Don’t Waste the Pandemic!

It’s often said that a good disaster shouldn’t be squandered. If you were to follow this maxim for 2021, how could you make the most of last year’s twin evils: a recession and a worldwide pandemic?

Most executive teams are happy to have survived to the end of 2020 in one piece. Thankfully, their companies are still running and few employees have succumbed to the COVID-19 illness. They feel a sense of achievement at overcoming an unprecedented attack.

However, this is a low standard. In the years to come, some will ask: “What big things did your leaders do with the pandemic?” In other words, how did you take advantage of the dramatic changes underway to ensure the company’s future?

Although most won’t have an answer, here are a few questions you can pose now. Use them to make the most of the havoc wrought by last year’s tumult.

1) Do you have the right talent?

Under normal circumstances, most CEO’s and board chairpersons don’t like to rock the boat. While they may secretly want a company filled with top talent, they decide that it’s just not worth the fight. Instead, they settle for so-so standards, believing that you can’t have an organization of star performers.

Here’s another approach: the best football teams keep a list of potential replacements for every position. Looking forward, they plan for a time when each incumbent cannot improve his/her level of play. As such, no-one is granted an indefinite guarantee. Instead, these organizations continually scan the horizon for potential replacements.

Few local companies challenge their employees in this way: in fact, only a handful conduct proper performance reviews. This failure leaves them short – lacking the systems required to put top talent in seats. Consequently, when the time comes to make dramatic changes due to outside circumstances, they falter.

For example, in 2021 few companies escape the need for an urgent digital transformation. However, only a handful have the capacity needed to convert this strategic imperative into a reality. If your company has no active plan to upgrade its human resource strength, change your approach now, before the next interruption occurs.

2) Are you innovating enough?

Some time ago, an executive complained to me about the lack of a critical input to their company’s business. While it could be acquired locally, it was only available sporadically. We talked informally about taking strides to secure a steady supply.

Today, a decade later, the firm remains in the same spot. They failed to craft the strategy required, a weakness that COVID has “attacked”. If they had only taken the right steps at the right time, this would not be a concern. In fact, it would be an enormous source of competitive advantage leading to happier customers.

In my company, we were too slow in our pivot to offer an online version of our 2-day strategic planning retreat. Believing that COVID would pass in the near future, we waited…but now we expect companies to ask for lower cost, virtual retreats as a matter of course. We learned that innovation is easier to teach than to apply.

The truth is, when only a trickle of evidence is available, you need tremendous creativity to imagine what your customers and suppliers will need. Yet, there are standard, proven approaches to produce reliable, game-changing innovations. For example, use the Jobs to Be Done technique I mentioned in a Gleaner column from Nov 18 2016.

Here is a test – if you don’t have a list of practical innovations lined up for possible execution in 2021, you probably aren’t taking advantage of the pandemic. Teach your staff how to use the latest techniques and apply them even when it’s hard.

3) A Culture of Proactive Resilience

Jamaican companies know how to react to disasters: they are tough survivors. But few can make repeated operational changes which create room for transformational shifts. Unfortunately, CEO’s often behave as if their job is only about capably adjusting to outside fluctuations.

However, there is another approach: to always look to do more with less, thereby preparing your company to tackle the next disaster before it even appears.

The fact is that today’s pandemic is tomorrow’s hurricane, fire, or new digital competitor. These are just a few disruptions which can do serious damage to your enterprise. Consequently, you should be prepared by driving an enduring culture of continuous improvement.

Ultimately, this self-renewing corporate culture is more likely to succeed against rude surprises. It prepares your staff to tackle challenges effectively. This is the only way to ensure your firm’s success: the kind of place which sees the next disruption as an opportunity to transform itself for the better. Far from being wasted, it’s welcomed.

Will Your Church or NGO Survive the Pandemic?

Are you concerned that your church or Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) may not survive the combined punches of a pandemic and a recession? You should be. But there’s much you can do to intervene and turn things around.

Most of us can appreciate the devastating impact of COVID-19 on industries such as education, entertainment, hotels and restaurants. But there are other effects being felt in two sectors which have traditionally drawn strength from live gatherings of volunteers. Now that large assemblies have been banned, churches and NGO’s are threatened as never before by recent, unstoppable trends.

The Threat to Churches

While your church is primarily seen as a place of worship, let’s assume it’s also an organization subject to the same requirements as others: it needs manpower and funding to maintain its operations.

In particular, the Saturday or Sunday morning service plays not only a spiritual role, but it also serves a commercial activity: fund-raising. Traditionally, this has been driven by donations from live attendees.

In any recession, its elders would expect a dip but this one is different. Their primary channel of creating value has been severely and indefinitely curtailed.

This has led to a dramatic change in behaviour on behalf of would-be congregants, particularly those who are lukewarm – the majority. Now, instead of putting on their Sunday best and sitting on a pew for the better part of the day, they are engaging in alternatives.

Some are watching their home church’s services online. Via Google Search, others have switched to more fulfilling broadcasts in other parts of the world. More than a few are simply distracted by social media, the news, exercise, giving the children extra lessons and other activities.

The fact is, they are all picking up new habits which will become quite hard to disrupt once the ban on assembling is lifted. Consequently, your church’s recent drop in donated income may not be temporary. Neither is the reduction in attendance. And, even when the bans lift, your elders will still have a recession to contend with.

The Threat to NGO’s

The challenge many NGO’s face is a bit different: it includes their leaders. They don’t have the benefit of a permanent pastor and probably elects new executives every year or two.

Traditionally, each incoming leader body learns its function from the one prior, primarily via face-to-face meetings. Its regular activities and fundraising events have also always been in-person. So has its AGM where dues are collected and elections are conducted.

COVID-19 has taken all of these away. Now, the leadership must engage using unfamiliar online tools like Zoom. In many NGO’s, retirees play an important role but they are least likely to use such tools.

Unfortunately, the sum of these shifts threaten the existence of many churches and NGO’s. Some have not responded well, going into hibernation; a wait-and-see approach. Their hope is that things will return to “normal” someday soon.

Hopefully, your organization realizes this urgent, existential threat and plans to devise a new strategy. Here are some steps to take.

1. Craft New Commercial Strategies, Abandon the Old

While your church or NGO may have built its existence on long, stable traditions, consider this a call to re-think everything. A mission of “Continuing our Tradition” might need to be replaced.

Now, you must define a fresh destination, one that will appeal to a highly distractible audience wary of in-person gatherings. This should mean looking 5-10-30 years to the future to craft the details of a vision in which you are unique in meeting your followers’ needs.

Once your end-point has been defined, fill in the steps to be followed over the time period. On the commercial side, use metrics such as members, donations and special event income to show where your growth will come from. Include milestones along the way which describe the path to follow.

2. Draft New Skills

If your board lacks the skills necessary, co-opt younger persons who have them. For example, if none of your leaders have regularly attended a range of virtual services, include someone who has. Ask them for help in defining new ways to add value which appeal to Millennials and successive generations.

Time is of the essence. Don’t delay because of pride. Instead, assume the worse: that Jamaica won’t have a vaccine or achieve herd immunity until after 2021.

To save your organization from extinction in the meantime, forsake any wishful thinking and embrace the fact that there are irreversible trends at play which are moving against you. Rally your members and show them that this isn’t about a temporary convenience but an entirely new way to fulfill your mission.