With reopening efforts underway in most states, the American economy now needs a rebound in consumer demand, and small and midsize business (SMB) leaders must show consumers they’re prepared to safely lead the recovery for employees and customers alike.
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve heard from hundreds of CEOs as they have led the way, navigating and innovating in uncharted territory. They adapted quickly, and leaders continue to innovate to ensure the confidence of their teams and customers. In working with these CEOs, I’ve found they are taking the following key steps to jumpstart the recovery in their companies and communities:
Give employees the utmost care.
As each company’s recovery process differs, so do their employees’ needs. CEOs can put their people first by creating flexibility in the return-to-work process. Leaders who allow their employees to cocreate safe and creative solutions will have a more engaged team than those who create return-to-work ultimatums. It’s OK to let your customers know processes might change to protect your team; consumers don’t want to do business with companies that don’t treat their people well.
Acknowledge this is a new reality, not a new normal.
No one knows what the future holds, and business models will look different moving forward. Companies, employees and clients have new needs, especially flexibility. Consider what these needs might be, including what the future will look like virtually. Will you continue to meet in person? Will you meet half the time in person and half virtually? This new reality is a chance to be authentic, transparent and let your teams know how the company is truly doing. Companies with transparent leaders tend to bravely weather the storm, rather than taking employees on an emotional roller coaster.
Maintain your company’s culture.
If leaders start to think about culture when their employees return to the workplace, they’ve thought about it too late. Effective leaders understand a crisis is a time to lean into culture, not put it on pause. Engagement can wane in times like these, but leaders can reinvigorate their company culture through frequent, open communication. Consider short, bi-weekly surveys to gauge employee sentiment, then follow up with action to show you listen and care. Employees will know you consider their needs if you can allow them flexible schedules and time to unwind with family. By upholding culture and standing by your values through difficult times, you will be able to promote your company’s culture and talk about what you have learned as a team through the crisis.
Make room for innovation.
Vistage survey data shows nearly half (47%) of CEOs said they made changes to products and services as a result of COVID-19. Of those who made changes to their offerings, 49% added products or services that will sustain long-term growth. Many companies, including my own, have launched products and programs during the pandemic that would not otherwise exist. Projects that could have taken years were implemented in weeks. I have seen innovation not only from other leaders in the company, but also from employees and partners who have figured out how to improve and work efficiently. Innovation comes from vendors and clients sending in new ideas and from an entire workforce that learned overnight how to migrate to a virtual workspace. Leaders who mobilize their teams quickly and gather people from all aspects of the organization to collaborate will continuously foster innovation.
CEOs don’t get a free pass during a crisis. This pandemic is not something leaders can operationalize and push down the ladder. Strong leaders open communication and share personal responses with their customers and stakeholders. Most importantly, as we enter this new reality, we need to talk about these difficult times with our teams. We all braved the storm together, and we cannot forget what we went through. When leaders define with employees how their company worked through the crisis, it becomes a symbol of employees’ strength.
Sam Reese is CEO of Vistage, the world’s largest CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. Over his 35-year career as a business leader, Sam has led large and midsize organizations and has advised CEOs and key executives of companies all over the world. To learn how a peer advisory group can help you navigate challenges, make better decisions and achieve growth, visit vistage.com.