Survival & Thrival: You were made for this!

Kurt Wilkin

As a nation, and a world, we’re having a moment. It is not hyperbole to say that this situation we’re all enduring is unlike anything any of us have seen in our lifetimes. But if you only read one sentence more, here is your most important takeaway:

It may be hard to see right now, but everything you have experienced on your leadership journey has prepared you for this moment.

Got your attention? Now I’ll explain why.

As my brother and entrepreneurial idol (shhh, don’t tell him that) Rolf told me the other day, “You’ve got this. You were made for this moment.” I’m convinced that he was telling me that as a motivational tool—but the more I thought about it, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, I realized he’s right.

It’s our time to rise to the occasion. The last few weeks were probably a blur—your business likely was pushed to the brink, your family is scared, and even finding toilet paper is now something you have to add to an already overwhelmed to-do list. Hopefully this past week brought a ray of sunshine, though. If you’re anything like me, the initial shock has passed and you’re starting to figure out how to navigate this new “normal”, both personally and professionally. You’ve set up and begun to manage a remote workforce, and you’re starting to pick your head up and see what opportunities are out there.

Right now, I feel like a gopher poking his head up after a storm came blazing through. We’re starting to move out of defense mode and shifting to more of a proactive stance.

You may not feel that way yet. You may feel like you’re not doing enough, and that’s okay! Don’t feel Covid-shamed. The way you respond to this crisis is uniquely yours. If your inbox is anything like mine, it is on overload. Advice is coming at you left and right—and much of it is good stuff, but you just can’t seem to take it all in and focus on the big picture. I hope I can provide some clarity.

The silver lining in all this is that you are not alone. Every CEO and entrepreneur out there is dealing with the same issues and feeling the same fears and confusion you are.

Last week, I wrote about the CEO Forums I started as a way to help other leaders and their businesses Survive and Thrive this pandemic. In last week’s sessions,  I learned that, while there are still significant challenges, leaders are ready to move from defense to offense—from protecting the basket to taking the shot. In fact, several have already shifted their business models in just a few short days. Thanks to their leadership, and the creativity and resiliency of their teams, they started making moves to not only survive the crisis, but to thrive on the other side. I’ve been very impressed and inspired.

CEO Forums: Three discussion points for this week

I feel fortunate to be facilitating these important conversations, which I know is a microcosm of what the entire business world is dealing with. So I plan to recap what I learned from the previous CEO Forum and share my thoughts on the upcoming one with you. As a reminder, the CEOs who participate in our virtual events come from a wide variety of geographies, industries, and sizes, but they are all dealing with similar issues—most likely very similar to the ones you are facing. And everything is confidential, so unless I’ve received specific approval, information has been anonymized.

Last week, we talked a lot about the CARES Act – the federal stimulus package. This week we’ll be discussing ways companies and individuals can be proactive in helping those they serve and, in the process, help themselves.

Topic #1: Vendors and suppliers are working proactively with companies in need
It is important to remember that everyone is going through this crisis. We all have our  own battles to fight, and you never know what someone else is dealing with. For example, you might be frustrated that your landlord isn’t providing a rent abatement. But what you might not know is that their bank or investors are insisting on them making their mortgage payment, which ramps up the pressure on your landlord to do whatever they can to collect rent.

There are multiple ways to approach this situation. Some companies are being proactive and are working to make things easier for everyone. I’ve heard multiple stories of software companies proactively cutting their fees in half. In HireBetter’s case, we have reached out to all of our vendors and suppliers and asked for assistance. Before we even had the chance to call them, Dropbox proactively reduced our fees pretty substantially. Thank you, Dropbox!

Unfortunately, I’ve also heard stories and been a direct witness to vendors who told their customers to pound sand when they were asked for discounts or extended terms. On the flip side of that, some are simply trying to take advantage of the situation.

For example, one prospective customer of HireBetter demanded a “Covid-19 discount.” We had already offered pretty favorable terms, so we asked to better understand his goal. Was he looking for extended payment terms, a discount, a different pricing model, etc.? He refused to talk to us other than to reply to our proposal with, “There is widespread demand destruction. Pricing models that existed 10 days ago are out the window. We talked through your offer and we will have to pass on your pricing proposal.”

Please don’t be that guy. Be a solid citizen and not a user. Remember, we’re all in this together.

Topic #2: Health comes first
No matter who you are, this is likely taking an emotional toll on you. I’ve been working my tail off to secure my family’s safety, then I transitioned straight into seeking opportunities to better our business future – now and for the long-term. I’ve barely had a second to breathe, and it’s taking a toll!

Last night, I had my second moment of burnout. I called my sister, Kari, just to chat, and a bunch of pent up emotions came bubbling out. After a 30-minute call with her, I felt much better—but I needed that outlet. I need more sleep, I need more exercise, and I need more mental rest. You probably do too. Make sure you’re doing those things. Make time for rest, make sure you’re eating as healthily as you can, and get some exercise. It will benefit you more than you realize.

Rather than make this a simple public service announcement, I’ll add the following: Reach out to others. Like my sister was there for me, be there for others. Everyone is fighting a battle right now. Whether it is personal, business, relationship, aging family members, safety, health, or that damn toilet paper, everyone is dealing with something. Connect with them, engage with them, and love them. Sometimes you will be the one offering the lifeline, and sometimes you will be the one needing it!

Topic #3: Meet your clients and customers where they are. Find out what they need.
Please don’t “sell” anything right now. Not yet. Just as I encouraged you to reach out to others above, do the same for business associates. They don’t want to be sold your product or service right now. They are dealing with something bigger. However, if you listen to them, opportunities will be uncovered.

For example, my friend Carl Natenstedt’s company, Z5 Inventory, is in the healthcare inventory-management industry. He created a system that helps hospitals and healthcare systems manage their stock. The software also utilizes back-end logistics to help monetize assets that are close to expiration. His product helps hospitals monetize millions of dollars in inventory that would otherwise become obsolete and worthless.

Given today’s environment, Carl saw an opportunity to shift his engine in two ways. First, he began giving away his software to hospitals to manage their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) more closely. These items are literally a matter of life and death for healthcare workers on the frontline. Second, he leveraged his contacts to find much-needed PPE from his suppliers and has been arranging large shipments to his customers—shipments they were having trouble procuring on their own.

Don’t get me wrong. In both cases, Z5 Inventory will benefit from doing the right thing. But that’s where it starts—doing the right thing, with no expectations in return. He didn’t try to sell anything to his clients. He listened to their challenges and used his nimble and creative team to identify solutions to their problems. In the old days we would call that a win-win solution!

When will this be over?
I think I’m going to address this every week—but the answer will likely be very similar. Based on numerous discussions with leaders like you, the real answer is: I don’t know. Nobody knows.

The good news is that smart people are making a lot of progress on accessible tests with quick and accurate results. It also sounds like there is real promise with some readily available drugs that could greatly improve our ability to recover from the virus. On the economic front, the best sign that we’re on the mend is when we stop being afraid of the unknown.

In all of this chaos, I am looking forward to hearing from CEOs and entrepreneurs about the steps they are taking to get through it. These forums, and hopefully these summaries, will play some part in helping others by providing an outlet for useful information, war stories, and just plain venting. What are your thoughts on my notes above? Got 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, offering free business continuity consultations, and identifying the biggest challenges to business leaders and sharing our solutions with you. I’m also hosting weekly Q&A sessions on LinkedIn Live starting soon, so be sure to tune in.

If you’d like someone to lean on as you find your way through this tough business landscape, please reach out to me or someone on my team. We’re here to help!

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