Change is the only constant in life we have. While some changes are smooth, such as a new hairstyle or new favorite restaurant, others such as divorce, a new child, or a decline in health, are harder. When faced with change, how we manage the process dictates the future path we take.
COVID-19 and the response to it have shaken the bedrock of almost every business. Surveys indicate that although 15% to 20% of companies have benefited from this seismic shift, a vast majority of enterprises have seen some degree of impact.
A Case Study
For some businesses, the change hit too fast. If you've worked in the Seattle area in an office job in the last thirty years, you've almost certainly had at least one meal catered by Specialties Cafe. Famous for their cookies, Specialties is a staple of meetings, working lunches, and conferences throughout Puget Sound. Beyond shelter-in-place decrees, as area companies discovered that work from home models are practical, Specialties watched their entire business model collapse. Worse for Specialties, the new normal after shelter-in-place could include a different world where the working lunch at the office is an anachronism. After 33 years in business, today is the last day for Specialties. Too much change, too fast, disrupting an established business model that also needed to absorb increasing costs of goods.
Not every business is in the same situation as Specialities, but almost every industry is facing unprecedented change. As business leaders, our futures, and the prospects of the employees that depend on our pragmatic decisions, will require us to embrace change. With almost every state winding down shelter-in-place rules to some degree, and the COVID-19 epidemic approaching the twelfth week in the United States, the time to be reactive is long over.
Every business should revisit their target audience and value system. Do your current product offerings align with the coming new normal? Has your target audience changed? How do you make an emotional connection with your audience, and most critically, how do you weave we will take away worry into your story? Are your pricing models sustainable in the new normal? When you factor the costs for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), cleaning, physical distancing, and supply chain, is your business model sustainable? These questions go far beyond marketing and reach across your entire organization.
How will you do customer outreach, events, employee onboarding, and training in the future? What will be the new customer journey, and how will you accommodate apprehensive clients? Do jobs in your organization disappear in the new normal? Do tasks that didn't exist in the past become part of the new normal? Then there is the 800-pound elephant in the room, how will you manage liability?
There is no playbook for this. There was no course in your MBA program called "Rewriting a Business Plan in 90 Days During a Global Pandemic." Companies that see COVID-19 as a catalyst for change, and embrace the coming new normal will almost certainly have a softer landing in the coming months. That doesn't mean that change is easy - for some companies that may require the painful decision to restructure, do an M&A, or completely reinvent themselves. If you're clinging to the idea that we will return to the way things were, it is time to let go and start charting your new course. Your business, your investors, those that work for you, and their families are depending on it.