As businesses continue to respond to unprecedented crisis conditions, those that have been able to troubleshoot, problem solve, and quickly pivot have remained solvent and, in some cases, have even unearthed new opportunities for growth. Conversely, those that have remained frozen like deer in the headlights are looking at a very long road to recovery ahead, if they survive at all. It’s not just luck that some businesses continue to thrive amidst all of this economic uncertainty. It’s agility—the agility of their employees, the agility of their production capabilities, and, most importantly, the agility of their thinking.
Every business has the ability to be agile, but some have done what they do for so long that they are locked in to a myopic definition of themselves. They’ve never had to adapt or redefine, so it’s unnatural for them to even think to do so. No matter what your experience has been, your only choice now is agility. Every business has to change, and some will have to change more than others. If you’ve never had to be agile before, you have to be agile now. What’s at stake is more than just remaining competitive. For some, it’s about still being around after this crisis ends.
Whether you’re a business that is inherently essential or one that is trying to find a way to become essential, there are a few fundamental questions that can help guide you to becoming more agile and more relevant to customers during this crisis.
- What are the skill sets of your workforce? Assessing different skills and expertise among your employees is a critical first step in evaluating not just what your workforce already does but what they may be capable of doing. Knowing where your collective strengths lie can help you quickly evaluate new opportunities.
- For manufacturers, what equipment do you have on hand, and what other types of products might you be able to produce using your existing equipment? Some businesses have highly specialized equipment that may be difficult to adapt to other purposes, but many others have multipurpose machinery that can be reconfigured for other products. Confer with your plant managers and operators to brainstorm the possibilities.
- What digital communication tools do you have? How might you better use those tools to reach out to customers in lieu of being face to face? Can you use meeting apps and video tools to keep clients engaged? For service-oriented businesses, more communication with clients is better right now. That may be emails or video conferences or even good old-fashioned mail. Whatever you choose, stay in contact. Don’t just go dark and assume your customers will be waiting for you when you turn the lights on again.
- What do your customers need? Some would argue this question should come first, but not necessarily. The reality is your customers may change depending on how you envision your business fitting in to this new economy and way of life. If you’re an essential business already, then this question should be first, and your answer should help guide the new messages you will need to communicate to your customers. If you’re a nonessential business, you may find that much of your previous business plan has become moot, and you will need to reinvent yourself if you want to survive. That may mean targeting a completely different customer base.
However your business fits into the economy right now, what your customers need should guide every decision you make and every message you communicate. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and driven by your own business needs, but customers won’t respond if you’re not speaking to their needs first.