This post is part two of a two-part series.
Businesses experience challenges constantly. From labor shortages to shifting customer demands, businesses are always having to evolve and shift in order to stay profitable and grow. The pandemic has brought a new level of challenge to business, one that is not only intense, but that also has brought on a wave of rapid change that is pushing the boundaries of our endurance and capacity to adapt. It is also an opportunity to strengthen the resolve and direction of the firm, or to forge a new and better path. In any case, with focus and intention, organizations can use the challenge as a platform for evolution and emerge better than before.
How to Use the Pandemic to Strengthen Your Business
Just as challenging times highlight the strengths and weaknesses of an individual, they also highlight them in organizations. Many companies have buckled under the weight of everything that has happened, while many have managed to pivot and grow. Millions more still hover somewhere in between, unsure of how to respond and where they stand. No matter how your business has reacted so far, you still have an opportunity to turn this challenge into a catalyst for positive change and growth in your firm.
Get Clear on The Direction of The Firm
When times are good, it’s easy to coast and ride the waves. But when challenging times hit, a lack of direction can send the firm far adrift. Now is the time to get clear on the direction you want to go and communicate that direction throughout the organization. Don’t take a reactive stance to what’s happening in the market. Instead, be very clear about where you are heading while being flexible enough to respond proactively to changes in the market.
Focus On Connection and Communication
Communication and personal connection are always critical elements of business. The sudden shift to remote work has shined a light on weak and disconnected lines of communication both within the organization and with the organization and its clients and other external stakeholders. The quality and frequency of communication are not hindered by social distancing. Only the means of communications have changed. Reaching out on a daily basis to team members and partners by phone, zoom, email, slack, or other tools ensures that everyone is connected and working together toward a common goal. Regular communication with clients through a number of digital channels helps maintain and strengthen that bond as well, especially when paired with timely, useful resources and information they can use to make smart decisions to guide their families and businesses.
Evaluate the Value Chain
Many companies are very inefficient. Even those who have taken the time to improve processes and systems in the past will find those same processes and systems become outdated or redundant over time. Now is a great time to take inventory of your entire value chain and eliminate wasteful processes and fine tune systems. The value chain is the entire system that delivers value to the client (which generates revenue). Tasks and activities in the value chained are labeled as either:
- Necessary, value generating: These are tasks that must happen in order to deliver value to the client and which result in revenue for the firm. This includes direct services, production of goods, delivery, and customer service.
- Necessary, non-value generating: These are tasks that must happen to do the work or keep the business running, but which do not create client value and revenue. This includes accounting and invoicing activities, HR and payroll activities, compliance, etc.
- Non-necessary, non-value generating: These are tasks that aren’t necessary to deliver value or to run the company. This includes irrelevant reporting, moving data between systems, unnecessary meetings, etc.
To strengthen the value chain and improve efficiency, you eliminate all non-necessary, non-value generating activities first. These tend to be legacy activities or things managers request but which have no bearing on the production or return of a firm. The next step is to automate as many of the necessary, non-value generating tasks as possible. This includes data entry, billing, etc. Many firms operate on heavily siloed, antiquated systems that don’t integrate or seamlessly communicate with each other. This often leads to countless hours wasted just moving information from one system to another, manually processing billing and payments, and other time-consuming tasks. Customers do not pay companies to do these things. This is often a quick and easy way to free up valuable team members to focus on more important tasks (tasks that actually make money). Also, new technologies and integrated systems make it easy to automate these things, which often speeds up the whole process and shortens the sales cycle, which leads to better cash flow and more predictable income over time.
Last, look at all value generating activities and see if there are any bottlenecks in the process. Be sure to also identify any points of friction for the customer. If they have to jump through hoops to get their product or service, they will eventually go to another provider who can do the same thing with less work on their end. Often friction points occur at the point of entry – when they initially engage with you or purchase your product—and in what I like to call the last 10%, which is the point at which the engagement is wrapped up. This includes ease of processing payments, final deliverables, final walkthroughs – any of those closing items that formally finish out the transaction. This is often a point that is overlooked, and which can leave a lasting impression – good or bad – with a client.
Evaluate Your Tech Stack
The pandemic accelerated digital transformation across the board. For many, it was their first foray into cloud-based tools and virtual communication. Many firms realized that the systems they used could not transition to the cloud or remote access. It also became clear that the fragmented tools in place did not provide a clear and comprehensive picture of the organization.
The pain of this transition has forced many to evaluate the technology tools they are using. When evaluating your technology stack, look at the following:
- Make a list of all of the must have features. Then look at that list again and get very clear about which of those are truly musts. A robust platform or stack can quickly become clunky and inefficient because you try to make it do too many things. Simple is always best.
- Look at all of your technology tools and list out their key functions. Highlight any overlapping or redundant features. This will let you weed out any duplicate tools. For example, there is no need to use more than one file sharing tool (or to pay those fees). Eliminate any extra technologies. You can also use this same approach to determine if you need to downgrade or upgrade your subscription for any of your tools in order to cut out any unnecessary features or duplicate technologies.
- Take stock of how many people are actually using the tools and to what extent. One of the other major problems with technology is that it is often never fully implemented or adopted in an organization. This is because new technologies also require new processes and new behaviors. Make sure that anything that can and should be done within a tech platform is happening there and not through outdated modes, such as through spreadsheets or paper heavy tracking. Put organizational supports in place to reinforce the use of these technologies. Many of them have usage reports that allow you to see who has logged on and what changes they have made. People behave differently when they know someone is watching. Even more so if that behavior is tied to rewards or other performance metrics.
Build the Efficacy of Your Team
In part one of this series, I spoke about using this opportunity to strengthen yourself as a leader. This is also a time for your team to build their skills and capabilities. Empower your team with tools, resources, and the support they need to identify opportunities for growth and to develop a plan for improving key skills. The best gains in growth and development come from rising above challenges. Take time to celebrate small wins and recognize your team for navigating change and adapting to a difficult situation. When people are acknowledged and recognized they are motivated to seek out new challenges and opportunities, which creates new opportunities to grow and build new skills.
Every person and organization will be forever changed by this pandemic. As a leader you can choose in what way your organization is changed. By refocusing your efforts, communicating and connecting, strengthening the value chain, and building your people, you can not only weather this storm, you can also emerge from this challenge as a better organization.