Stay strong and stay focused. The world is not ending. We are still here. We will be here when this is over. And it will, at some point, be over. We cannot control everything that is happening around us, but we can control what we do in the face of it. Focus on what you can be doing and get the work done, and keep yourself, your team, and your family safe. If you keep moving forward, you’ll have one less thing to worry about at a time when there’s already plenty.
Be the calm within the storm. Giving way to panic and fear is not the answer. It’s really easy right now to let all the bad news throw you off, even overwhelm you, but you can’t let it. Right now, steady leadership is vital. I remember after 9/11, there was so much fear in the market as business leaders realized they didn’t know what the world was going to look like in a month. But that kind of fear only clouds your thinking, so now is the time to find a way to put that emotional part of your brain on pause for eight hours a day. Your team will need to be able to look to you as the calm within the storm of our new normal.
Be productive rather than reactive. Be decisive, prioritize, formulate a plan, and act. Let me be clear right now: nobody has any experience dealing with something on this scale. That was true on 9/11 and again in 2008. But we cannot let that fact paralyze us. One problem with where we are right now is that we have extremely condensed time periods in which to make critical life-and-death decisions. That tends to encourage rash behavior and plays into a panicked mindset. But we can’t do triage by simply responding to each individual problem as it unfolds. That means you’ve got to focus, think ahead, plan as best as possible for the worst-case scenario, and be ready to make major decisions in the face of uncertainty.
Adapt and be a part of the solution. New problems require new solutions. Companies like Hanes are already re-gearing much of their production capacity to manufacture critical supplies like hospital gowns and face masks. While this may be a short-term state of affairs, it shows that Hanes is thinking not only about how they can support the recovery effort, but how they can maintain operations and keep people employed throughout. How can your business model be marshaled to meet the demands of the time? From manufacturing capacity to information technology to distribution systems, we’re on a war footing. The faster you get on board, the better your chances of making it through.
Reacclimate your fiscal planning and get creative. Now is the time to make hard decisions about cash flow. That means looking at what you don’t need to spend money on right now (ideally before you hit setbacks), and just as important, looking at what costs have already dissipated. Look in places you might not have considered looking before, including where you can cut unnecessary costs as well as where you can find resources for help. Things like electric and heating bills for office space are likely costs that can be drastically cut down, and that’s if you haven’t been able to renegotiate your lease on space you may no longer be able to access at all. The important thing is focusing on the long-term as best you can, which may mean running lean in the short term.
Communicate and over-communicate. Unfortunately, right now your team is going through the same thing, and when nobody’s at the office, it’s much easier for them to get lost in the frightening news cycle. So you need to be the antidote to that. Communicate with your team and your clients – steadily, consistently, and transparently. Work in regular check-ins, provide support, and make yourself available to them. Look at how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is conducting himself right now, holding daily news conferences that both provide frank and realistic assessments of the situation as well as regular encouragement and reassurances that we will get through this together (it might seem a little cheesy, but, particularly in times of crisis, people need their leaders to step up and provide a sense of stability and hope). Critically, he’s also giving New Yorkers insight into how the crisis is being managed and how we can help. That keeps everybody on the same page, and more importantly on the same team.
Don’t forget about what comes next. Survive today, but don’t forget to plan for tomorrow. It’s important to recognize that while the landscape is rapidly changing under all of our feet and your first priority is to survive, there is an invaluable opportunity here to prepare for what happens once we’re finally out of the woods. Thoughtful leaders should utilize this time to position their organizations to thrive once the pandemic is behind us. Use any extra time you have to come up with new ideas, anticipate future client needs, and prepare to hit the ground running once this is all over. With great adversity comes great opportunity for innovation. Companies can come out of this as stronger, more unified organizations with outside-of-the-box thinking and creative strategies they never would have come up with or considered under normal circumstances.
About Liz Elting
Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is an entrepreneur, business leader, linguaphile, philanthropist, and mother. After living, studying, and working in five countries across the globe, Liz started TransPerfect out of an NYU dorm room. During her tenure as Co-CEO, she grew TransPerfect into the world’s largest language solutions company, with over $600 million in revenue, 4,000+ employees, 11,000+ clients, and offices in more than 90 cities worldwide. Liz has been recognized as a NOW “Woman of Power & Influence,” an Enterprising Women “Enterprising Woman of the Year,” and one of Forbes’ “Richest Self-Made Women.”