practices and set protocols for managing sanitation incidents in the office. Finally, reengineer your physical workspace to minimize safety risks. This could include spacing out desks, controlling the flow of traffic, closing common areas, staggering employees’ work schedules and limiting meeting attendance numbers. It could also include more high-tech solutions, such as new air filtration systems or touchless doors.
4. How to manage finances in a rapidly changing business environment.
Use scenario planning to anticipate what might go wrong, mitigate the risk of something going wrong and make strategic decisions if something does go wrong. More precisely, use scenario planning to figure out what factors are under your control and what levers you can pull at any given time.
This process involves four steps: Step one is to decide what you want your organization to look like at a particular end state (e.g., reduce debt by 10% in the next three months).
Step two is to break your objective down into tasks, determining who needs to do what and by when.
Step three is to communicate your strategy to everyone in the organization — from the leaders at the top to the workers at the bottom — and ensure strong alignment.
Step four is to hold people accountable for results, such as by holding regular check-ins during routine meetings.
Indeed, this merely scratches the surface of the challenges CEOs are facing today. These challenges are addressed at a deeper level in our most recent report: Decision Factors 2020: Climb to Recovery for CEOs. As you look ahead to addressing uncertainty in the coming months and for 2021, this report is a resource designed to help guide your decision making.