Practical guide for business to manoeuvre through COVID-19

by June 4, 2020 0 comments

COVID-19 is unprecedented. There is no playbook ever created to guide leaders through such a crisis. However, while the impact of COVID-19 is varied across businesses, there is a common thread in the way leaders have been responding through these unprecedented times.

It’s much like steering a race car. At a sharp bend, one needs to first brake hard – not so hard that the car spins out of control; not hard enough that it goes crashing. Second, navigate precisely around the bend while continuing to brake. Last, be ready to accelerate at the right time as one moves past the bend. Through these stages, measurement, precision and timing are key.

Businesses today face this sharp bend. This article provides practical guidance for business leaders as they manoeuvre (brake, navigate & accelerate) through COVID-19.

Resource optimization – Cost control and cash conservation

It’s critical for businesses to control costs and conserve cash to stay on track. Business health would need to be evaluated through parameters like revenue, demand to supply, inventory, and cash flow. The overall health would then need to be stress-tested across various scenarios to effectively optimize resources.

This could include:

• Pausing: Non-essential expenses like travel or those with long-term benefits. This can immediately help control spends while taking stock of other parameters like revenue and managing demand to supply.

• Reducing: Through vendor consolidation, portfolio optimization. These include some of the tougher measures in cases where businesses are either hit hard or business health is weak.

Many organisations are thus revisiting and implementing zero-based budgets, enabling pause on several spends. They are reallocating resources to enable an efficient, 100% Work-From-Home model. As these organisations now navigate, they are proactively optimizing resources and upskilling talent to be future-ready through intensive training programs.

Effective & timely communication

Much has been said about the need to over-communicate during the crisis. While over-communicating is the need of the hour, one must be wary of it being only one-way. Understanding employee and consumer sentiment is crucial right through this sharp bend, from braking to accelerating.

• Employee well-being needs to be top-most priority for businesses during such crisis. It not only results in customer satisfaction but more importantly speaks volumes of the company’s leadership and culture.

• Consumer preferences are changing significantly with COVID-19. The new normal will witness unprecedented consumer preferences, reinforcing the need for businesses to (re)understand their needs and expectations. Simultaneously, businesses need to review their brand message and ensure positive brand recall.

As soon as the lockdown was implemented, organisations such as ours institutionalized a cross-functional COVID-19 Response Team to drive alignment and timely action. This includes weekly webinars with the CEO for all employees, an intranet COVID-19 page for colleagues to stay connected and other employee engagement initiatives. This enabled them to continue to stay close to employees and customers through constant communication on existing projects and sharing relevant updates of their readiness and availability to support through this crisis.

Relevant & agile reinvention

As businesses plan for a restart with a view of navigating and eventually accelerating post the bend, many will need to revisit their existing processes and offerings. The inputs received while communicating with employees and consumers will help guide these decisions. To successfully navigate and then accelerate, the following will help:

• Process agility: The uncertainty of COVID-19 will require businesses to be agile and nimble – quickly adapt to the phenomenon of rolling lockdowns, changing market conditions and consumer expectations. Employee productivity could also be affected. In such conditions, businesses will need to implement flexible resourcing models and deploy automation wherever required.

• Relevant propositions: As consumer needs change, businesses will need to identify ‘new’ propositions to stay relevant. For some, this could mean accelerating their digital journeys, for others re-engineering their resources/solutions to the new normal. To enable this, businesses would need to be in a cyclical loop of identifying, training, testing, and learning.

Organisations that are also taking steps to launch COVID-19 relevant propositions and are upskilling staff to be future-ready will be front runners.

The uncertainty of COVID-19 makes it difficult to have one playbook for all businesses. The key is to stay close to employees and consumers, be agile to respond and always optimize resources to maintain a healthy business. After all, we cannot choose our circumstances, but we can always choose our response.

By Sunil Mirani, CEO and Co-founder, Ugam, a Merkle Company

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