Companies and small businesses welcomed the start of the year 2020 with optimism. The U.S. economy was booming, sales and profits were at all-time highs, and unemployment rates were at historic lows. But nearly three months into what many business leaders felt would be one of the strongest years on record, the coronavirus changed it all.
“It wasn’t long ago—just weeks ago—we were having the best economy, the best revenues, the best of everything,” said Dr. Bruce Huang, a core faculty member in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) online degree program at Walden University. “Who would have thought that things would turn upside down as companies and businesses struggle to figure out what to do?”
What’s the best way to lead and manage business during this disease outbreak? That’s the question facing companies around the world as they decide what to do next. And even though COVID-19 brings a high degree of uncertainty, Dr. Huang and other business experts agree that one thing is certain: How a business responds to the coronavirus today will define its success tomorrow.
“During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, many business leaders and experts are giving advice to businesses on how to survive,” Dr. Huang said. “Their advice can be summed up into three words: resilience, speed, and transparency.”
Building a company’s resiliency, speed, and transparency doesn’t happen overnight, Dr. Huang said, but now is as good as time as any to start thinking about the culture business leaders and managers want to cultivate.
“Yesterday matters. How resilient you are. How fast you can move. Whether or not your employees will trust you. That all depends on the culture you cultivated and nurtured yesterday,” he said.
When guiding companies through this difficult time, business leaders can build resilience by approaching the coronavirus crisis in three stages: Respond, recover, and thrive.1
Companies are currently in the respond stage. This stage is all about the steps a company has taken to prepare for a crisis and the specific actions it is taking now to manage business and employees amid the virus outbreak. This stage might include the following tasks:1
Dr. Huang emphasized that if a company hasn’t already done so, this is the time to put together a business continuity plan with specific tasks that will help ensure a company’s resilience during the coronavirus pandemic.
A business continuity plan outlines specific processes and instructions a company must follow to maintain business operations in a face of a disaster. It should cover four areas: business impact analysis, recovery strategies, plan development, and testing and exercises.2
A company’s ability to survive this disease pandemic—and hopefully come out stronger on the other side—depends on the resilience of not only the business but also its employees.
“Are you a company that encourages creativity and innovation? Do you empower employees to take risks?” Dr. Huang asked.
In a March press briefing about the coronavirus, Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, gave this advice on responding to the disease outbreak:
“Be fast, have no regrets; you must be the first mover. The virus will always get you if you don't move quickly and you need to be prepared … If you need to be right before you move, you will never win. Perfection is the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management. Speed trumps perfection … The greatest error is not to move, the greatest error is to be paralyzed by the fear of failure.”3
While Dr. Ryan’s comments were directed toward governments, companies should also heed his advice. Instead of waiting to see what happens, business leaders should take quick and decisive action to deal with the impacts of the coronavirus. This means being bold, brave, and innovative. It means anticipating challenges, being proactive, and getting out in front of potential problems.
A company’s ability to address COVID-19 challenges swiftly is highly dependent on the type of culture the company has created in the past, Dr. Huang said.
“Are you a company with a culture that requires committee meetings after committee meetings just to approve some simple decisions, or are you a company with a no-nonsense, just-do-it culture?” he said. “What you did as a company yesterday matters.”
Honesty and transparency are key for leading and managing business during COVID-19. Why? Because transparency builds trust. And during a crisis, trust in leadership is critical.
So how can a leader build trust? According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer study,4 people base their trust on two attributes: the competency of a leader, meaning the ability to deliver on promises, and ethical behavior, meaning doing what’s right for people and society.
“Some business leaders are telling companies to do everything they can for their employees and people because what they do today will define their brand for tomorrow,” Dr. Huang said.
There’s never been a more important time for companies to build a culture of transparency and trust—to step up to do what’s right for their people and put the safety and well-being of their employees first. There are many ways business leaders can do this, such as arranging teleworking, finding creative solutions to keeping employees on payroll, and being forthcoming and honest with information.
“Now is the time to start thinking about how to support and grow the most important asset in your company: your people—the employees,” Dr. Huang said.
Dr. Huang teaches master’s students in Walden’s online MBA degree program. His over 20 years’ experience includes business leadership and executive management in the field of information technology and education.
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