When the anniversary of COVID-19’s arrival in Saskatchewan comes in March 2021, , will you be able to call the previous year a success? You might look favourably on having strengthened customer relationships. Or perhaps you launched a new product. Good things and bad things will happen to every business this year. It won’t be too hard to pick out a few positive highlights.
To call the first year with COVID-19 a success, we need to start out with clear goals. They are the milestones we pass along the way to accomplishing something spectacular. But they are more than this. Goals motivate and drive us down a certain path, keeping us from going astray and ensuring we focus our attention and action on something worth achieving.
Rather than just hanging on and adapting to the conditions of the day, consider what success could look like in March 2021. The harsh reality is that we are facing a prolonged period of economic uncertainty. We must learn how to do business in this COVID-19 economy.
Look around and you will see examples every day of entrepreneurs with creative minds and a desire to survive – and even thrive – during chaos.
The current operating environment
Businesses will have to contend with the current economic crisis for at least a year – until a vaccine is developed for COVID-19 and social restrictions are eliminated. That is the consensus of scientists, health practitioners, politicians, and economists. This is not going away soon.
Business owners were in crisis mode for about three weeks in March. People figured out how to operate safely and dealt with the realities of their unique situations. Some had to drastically scale back expenses; many had to adjust operations to accommodate social distancing. Others, unfortunately, were forced to cease operations.
We are well past that frantic crisis now, but the operating environment is still changing. New waves of infection could materialize, forcing tighter social controls and economic restrictions. Some competitors, customers, and suppliers might go out of business while others might announce significant expansions.
Companies have operated in this COVID-19 economy for only a few months. Some are doing well while others are not, but everyone has some new reality they have come to terms with.
We must do more than react to what comes our way. Now is the time to define what we want our future to be like and prepare accordingly.
Clear goals make decisions easier
Set clear goals to guide your actions, identify your options, get the facts on the table, form your opinion on what may unfold, and then make tough decisions. This is the simple but effective foundation for my strategic planning work with clients.
Most business owners intuitively follow this process. But everyone – and I mean every business owner, some with extremely large operations – will likely stall on at least one of these steps. For example, in a panic to make a decision, a company may neglect the important step of getting facts on the table. Or maybe the leadership has not clearly identified their options and find it impossible to decide on a course of action.
Goals are often the overlooked step in this process. That’s because of human nature. People like forming opinions and making decisions. But we don’t naturally step back and think about what we are trying to achieve before making those important decisions.
Being clear about what you are trying to achieve makes it easier to tackle tough decisions. This is true in any operating environment. Goals help ensure limited resources (budget, time) are spent on items that matter. They also help employees focus on a common desired outcome.
If you had goals in place before the pandemic, consider whether they are out of date. Previous goals were established based on the set of facts of the day and your opinions on what may unfold from those facts. Reality has changed. For most businesses, old goals are no longer relevant.
Instead of just ignoring out-of-date goals, form new ones. Consider your options, review a current set of facts, and form opinions on what may develop. Then start the process of making tough strategic decisions. That clarity will be helpful as you formulate a plan on what you will try to achieve.
Download the discussion paper Structuring for Success and learn the 10 most common issues companies wrestle with.
The actions you take will stem directly from how you define your goals for the coming year. The Saskatoon Club, a private members’ club with extensive food service operations, provides an interesting example. Forced to close temporarily by the public health order banning restaurant operations, the club’s management was pressed to generate new sources of revenue and maintain strong relationships with its members. The club decided to provide grocery pick-up service and ‘Two-Meter Takeout’ with a variety of exceptional meal choices prepared by their award-winning chefs, all while adhering to social distancing rules in place to control the pandemic.
Some businesses are focused on growth. These businesses see ambiguity and turmoil as signs of opportunity. Companies will seek out new suppliers as their traditional supply chain becomes less reliable because of production disruptions caused by labour shortages or inability to access raw materials. Consumer preferences have radically shifted in many product categories, creating situations where demand is much greater than supply. Some companies are going out of business, creating gaps in the competitive landscape.
If your business is interested in pursuing new opportunities, be intentional in what you pursue and clearly define what you would like to achieve. The goal may be growth. Minhas Sask is now manufacturing hand sanitizer, a somewhat common product for distilleries and breweries to produce during this pandemic. Minhas, however, is rare in its high aspirations for the product, having secured distribution through a major grocery chain. Periods of change such as this one can provide a foothold in a new market with potential to establish a permanent line of business over the longer term.
Look around and you will see examples every day of entrepreneurs with creative minds and a desire to survive – and even thrive – during chaos. Establish goals that are right for your individual situation. With clear goals in mind, you can shape your company’s actions into a strategy with a high likelihood of success.
First published in the June 2020 edition of The Business Advisor.