5 Critical Areas to Learn, Adapt and Thrive In A Crisis
By Chris Rolfe, YPO Member
As a species, I have always admired the ability of human beings to adapt to adversity and change — from the early need to walk upright as we descended from the trees onto the plains so that we could see danger earlier and move faster, to the creation of stone tools, the invention of the wheel, electricity, cars and the internet. As a species, adaptability has allowed us to continuously advance our circumstances on this planet. Today again we stand at a time when personal and professional adaptability is required — and the salient words of Charles Darwin remind us that “It is not the strongest of the species that survives. Nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most able to adapt to change.”
As we plan to adapt, revive and develop growth strategies for our businesses, here are five key areas to consider in this time of reflection and strategic thinking.
Whether you are a B2C or B2B business, your growth strategy should always start with your customer. Don’t make the age-old mistake of starting with your business first, or the market first, and leave your customer last. Right now, to build a resilient growth plan, you should think about what your needs, constraints, challenges, wants and desires are. This may require a detailed review of the different typologies of clients that you have and should include various segmentations: small, medium, self-serve, high touch, local, international, traditional, early technology adopters and other important attributes.
Understand what they are going through in this time of change and what their constraints and changing habits might be. Are they cash strapped? Do they want to engage with you in a specific way that fits their needs? Can you afford to deal with them in that specific way? In other words, does this fit your need as a business and are they really your customer?
I was recently impressed by a friend of mine who put 4,000 of his smaller customers on pre-paid terms as this was the only way he could engage with them. And as it turns out, they were mostly fine with this as they needed his services and had to accept this new reality.
Finally, it is important to also review the sales process with your clients. In a more digital world, how do customers hear about your services? Is your digital marketing plan updated and how does this differ from what you have done in the past? If face-to-face selling is no longer an option as it might require air travel, what tools and techniques can you use to ensure that your sales closing and onboarding models are updated. Where you might have sold directly before, should you think about a channel strategy to leverage another company’s localized sales staff.
The evolution of pricing has been quite continuous over the past decade and is now influenced by greater flexibility and a more linear methodology. Software, technology, and products and services are now commonly sold as a service to both companies and consumers. Large upfront fees and lumpy payments have given way to more flexible pricing plans that fit with customer preferences. Pay attention to this and see how you can build this into your own growth approach so that you get maximum traction and retention out of your customers. Look at other industries to see how they price as you may be able use some of these models in your business.
“Why do we have a strategy?” a business school professor of mine routinely asked. Although there are many answers to that question, I always liked her answer when she said, “we have a strategy to optimally allocate available resources.” Take time to think about what resources you have in your business — and equally what resources you do not have. Resources include capital, people, equipment, time, materials, supply chains, administrative overhead and industry knowledge. If your company is short of a specific resource needed to execute a particular strategy, can you acquire these by partnering with other companies or even suppliers? Think creatively and ensure that you have understood both current and future resource needs as you develop your strategic plan.
Product development or product iteration
As we think about how our customer needs are changing, and how we are to find the right resources and capabilities to meet these demands, it can be useful to apply some of the principles developed by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup. The approach behind this book is to get products to customers more cost effectively and faster. For me, two of the five principles could be applied here: validated learning and build-measure-learn.
Encourage your teams to adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset and to think of solutions to problems taking a learning-oriented approach and to apply test-and-learn principles. This approach comes from the top of the organization and needs to be encouraged and guided as part of the new way of doing business. For many companies with a mature product or services, adapting is not easy and encouraging a tighter customer feedback loop, or more creative problem solving, is critical to success.
The role of people and the organizational culture should be reviewed as part of the broader planning exercise. Critically evaluate the skills of your team and the skills that they will need to fit with the revised growth strategy. Seek outside help if needed.
Regarding the current organizational culture, is it well understood and how can it be used as a tool to enable future growth? Is the culture poorly suited to the new paradigm you will operate in, and if so, can it be changed? While often overlooked, some wise words from Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, on culture could help refine this area of our growth strategy planning. He says, “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.”
One final point on the topic of people and organizational leadership. This key item should not be overlooked as it plays a fundamental role in determining success or failure. As you think and plan, cast a light on your own leadership team’s capabilities and deficiencies. Be honest with yourselves. Think about every aspect of how your organization is being led and if this is being done optimally for the road you want to travel.
There’s no going back
Finally, we are living in a time of profound challenge and change, and we should draw on our greatest asset as human beings to get us through this period: adaptability. Let’s not get stuck in how we used to do things, but rather look at ways that we should do things to build great organizations with engaged people who ultimately guide us forward into the next phase of our evolutionary development.
For more crisis leadership stories like these check out the COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis page on YPO.org. All YPO members can find breaking news, offer insights and view current discussions happening about COVID-19 impact within the YPO community on the YPO member-only platform.