By the time WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, millions of organizations around the world had already published guidelines to minimize their employees contracting and unwittingly spreading the Coronavirus.
In the wake of that announcement, many corporate and government guidelines added the requirement to work from home.
Governments are still quarantining cities, regions and even whole countries and are now considering shutting down restaurants and clubs. Large and small cultural institutions, performance venues, schools and universities around the world have closed indefinitely and 100’s of thousands of conferences, events, weddings, cruises and long-distance trips have been canceled. Groceries stores have nothing left to sell as people stocked up on food. China’s economy – the largest in the world – is slowing down and oil prices are in freefall.
These and other developments are already hitting the airline, mass transportation, travel, arts and entertainment, hospitality, education, oil and gas, automotive and brick and mortar retail industries hard. The impact on other industries, the nation’s workforce (especially part-time and contract workers), suppliers to these industries and, in turn, their suppliers is already gaining momentum.
On the other hand, some companies are facing a spike in demand. Industries like ecommerce, content streaming, telecommunications and home delivery food and meal services that support people’s ability to live fuller lives while self-quarantined in their homes are thriving.
But many companies are struggling to scale fast enough to meet that demand. For example, healthcare providers, especially doctors, hospital emergency rooms and urgent care facilities are completely under-resourced to deal with the masses of people needing to be tested and, in some cases, treated.
Reflecting this sudden reversal in what had been a strong economy and the overwhelming uncertainty about the current and future economic climate, global stock markets on average lost approx. 25% of their value from February 22nd to March 13th. Central bankers are racing to lower interest rates and governments are putting together trillion-dollar rescue packages trying to stop the hemorrhaging.
Here are five actions every CEO and his or her leadership team should be doing RIGHT NOW so they not only survive but win in the short and long-term.
Keep your company’s COVID-related policies up-to-date and relevant.
If your company hasn’t published clear guidelines to protect your people, you have placed the company in a very risky position. Make this action item a priority. Your company’s policies should be revisited weekly to incorporate new government mandates and other events that might change or add something new.
Make, remake and unmake decisions.
The challenge for most CEOs is not accepting that change is necessary but rather making the best possible decisions about what needs to change and when. During this time of uncertainty, however, it’s extremely difficult to predict the outcomes of any decision, let alone the most important ones. Actively seek input from your team, investors, Board, business associates and follow events of the day to validate and inform your decisions.
Decisions are like forks in a road. If you decide on a path, stick to it. But if you hit a dead end, change course or stop that particular journey without hesitation. In today’s environment, the ability to think and act with agility is what makes a company resilient.
Treat this as an opportunity for transformation.
Most CEOs know that meaningful change only happens when there is a burning platform or crisis. The best crisis is one caused by forces other than yourself. The panic caused by COVID-19 is one of those crises.
The kind of change and transformation your team will plan and implement depends a lot on the industry or industries your company is active in. Right-size, shut down or, even better, reposition any business lines that might be too weak to withstand the coming pressures. Ensure that the products and services that will see dramatically increased demand can scale as quickly as possible.
Push through initiatives you’ve been holding off on, even if on the surface those changes may have little to do with current events.
Ensure your company has access to financing to cover shortfalls in working capital.
Despite the availability of lower interest rate loans, the meltdown of stock and bond markets will make it more difficult to secure funding, especially if your company slips into the red.
That’s why reducing or eliminating unnecessary costs such as executive perks, large events (which probably shouldn’t be happening anyway right now), luxurious office space, first class travel and lodging, etc. should be a CEOs first priority. Banks and investors will want to see that your company can achieve its financial goals even in the middle of an economic crisis before they provide the sort of funding your company will need to survive.
Communicate constantly and consistently.
You should assume everyone in your company is experiencing a high degree of frustration and fear. Add to that a sense of isolation and being out of touch when working from home and you have a recipe for decreasing motivation, poor focus and low productivity.
Thank goodness for services that help you make quick videos to distribute to your employees wherever they may be. There are of course other forms of staying in touch but anything you send out should be short, inspiring, informative and authentic with regular updates on the company’s key initiatives – positive or negative.
But most importantly, there has to be a consistent story and key messages that run through all communications. Any sudden deviation from your fundamental narrative will just spook your employees, customers, investors, board and suppliers even more.