A successful reopening will require a smart business strategy — and emotional intelligence.
As an unprecedented spring transitions to an uncertain summer, public officials are taking steps to reopen state economies as it’s safe to do so, often in phases according to industry type. Business leaders who are looking for the right path forward have many decisions to make over the next several weeks and months.
Specific operational plans for reopening will vary by industry and consumer demand. But every business leader can benefit from taking an emotionally intelligent approach to reopening. If you’re making reopening plans, here are 10 tips to keep in mind:
- Use this opportunity to address existing deficiencies. It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees when business is booming, so use the pause as a chance to take stock, identify strengths and weaknesses and address deficiencies. One business leader wrote a “pros and cons” list about his business, asked his team to do the same and then distributed an online survey to get customer input. Not only did he get great ideas for how to improve, he conveyed his commitment to customers by considering their ideas.
- Make sure everyone is still on the same page. Compassionate leaders were flexible with employees at the outset of the public health crisis — it was the right thing to do. Now it’s a good idea to be transparent about expectations for returning to normal. Recognize that things may have changed permanently for some employees. Be open and honest about your plans, acknowledging that employees have to make choices too.
- Be alert to new opportunities. Uncertainty is by nature disquieting, but keep in mind that real opportunities can present themselves during a time like this, and be ready to act if that happens. For example, some future-focused business leaders have even expanded their operations during the economic pause, taking advantage of opportunities that might have otherwise not presented themselves.
- Be realistic but keep a positive attitude. It’s tough to stay positive when there’s so much currently happening; but while your control of the economic situation is limited, you are 100% in charge of how you react. The challenges are real, but there are ways to make the best of a bad situation. For instance, the leaders of one business that had to shut down for 8 weeks divided employees into teams to focus on training. They achieved 80 hours of continuing professional education, strengthening the company during the downtime.
- Don’t forget to create a long-term strategy. During a crisis, it’s easy to get into permanent triage mode, focusing on fighting fires as they come up. Firefighting is definitely a necessity during a crisis, but try not to get so focused on addressing short-term problems that you forget to set aside some time to formulate a long-term plan and create a strategy. Think marathon, not sprint.
- Focus on what others need. Focusing on your own needs and the tasks you need to complete can be a natural impulse during stressful times, but showing empathy and focusing on others first is a better approach. Talk to clients and employees to better understand what they need and what they’re experiencing.
- Pay attention to your company culture. Every business with two or more employees has a company culture. An economic crisis is a good time to be intentional about your company culture, making sure that your people have the agency to get things done. It’s also a great time to give everyone who works for you a chance to be heard so that you can meet their needs to the best of your ability as a leader.
- Find workarounds. Inspirational speaker Zig Ziglar advised salespeople to “control your controllables,” meaning they should focus on what they can do rather than on obstacles to objectives. It’s good advice in operations, too. The current regulatory environment is restrictive, but you still have agency. Find workarounds to move forward on goals.
- Be flexible. You’ll get many curveballs during reopening. One dental practice sent “welcome back” emails to all patients four times because reopening guidelines were repeatedly adjusted. It was exasperating, but rather than expressing frustration, they kept their tone light, joking about the “fourth time being the charm,” showing patients their business culture and receiving messages of support and loyalty in return.
- Take care of yourself. Being a leader during a crisis is hard. Use your personal support system to get through it. Talk through the challenges with mentors, family and partners. Ask for help when you need it. Showing empathy to others is important at a time like this, but stay open to receiving empathy from others as well. You’ll need it.
One word keeps coming up over and over to describe the present time: “unprecedented.” And it’s true that business leaders have never faced an experience quite like this one before. The uncertainty is difficult for employees and business owners alike. Stress levels are understandably high as people face challenges in their lives and livelihoods.
In these unusual circumstances, creating a sound, flexible business strategy and adjusting it as necessary is critical. But so is remaining emotionally intelligent and empathetic. Business leaders who combine proactive planning with sincere and transparent outreach will be in the best position to reopen successfully.