What are the keys for a company to get through pandemic like COVID-19 successfully and how does technology play a key part in a successful transition?
COVID-19, which is also known as the coronavirus when it started in January in Wuhan, China, was originally only expected to hit China. Supply chains from China were impacted initially, and to most people’s surprise (except the governmental bodies like WHO, CDC, and others), the impact started to be felt globally. Initially in Vietnam, Korea, Singapore, and then in Italy and Germany, later eventually growing to US, Spain, India , and it’s now creeping across Mexico with second surges being felt across many countries.
Many supply chain companies have continued to struggle, while others can utilize this as an opportunity. Pandemics and global disruptions can disrupt, and obsolete weaker companies and industries lot faster than standard market economics. Keys to work through these types of disturbances including coronavirus, LA port strikes, Mexico earthquakes, flooding in Houston are following:
1) Mobilizing teams as a priority with empathy
- Most employees and team members go through incredible stress because of the impact they see in their environment. Many like coronavirus can also affect close family member’s health and jobs. One key to working successfully through these types of disruptions is for CEO’s and leaders to be tuned to macro conditions as well as listen to their team members. Leaders must recognize that working through COVID-19 will require engagement, involvement, and the problem-solving ability of the team members.
- Different leaders have different styles of management, with varying levels of communication. For companies to successfully navigate issues such as COVID-19, leaders must proactively engage with extrovert communication mediums. They must adapt to communicate across all levels of their organizations. They must also engage actively with customers, suppliers, and outside partners such as banks, tax partners, and others.
3) Clear priorities and deploy a decision making authority to front line employees
- While this is a cliché, it’s especially crucial during pandemics to provide a few key priorities to keep goods moving around customer demands. Leaders must be sensitive that suppliers and offshore teams are dealing with lots of disruptions, delays, lack of resources, higher costs, and they will not be able to make decisions as they usually do. Asking front line team members closest to suppliers and countries to make decisions affecting performance is the only way to navigate through pandemics such as COVID-19 successfully. An example could be that standard shipping takes place from Shanghai port to LA, but Shanghai port opened a week after Ningbo port, so the team in China can decide to move goods through Ningbo without any involvement or approval from the US office.
4) Culture of escalation
- Many companies with more traditional cultures do not have sufficient means for team members to “pull the Andon cord” or “escalate issues” clearly. Those companies may continue to struggle in dealing with rapidly changing conditions such as COVID-19. Companies with lean organizational structure, a quick communication mechanism, and the ability to communicate and deal with the good and bad news equally well are the keys to get through COVID-19. If you do have a traditional culture, though, the crisis offers the leaders to lead and change their ways. Good leaders will adjust their communication cadence and frequency rapidly during a crisis. They will make their team members feel “safe,” expressing their opinions and making decisions.
5) Good balance sheet
- As Warren Buffett says, “Only when the tide goes out, do you discover who’s been swimming naked”. Companies that have engaged workforce, clear priorities and culture of escalation can ONLY become a casualty of a pandemic if they enter the event with a weak balance sheet. High debt, low margins, lack of continuous improvements often lead companies to become severely weak and often bankrupt. If for some reason, companies are entering the pandemic with weak balance sheets, leaders can reach out to their banks and supplier partners EARLY to plan for the shortage of cash flow, delays in paying suppliers, potential deferment of interest charges, refinancing of maturing debt, and shifting the team’s focus on satisfying the most important and profitable product lines and customers.
If leaders can do the things above genuinely and diligently, companies will be able to work through the disruption and weakness in their markets and supply chains. Pandemics and natural disasters can drastically weaken the weaker companies but offer stronger and nimbler companies, a rare chance to get stronger coming of disasters.
COVID-19 is likely to stay among us for another year or even more based on how quickly the vaccines can be made available. Companies who can incorporate measures above can improve not only their chance of survival but set the company for a significant expansion coming out of the crisis. Leaders need to continue imbibing their teams with optimism, hope, empathy, and continue to be opportunistic in taking advantage of displaced competitors.