Opportunity in Crisis: Tested Framework for Business Crisis Management During and Post COVID-19

As a quarantined CXO, you might feel a little like your wings have been clipped. Perhaps you feel powerless to control what is going on around you, or maybe ill-equipped to make a positive difference.

But this is not the case. In fact, you can, should, and must already be putting in place your framework for business crisis management. COVID-19 has dealt us some pretty tough hands – how we respond to them is what really defines us as leaders.

So, which leadership personality type do you think defines you the best during this current crisis?

In a study published in March 2000 of Harvard Business Review, the authors have identified four approaches taken by companies during recession.

  • - Prevention-focused – You are keen to reduce costs and try to keep your business afloat.

  • - Promotion-focused – You are tuning in to the opportunities around you, and aggressively promoting your business.

  • - Pragmatic-focused – You are tempering a cost reduction policy with some selected promotional strategies.

  • - Progressive-focused – You are looking for new strategies and then aligning cost and promotion efforts with these.

All of these approaches can work. However, study suggests that some focuses work better than others.

These results suggest that:

  • - 21% of prevention-focused firms are likely to significantly outperform their rivals (10% or more) in terms of both topline and bottom line growth.

  • - 26% of promotion-focused firms are likely to significantly outperform their rivals by these definitions.

  • - 29% of pragmatic-focused firms are likely to significantly outperform their rivals by these definitions.

  • - 37% of progressive-focused firms are likely to significantly outperform their rivals by these definitions.

What does this mean for you and your business? It means that a more considered, progressive focus is the best bet moving forward. 

And how does this work, exactly? Well, it involves putting in place an effective framework for business crisis management, both during and after the COVID-19 crisis. To achieve this, we need to begin with examining and understanding the current situation.

Recognizing the Current Situation and Building Your Crisis Management Plan

To put it simply, the current situation is not a good one – not by any stretch of the imagination. The following are all chipping away at the national and international economic landscape:

  • - Consumers are uncertain, and their spending is low.

  • - Customers are confined to their homes, or have less time to visit stores.

  • - Jobs are at risk and may be lost.

  • - Non-essential travel does not happen, and commuting is reduced.

  • - An economic slowdown is an inevitability.

Redefining the Problems

Let's take a look at these problems listed above, and try to approach them from another direction. Not all of these redefinitions will be valid in a practical sense, but some – or even most – may be. Reconfiguring your thinking like this is the only way to approach such problems progressively, and to overcome them.

Consumers are uncertain and their spending is low

Try enhancing your value proposition. Customers are spending less, but they are still spending. They simply want to ensure that what they are spending their money on is worthwhile. Promote the quality of the product, the longevity, and, of course, the cost-effectiveness.

It may appear at first glance that you are simply weathering a storm of reduced spending. In fact, it is more true to say that consumer preferences have changed, and that you need to be sure you are meeting these changing preferences.

Customers are confined to their homes, or have less time to visit stores

The idea of the brick-and-mortar, high street store as being the be-all and end-all of modern retail is an antiquated one anyway. Yes, these stores are still important, but the landscape is now more dynamic.

Look at it this way – your customers are at home, browsing the internet, looking for bargains. They have more attention to give to your organization.

Jobs are at risk and may be lost

Jobs are at risk, but other jobs are also being created. The workforce, like the market, is becoming more dynamic and fluid. 

This means new opportunities for everyone. It means new opportunities not only for those seeking employment but also for organizations like yours looking for skilled staff members to fulfill new roles.

Non-essential travel does not happen, and commuting is reduced

Start deploying virtual technology and digital engagement. You can reach your consumers without them physically needing to enter your store. Similarly, you can motivate your teams without them needing to be present on your work premises.

Shifts towards remote work have been taking place for quite some time. Now, they are accelerating.

An economic slowdown is an inevitability

Think of this as an incentive. You cannot afford to be inefficient or cumbersome anymore. Instead, you need to be lean and mean, ready for anything the market may throw your way.

Consider this an opportunity to trim the fat from your business, and to be really fighting fit before the worst of the slowdown occurs.

Of course, redefining our problems is useful if we are to adopt a progressive focus to crisis management. But, we can go even further than this. We can look to the past, and learn from the actions of those who weathered previous recessions.

Examining Historical Precedents and Weathering a Global Financial Crisis

We are living unprecedented times. This is something we hear quite a lot, but is it really true? Yes, there has not been a pandemic like this one in living memory, but there have been global financial crises before. So, what strategies have worked in the past?

  • - Cost optimization: It's not just about drastically reducing costs – it is about optimizing them. In the 2008 recession, Home Depot slashed its workforce and its costs, and ended up struggling. Staples, on the other hand, restructured to focus on its high-end products, and in fact emerged from the recession stronger.

  • - Leveraging opportunities: Some businesses may start struggling during the downturn. This represents a great opportunity to acquire new assets and properties.

  • - Reinventing the business model: Netflix found itself struggling when its DVD-hire-by-mail model began to flounder. Only a few years later, and Netflix has become a byword for television streaming, and even engages in its own acclaimed and well-received original programming.

  • - Disrupting the market: The global hotel market is saturated, and many consumers find it to be overpriced. Enter Airbnb, and a set of ideas that would blow the market wide open. Think about how your own market can be innovated and disrupted in this way.

  • - Focusing on transformation: Even before the coronavirus came along, digital transformation has been a hot topic. Now is the time to really embrace it. Chinese companies are already pushing their own recovery during and post-virus by deploying digital tools and diversifying their sales channels.

With this knowledge gained, we can begin to measure our own situation and apply our knowledge to this. However, before we can do this, we need to first define our metrics.

Evaluating a Range of Metrics to Gain Understanding

The right metrics are key if you are to gain an understanding of what needs to be done. So what are you going to be measuring/evaluating? What are you going to work on improving? Start with the following;

  • - How do your customers behave?

  • - How do your competitors behave?

  • - Which way is the market trending?

  • - How do your employees feel about your company/the market?

  • - How are your internal operations faring?

  • - Is your economic model performing as it should?

  • - Are your products and services performing as they should?

  • - How is your marketing strategy performing?

  • - How are your key partnerships performing?

  • - Is your mode of service delivery the best it could be?

These questions are great starting points, but how do you effectively measure these elements?

Deploying a Solid System of Measurement

First of all, you need to devise the set of tools and processes you will use to measure these elements.

For example, when analyzing customer, behavior you might want to use:

  • - Social media analysis apps

  • - Web analytics platforms

  • - Forms and messaging tools for direct interactions

Next, you need to know the questions you will be using to derive your results. Keeping with the customer behavior example, this might include:

  • - What do customers expect from our web presence?

  • - How is our web presence meeting these expectations?

  • - How do customers find us?

  • - What do customers do after leaving us?

Finally, now that you have a new context in which to explore these different elements, you need to define specific KPIs that you can target. For example:

  • - Increase visitor conversions on a certain page to X%.

  • - Increase the amount of visitors making multiple purchases to Y%.

  • - Increase the number of positive interaction on social media by Z%.

Remember, anything you cannot measure, you cannot control. Make sure you have a handle on everything, and you know exactly how to bring it under control.

Debunking Myths

Finally, there are a number of myths doing the rounds at the moment. And, these myths and untruths can drag you and your business down. Some relate to COVID-19, while others relate to the growing financial crisis. However, all of them are negative, and must be eliminated from your thought processes.

Don't let your business get dragged down by the following:

  • - XXXX idea is only for fortune 500 companies – How do you know unless your try it?

  • - XXXX tech is too costly to implement – Not as costly as falling behind in the tech race.

  • - My customers do not shop online – You'd be surprised how false this is.

  • - My employees are not tech savvy-enough to implement this – Then train them, educate them, and help them grow!

  • - There is nothing we can do – There is so much we can do, all of us.

  • - This shall pass – This is true, actually – everything will pass. But this goes for the opportunity, too.

Don't get despondent. Don't get left behind.

Instead, get progressive. As we've seen, adopting a progressive focus could be the most effective way to crisis-proof your business. Prevention focus, promotion focus, and pragmatic focus all have their merits. But, it is a focus on progression and measured proactivity that really gets results.

Start building your crisis management plan, and put yourself in good stead for the rest of this crisis, and way, way beyond.

About the Author

Rob Katz is the CEO at Webonise Lab, Raleigh. He has 20+ years of experience in business development, technology initiatives, sports business, intellectual property and licensing, and strategic planning. To know more, reach out to Rob at Linkedin.

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