For an entire generation of business leaders, the actions they take now, will define them and their companies.
Business leaders working urgently to balance dozens of critical priorities each day are starting to focus on two leading questions: “How can we ride out the crisis to emerge stronger than others in our industry?” and “How can the organisation learn through this experience to win in a new world?” To guide the decisions and actions that will answer those questions—through the welter of competing demands, the sometimes chaotic conditions and the paramount importance of doing the right thing—some leadership teams have committed themselves to two guiding principles: act now to protect and run the business today, and plan now to retool the business for the future.
It helps to understand the different phases of the journey, but business leaders and their teams won’t follow a straight line. During the journey, some phases will overlap and even circle back again, requiring simultaneous action.
Respond to the crisis and protect the business
As external shocks hit the business, the nature of this crisis means that many employees and customers are grappling with a basic human emotion: fear. Businesses in some sectors are seeing revenues decline, and some are confronting the prospect of a liquidity squeeze. Daily heroics have kept operations intact at many companies, but of course, the time horizons remain uncertain.
Most business leaders have already taken the most important first step: Make the safety of employees and customers the top priority. Beyond travel limitations, in-person meeting restrictions, temporary closures of facilities and rigorous protocols to protect essential operational teams, the Covid-19 outbreak called for a re-examining of policies and practices on employee benefits, remote working and employee engagement. Leading companies have been communicating steadily with employees and customers to be fully transparent about the situation. And some quickly found ways to support their communities with their assets and capabilities.
For many leading companies, the next urgent priority was setting up a fully dedicated Covid-19 war-room team, consisting of senior leaders from disciplines ranging from sales and operations to HR and finance. The team’s mission is to deliver critical business action plans with clearly defined work streams, including initiative owners and designated subteams of experts. The team is action-oriented and Agile, operating in sprints with daily virtual huddles and using a real-time digital platform to track the status of different initiatives. Its members break all normal reporting cycles to overcommunicate consistently and transparently with all key stakeholders across the organisation.
Surviving this downturn also requires immediate action planning for scenarios more aggressive than anything teams could have imagined. Winning businesses in every industry, beyond the consumer-facing companies most obviously affected by the coronavirus, started with a clear, quantitative set of possible revenue and cash scenarios, including extreme downside scenarios. Leaders translated the scenarios into revenue declines and stress tested the P&L and balance sheet. In a matter of days, not weeks, they planned their initial moves.
Ensure business continuity and stability
As they respond to the early fallout from the crisis, senior leaders are navigating a cascade of operating challenges every day, including supply chain disruptions, call-center closures, network bandwidth issues and more.