COVID-19 is and will continue to be a market disrupter. A pandemic of such scale calls for change to all spheres of the working world. Industry Leaders have had to make swift, well informed decisions to protect and support their employees and ensure that critical business operations continue. So what exactly does this new normal look like?
What could have worked in the past surely could not exactly fit to a T in the present and future times. Business owners will do well to re-organise and find a new rhythm in this unstable time, as well as plan for the change of consumer behaviour. Doing this would would help to improve your competitive advantage.
While we are not entirely sure what the business environment and purchasing psychology will eventually look like, we have more or less a strong idea and each day feeds us with more information toward our notions. i.e. the increased focus of consumers around hygiene. What can your business begin to change to make it's employees and customers feel safe?
To implement this kind of Business Re-design; we recommend focusing on these 5 core areas that will create room for growth and allow your business to be more agile:
1 People first
The biggest asset for a small business is its employees. The biggest priority thus should be the safety and well-being of its workforce. Employees will find it hard to stay focused and perform as usual when their well-being and that of their families are put at risk.
Once you are able to have an understanding of the safety of all employees, you will need to understand if and how well they are able to perform critical tasks. The best thing about small business is the close bonds between owner and employee, thus it makes it easier to monitor employees safety and security as well as provide a safe workplace and support to employees.
There are various ways to provide support to employees such as access to resources, for example information on healthcare and access to services like extended child care, transportation and protective clothing.
Answer questions like: Will there be a difference in support from now to a few months from now? What resources or assistance can the business finance?
In essence, show that you care. This will spill over into your employees caring for your customers.
2 The working environment and policies
The suppression and extinction of the virus means more pressure for social distancing, less or no congregating, increased fears to have close contact and strict health protocol requirements. These are not just standards that are in place for the duration of the lockdown but are likely to be in place for years to come.
It may now become relevant to develop a digital workplace strategy. Planning for a digital workplace needs to start with an understanding of how your business works today. Understand what information employees need to access and which systems contain such information. Is information stored in systems that can be accessed remotely? Review costs of automation and what digitisation is urgent versus future means of working.
Ensure that security and collaboration are key areas. Acknowledge that other businesses are in the same boat and probably doing the same or better. Your small business is a living system, to survive it requires a reciprocal relationship with its internal and external environment. Make the necessary policy changes now and communicate them early.
3 Supply-chain stabilisation and general operations
It is salient to assess your reliance on third parties. If your business makes use of outsourced vendors, payment processors and suppliers for delivering your core products and services, you will need to be aware of their business status. And what changes of strategy and contract amendments are on the horizon.
Understand how they plan to do business currently and in the future and how your business will remain operational via this dependency. Consider having a secondary provider for each service as a standby option. Attempt to stabilise supply chains by using safety stocks, alternative sources, or making use of internal resources to bridge the gap. Where possible use suppliers inputs to co-develop plans and interim solutions.
Be open and clear with suppliers and discuss the possibilities of prioritisation and exclusivity in relation to competitors.
Making amendments to strategy is never an easy task especially when certain facts and information links are missing. There are possibilities of interim changes which should be carefully considered before implementation and a full understanding of its repercussions must be explored.
The conscious decisions about how your business will add value to customers and distinguish itself from its competitors should be revisited time and time again especially within the current market climate. Scrutinise data, information, ways of working and decisions to understand how far they still relate to your mission, vision and future and if they impede on current values or change guiding principles.
As a business owner you must continue to drive success, set goals, monitor results and continuously scan the external environment. To be more responsive as a business leader, one must be willing to collaborate, change and have trust in the team you lead. Now is a good time to demonstrate that trust you have in them.
If you have not already done so, put together a diverse crisis management team that will have more ideas about potential solutions and help you communicate these in conjunction with changes.
Develop a robust communication strategy that works for your employees.Train employees on all working changes including processes and procedures. Inform employees and customers of changes and the reasons behind them.
This is also a very important time to continuously and openly communicate with customers.
Many customers will be more empathetic then when in a state of “normal business operations”.
Transparency is KEY. The affects of strong communication is likely to restore employee and consumer morale and confidence. It is crucial that you are not communicating any false information from social media.
Communicate early, Communicate fast and communicate often.