Expect unpredictability — that’s one of the lasting lessons business owners and leaders should take away from 2020 and the reality that continues to unfold in 2021. Running a business during this time has been a learning opportunity like no other. The lessons of this unique time in history can help you prepare your business to successfully navigate whatever comes next. Here, explore five key lessons shared by Justworks COO Michael Seckler.
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Lesson 1: Focus on Resilience
Resilience is about taking steps to ensure that your organization will be able to survive and quickly recover from difficulties or challenges, even in the wake of massive, unexpected changes. Justworks COO Michael Seckler encourages resilience in both life and business.
“Set up your company to be resilient across a wide spectrum of potential developments,” Seckler advises. “Determine what decisions you can make now that will expand your options for navigating an uncertain future.”
For example, a company that has just a few customers, or all of its customers in a single industry, is likely to be less resilient than one with multiple clients across many industries. A single devastating event could cut off business from any customer or industry at any time. A company without a diverse customer base is exposed to these kinds of events.
Lesson 2: Cultivate a Flexible Mindset
Flexibility must be the cornerstone of any crisis management plan. No matter how much someone may want to believe that the future is foreseeable, that just is not the case.
“Embrace the fact that, while you cannot predict the future, you can prepare to thrive across a wide spectrum of potential developments. This is important because, at the end of the day, you will have to deal with the world as it is, not as you wish it was,” Seckler suggests.
When times are uncertain, there is no substitute for flexibility. Seckler points out that “it’s more obvious now, but is always true, that we operate in complex systems. When you embrace the uncertainty and complexity, you will naturally move away from being single-threaded or having single points of failure,” Seckler says. In this way, adopting a flexible mindset can help your organization become more resilient.
In a world defined by constant change, where things can shift quickly, it’s also important to reset expectations regarding business stability. No longer is stability defined by maintaining the status quo, or continuing on with only traditional product offerings and service delivery methods. Instead, business stability involves focusing on how to ensure that the organization is prepared to survive and thrive, no matter what the future might hold. Think in terms of making the business less fragile instead of finding ways to maintain current operations.
Lesson 3: Focus on What You Can Control
Some factors that impact your business are not in your control, such as environmental or economic factors external to your organization. For example, you can’t control when or if there will be another pandemic, or how the regulatory environment might change. However, you can control how specialized your organization is and how vulnerable it could be to certain types of threats. If your company currently has only a few large customers, or specializes in a single industry (or just a few sectors), those factors can be barriers to resilience and flexibility.
If you’ve traditionally targeted large buyers in a specialized market, maybe it’s time to diversify. Consider updating your business plan to target multiple industries, as well as cater to more customers, including smaller ones. This effort can become part of your plan to grow your business while also improving business stability. Whether you need to expand your target market, diversify your product or service markets, or develop your sales team to enter new markets, those are concrete steps that any business can implement.
Lesson 4: Implement Sound Crisis Management Strategies
Recognizing that change is inevitable doesn’t mean there’s no point in planning for crisis situations. Quite the opposite is true — no matter how resilient your organization is, or how flexible your business practices are, crisis situations can still unfold. The best time to decide how to protect your organization, and maintain continuity of operations in a crisis situation, is before the next crisis unfolds. As Seckler says, “The time to fix your roof is when it is sunny outside.” This is true for startups and long-established companies alike.
Now is the time to redefine what crisis management should look like in your company, and to craft and implement an updated crisis management plan. Review what happened over the past year — or longer, if it’s been quite a while since you’ve updated your crisis plan — and use the lessons learned to identify potential threats and other risk factors. From protecting critical business data, to keeping employees and customers safe, to maintaining cash flow, there are many factors to consider.
Lesson 5: Lead With Empathy
When a business is facing a crisis, leaders can easily find themselves so focused on systems and survival that they overlook the needs of their employees. It’s important to remember that employees are also dealing with uncertainty, but from a different perspective than leaders are.
In times of crisis or instability, Seckler reminds us that “employees are going through a lot. Be sensitive, check in on people the best you can, and give people support.” Even when dealing with a crisis, it’s important to remember that employees are an organization’s most valuable resource.
Navigate Uncertainty to Success
The business environment has long been described as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). The true meaning of that acronym has become abundantly clear in recent history. By taking steps today to prepare for the unpredictability of tomorrow, you’ll be safeguarding the future of your organization to not only survive what’s next on the horizon, but to thrive in whatever tomorrow may bring.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.