Survival & Thrival: Expect the Unexpected

Kurt Wilkin

The CEO Forums I’ve been running since the COVID-19 situation took hold are a microcosm of the macroeconomic environment. And the issues we are discussing are, for the most part, the same ones being experienced across the country. One of my key takeaways this week is simply to expect the unexpected. Just when we think we’ve got a feel for this crazy new world… it flips on its head in an instant!

For example, last week, the CEO of a marketing-consulting company had her biggest client suddenly cancel a HUGE project “indefinitely.” This week, she and her team pulled together, picked up the pieces, and proved they have what it takes to be successful without that one client. That same week, a highly successful tech company, which was previously making it through unscathed, had their largest customer put them on hold for 120 days because of troubles in the credit markets. This created ripple effects throughout their organization.

Bottom line? Don’t get too comfortable, one way or the other, because everything is changing rapidly. The earthquake has come and gone but the ground is still shifting beneath us. Expect the unexpected. As a CEO, even during normal times, you want to be as nimble as you can without being completely rudderless. Even more so now.

This goes for our businesses, of course, but also our personal lives. Sometimes I LOVE being with my family and working from home amid all this. Other times I want to go into the witness protection program. My wife compares quarantine to the third week of a three-week family vacation. Sure, you’re still having fun – but those little things start to turn into big problems and you just want to go back to normal life! Like I said, hang in there.

CEO Forums: 3 Takeaways from Last Week

These CEO Forums have been amazing. It’s comforting to commiserate with other business leaders, and inspiring to hear how their teams have confronted the chaos around us. In my post last week, I focused on the future, using this crisis as a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity to Reexamine Everything. That is still true and is the lens we choose to focus most of our conversations: How we can use this to come out stronger. The following are three highlights from our most recent CEO Forums.

#1 Getting back to work
What seemed like an absolute fantasy a few weeks ago is starting to be a real possibility. Can we actually get back in the office soon? Don’t get too excited. Even if we do go back, it won’t be “normal” any time soon. If you’re a fan of the Survival and Thrival series, you know we probably won’t ever go back to the way it was before (and why would we?!). But there appears to be a decent chance we can start heading back to the office in the next two or three weeks.

What will that look like? Well, there are people much smarter than me envisioning tomorrow’s workplace. In fact, Cushman & Wakefield has already created a plan called the “6 Feet Office Project” that prioritizes health and safety in the office.

Don’t panic if you have an office with an open concept or lots of collaboration space. Obviously, those offices don’t lend themselves to social distancing in the workplace. But the truth is, we don’t truly know how this will impact our physical space. Past health crises have had minimal impact on the way we work, so we can’t assume this will change everything, at least in the long run. As one participant put it, “We should call ourselves the United States of Amnesia, because we soon forget very important lessons from previous economic and health crises.”

And what does “going back” actually mean? Most participants agreed it won’t involve EVERYONE coming back to the office the day we get the all or even semi-clear. Some plan to go back in shifts, perhaps a “2 days in 3 days out” rotation so that everyone has plenty of space and the offices can be disinfected to prevent cross-contamination. This applies just to traditional offices, of course. There are countless parts of our economy—retail, bars, restaurants—that have their own unique challenges. But it’s a step in the right direction.

#2 Selling virtually
Many of our participants have struggled to adapt their sales processes to the post-COVID-19 reality. With trade shows and conferences cancelled for the foreseeable future, how do we reach our buyers? Most of your sales teams are used to hitting the road for a few days, to wine and dine for a few hours and land a deal. Obviously, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So how do we reinvent the sales process?

As I wrote last week, maybe “returning to normal” isn’t always the best target. Let’s face it—there’s a lot of unnecessary spending going on in our current processes. The wine-and-dine sale model is wasteful, time consuming, and expensive! Being cooped up has already forced companies from a variety of industries (from jewelry to professional home security) to take their trade shows online. Like in other areas, we’re proving you can do things remotely we never thought possible.

One of HireBetter’s clients is tracking down their corporate buyers’ home addresses and sending care packages. That’s dedication! I’m curious how you are being creative to get in front of buyers.

#3 Upgrading my team
As we discussed last week, the pandemic is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reexamine EVERYTHING.” The PPP money from the CARES Act provides the opportunity to pay employees, but it doesn’t say that the employees we pay now need to be the same ones we paid last year or even six weeks ago. Forward-thinking leaders are using this opportunity to assess their existing team and look to the future.

Many Forum participants are conducting their own ad-hoc version of a Strategic Talent Plan™️. As harsh as it may sound, smart leaders are counseling out or outright terminating employees the company has outgrown. And they are replacing poor performers with “next level” talent that can build the organization of the future.

By playing offense, these leaders are going to come out stronger than before. Letting people go is not easy, and many of us suck at it. It’s why we renamed our company “FireBetter” last April Fools Day. Obviously that was tongue-in-cheek, but the reality is that you might have to “FireBetter” and make strategic hires to come out stronger. If you find yourself stumped on what to do next, HireBetter is offering free Business Continuity Consultations until we reach the other side of this thing.

Is that a ray of light I see?
We obviously don’t know when this will all be over, but there are definitely rays of light peeking in. At HireBetter, we’re hitting the ground running, trying to prepare our company and our clients to come out of this stronger than before—and expect the best but prepare for the worst.

I wonder about you and how you’re moving forward. What will your company look like on the other side? I love hearing stories (good and bad) from CEOs and entrepreneurs leading through this. The CEO Forums, these posts, and my new LinkedIn video series are meant to help others by providing an outlet for useful information, war stories, and just plain venting. Please send me any ideas for future sessions—my inbox is always open.

Our goal at HireBetter is to help you navigate the unknown and assist in any way we can, especially when it comes to questions about your team and the health of your business. We’re constantly updating our curated list of business-related crisis resources and offering free business continuity consultations. And we will continue to host CEO Forums and keep you updated until they are no longer needed. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the weekly LinkedIn Live Q&A sessions I will be hosting.

While I hope that is a ray of sunshine peeking around the bend, remember—it could also be a freight train. And if it is, we’ll adjust accordingly. For now, expect the unexpected.

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