April 13, 2020

Leadership & Making Real-Time Business Decisions During A Crisis

a graphic of a man looking to the horizon

At the risk of sounding redundant, we are facing an unprecedented time. Most business leaders have likely never dealt with a global pandemic, or the economic fallout of the disaster. Personally, it’s been a tough time. Gratefully, the ReviewTrackers team, our customers, and my family and friends are healthy and optimistic – despite the uncertainty in the world around us. But I miss the small things – like watching a game at a bar, grabbing a quick coffee with a friend or going out for a fabulous dinner. Don’t you miss them too?

I have been encouraging my team with weekly company updates via Slack to share some of my thoughts and feelings, as well as tips and tricks for things I have found to be helpful during this transition from nearly 100% in-office work to 100% remote.

  • Accept the new reality. For most companies, we are entering a new reality of business; you need to keep an ear to the ground and adapt quickly. Those that evolve will survive this downturn.
  • Make decisions quickly. We were one of the first companies in Chicago to go remote; we realized it was a low-cost change and could be easily reversed if we were wrong.
  • Be honest and transparent with your team. Transparency helps improve well-being by removing some uncertainty. Being honest allows your team to help solve the challenges by understanding what is happening in the business and how they can help.
  • Be accessible. I have joined team meetings and I finish every company update with an invitation to Slack or email me. I also led an all-company town hall via video and ensure I am connecting with every one of our 23 managers on a regular basis.
  • Make mental wellness a priority. Anxiety, uncertainty and isolation – you and your team are likely experiencing at least one of these. Make sure your team has an outlet to speak freely, and feel empowered to seek out resources such as a therapist or empathic manager.

a quote from reviewtrackers ceo chris campbell

How to Pivot

As I mentioned before, we quickly transitioned from working in an office setting to 100% remote, and I know a transition like that is not easy. Early on, prior to the switch, we sent a preparatory email that going remote may be necessary at some point in the future. After considering the data and trends, we sent an email on Wednesday that Friday would be the last day in our office. We went from this might be a possibility to this is absolutely happening, in three days.

Not only did the way we work pivot rapidly, but because of the impacts to our business, many things about our business life cycle also needed to shift. This created a change in how we operate as well; some of the roles and responsibilities of certain teams required rapid adaptation to assist with that effort. Other things to consider when rapidly pivoting a business:

    • Prioritize retaining customers. This became the number one priority for everyone in our company. Within days, marketing shifted from acquiring customers to focusing on customer communications and relevant content sales could share with prospective audiences to assist with their business challenges. The whole team spun up webinars, built out special offers, created plans to mitigate churn and talked to every single customer to see how they were doing. We wanted to be human and simply check in to see how our customers were doing – and I am very happy to share that everyone we talked to was healthy and just as optimistic for the future.
    • Welcome ideas and feedback. Emphasize that now, more than ever, everyone’s ideas are valid and heard – and that they can be quickly acted upon. We created a new Slack channel called #growth-ideas and asked people to self-start if they see an idea they want to try.
    • Shift roles and responsibilities. Encouraging and fostering team agility has become more important than ever – especially as we see priorities shift quickly. Because we were concerned about how some of our small businesses were doing given the circumstances, we recruited over a dozen people from sales, ops and recruiting; they stepped up and made calling over 1,000 customers within a few days a possibility.
    • Decrease expenses and look for opportunities. This is prudent and should be a course of action for most businesses in a crisis. It’s also important to consider ways to get ready for opportunities the day the crisis is over so your business can hit the ground running. It’s a thin line to walk and manage, but both sides are necessary to weathering the storm and restarting normal operations when the time comes.
    • Be agile and accept what you can and can’t control. I have learned that things are likely never as bad as you think they will be in the moment, and having the patience to work with challenges and be able to exhibit calm for your team will go a long way.

Planning for the Future

The future is uncertain, but there are ways you can prepare your team to hit the ground running once everything returns to normal. Our leaders built out various scenario plans when it was clear this crisis was coming. Change is hard, but now more than ever, it is important to plan and iterate. We are taking it a day, week and month at a time.

  • Build financial models with your key levers. For our business and for most, it is likely a mix of expenses, revenue growth and churn. Build dynamic models that update with real time information to build trend lines.
  • Remove emotion from decisions. Leaders tend to act more emotionally when they have to make snap decisions, which can introduce more volatility to a situation. The best way to avoid this is to build out plans for the most likely scenarios. ‘If X happens, then we will do Y.’ This gives you the time to frame out the possible scenarios and be ready to make fundamental decisions quickly, because you have already thought through how you will need to respond.
  • Conserve resources. We know this crisis will end and things will eventually return to normal, we just don’t know when. Make sure you have enough resources to take advantage of the opportunities on the other side of this crisis.
  • Consider how your actions will impact your reputation. People will remember how you treat them and how you lead them in a turbulent time. Be thoughtful in your actions, because that legacy will stay with you long past this crisis.

I hope you find some of these tips helpful and wish you all the best during this uncertain time. While the road may be filled with challenges, we will see the other side of this disruption, and I am optimistic about the innovation and opportunities that will result. Be well.

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