Our response to the Corona virus crisis as business leaders
Updated: May 13, 2020
This article is not only for entrepreneurs but anyone in a leadership position and needs to act during this time of crisis.
Usually people love to be in a position of leadership when it comes with perks, fame and recognition. But the true test of leadership doesn’t come when things are going great. Its in time of crisis that our leadership ability is tested to the core.
When our leadership is tested during this period, it can manifest in giving us sleepless nights, anxiety, worry and fear. These experiences can paralyse one into indecision. The truth is a crisis offers no easy way out for any leader. Payoffs will have to be made and tough decisions will also have to be made. The leader must weigh one tough decision against another. Whatever decisions you make, there will be suffering, pain and hurt in certain quarters. Be it clients, employees, shareholders or the society. A crisis like this COVID-19 crisis (also known as the corona virus), means that the suffering will be widespread, and the options will be like choosing one lesser evil over another. In Africa it will be much harder for governments to cushion their populace when they are already overburdened with debt, poverty and suffering.
It is easy to give excuses when there is a widespread crisis. However, true leaders act rather than wallow in self-pity, even when the situation calls for it. Burying our heads in the sand only exacerbates the impact of the crisis and pushes us closer and closer to a catastrophe. Its better to act with the worst-case scenario in mind and be wrong than act with hope only for the situation to turn out ugly. The consequences will only be harder to bear with the leader regretting and wishing they had acted sooner.
What can a business leader do in this crisis?
1. Set appropriate measures to be compliant and to mitigate the impact of the crisis on the company
This may involve ensuring that our business premises have the recommended guidelines in place. Sanitizers, cleaning with disinfectants, social distancing of clients and staff as well as instituting work from home policies and supporting employees to be able to work from home effectively by providing internet , communication and private transportation where necessary for them to get to work stations to carry out essential tasks.
Educating the staff on how to carry themselves out is also crucial in order to protect themselves. One of the most important things you can also do as a company is a regular check in to ensure that the staff are fine in their stations, especially those who live alone. Should any health challenges be detected, be on hand to assist with travel or medical help. For larger companies, this can be delegated to team leaders to do this. Where possible, reassure the staff of the measures being taken to keep them safe and healthy. If you have staff who have traveled and are stuck abroad, do everything possible to ensure they are well taken care off and eventually get home safely.
2. Negotiate with internal stakeholders
Depending on how badly your business or sector is hit, you may need to make some tough decisions. If your company has a reserve fund, it may only last for a certain period as your revenues and profits dwindle or get wiped out. It’s important to be proactive in taking measures to mitigate this slowdown. For some companies, they may need to reduce or slash salaries or benefits for staff for a period or postpone pay-outs until recoveries happen. Others may sadly have to ask people to take unpaid leave or let them go altogether. Whatever decision you make, in a crisis, put your staff first and shareholders last. Take time to negotiate with landlords definitively to give rent holidays, or reduced rent for the period. This crisis will likely last at least 3 to 6 months before some sense of recovery beings to show. It could make the difference between remaining in business and shutting down completely.
3. Negotiate with external stakeholders
Is it possible for your clients to pay slower but continue to pay if they are hit? Can you target unaffected clients to pay sooner and in advance to keep you afloat for a long-term project you have committed to? Can you get your clients to accept a different format of delivering the service if they still have the funds? Can you negotiate with the bank for a repayment holiday or reduced repayment levels or interest free repayment for some months? Can you negotiate with government through a lobby for a rebate or stimulus package? Its easy to feel helpless in a scenario like this but the advantage of such a crisis is that its visible for everyone to see and decisions within organisations are made by people. This is the time to get your negotiation cap on and any concession is an additional boost to the survival of your company.
4. Innovate for survival and recovery
It may sound cliché but a down time is time to sharpen skills, take time out to reflect, look at alternative ways to work and look for new ways of delivering value, especially if it helps people cope better during the crisis. Today, churches hold services online, retailers who were hesitant to deliver to homes have established e commerce outlets and delivery. There is always a way to keep things going even if on a small scale. Explore these options with your team members.
5. When all is said and done, Make tough decisions
You will need to find ways to cut costs, you may need to reduce some benefits that you and your staff enjoy. Its in the making of these tough decisions that leadership and entrepreneurship becomes a lonely journey. You will make decisions that affect families in a time when they have limited options and the near future looks gloomy. You will need to keep your mental health in check. You will need people to lean on. Coaches, advisors, mentors and peer groups. Do not isolate yourself, keep in good company of other leaders you can learn from. Keep attending (even if online) support forums to learn how to cope through the tough times and to prepare for the recovery.
Whatever you do as a leader, always use the principles of compassion, care and hope to make decisions, remembering that there will be life after the corona virus pandemic is over. How you treat people during the pandemic, will determine how they will relate with you after the pandemic, be they staff, clients or shareholders. Compassion will be rewarded with compassion and loyalty. Unkindness and self-preservation will be rewarded with disloyalty and mistrust. I’ve seen one Kenyan company buy and distribute some foodstuffs for their employees this week to support them. It’s possible to be compassionate while pursuing commercial interests. The choice is yours. Be safe and all the best as you act.