It sure is hard to find. It’s not apparent. It’s not absolute. It sits in a cloud of fog. Many of us are blind to it until we fall upon it or the fog lifts. The search is on while our world remains temporarily closed. Years ago, news outlets and the evening anchors were the sources of truth; now, they serve as the sources of the fog. Cable news anchors offer opinions cloaked in what they position as journalistic truth. Most politicians, any party, obfuscate the truth to advance their agenda. Their loyal followers with tribal mentalities promote conspiracy theories to muddy their opponents’ truths.
Then the opposing parties take their corners, engage opposition research, and publish messages with some facts and some falsehoods, further confusing and frustrating the targeted audience. Where’s the truth? It sure is hard to find, it’s not so apparent, and indeed, it’s not absolute.
Truth is elusive, and the global pandemic has only made it much more difficult to find while our world is temporarily closed. We, as a species, crave certainty. We want to know who, what, when, where, why, and how, the 5W&H, when confronted with a problem. Asking these questions and seeking the truth for each response is the basic formula for problem-solving. If you can’t find the truth, then the solution to your problem is likely flawed. Certainty creates stability, and stability produces optimum market conditions. Look at the stock market. Uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos generate market volatility and increase the risk of investment losses. Conversely, certainty, predictability and stability stimulate market growth and increase the probability of investment gains.
Similarly, businesses respond like the stock market when the truth is elusive, especially if the company has little experience planning. If market conditions are uncertain, unpredictable and chaotic, then the risk of business loss goes up. Business leaders actively search for the truth to be found in the 5W&H of their market and build strategies to exploit opportunities creating gains. We’ve had several business leaders ask us, “How can you plan through the pandemic?” There is so much chaos and uncertainty. Where’s the truth? We’ve been through the wringer. Businesses started to reopen, given the improving coronavirus infection rate, then were ordered to limit or curtail customer engagements because of new infection outbreaks. It’s been hell on markets, and we as business coaches know it. Nevertheless, planning remains our most encouraging response.
I wrote an article in April titled “We’re In a Marathon!” Having run a marathon, I know the hardest part for me was the middle. Mentally, putting one foot in front of the other was a challenge, and my mind went to a dark place, questioning whether I dare to finish. Many of us are experiencing this same emotion. We’re in the middle of the COVID-19 marathon, and it’s difficult for us to see the end of this crisis. We’re concerned our businesses may fail, resulting in significant lifestyle changes. We’re searching for truth, and for now, there is so much uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos in the environment, we’re unsure how we navigate through it. We often comment to our clients, take one bite of the elephant at a time. Get through this crisis by breaking it down into phases, then problem-solve and plan for each phase.
We’ve passed Phase I. Self-isolation and business closures were the norm and lasted from the start of the pandemic to June. We’re now in Phase II, which will be the transition period before we enter Phase III and likely cover the summer months. In Phase II, most businesses, but not all, will gradually open under extreme caution and well within the executive orders announced by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Gavin Newsom. It will be a wait-and-see phase…wait and see if opening businesses causes an uptick in spreading the virus. These fitful starts and stops will continue through the summer.
Phase III will start likely at the end of summer. Most businesses that survived will reopen, virus testing will be more prevalent, schools will restart albeit virtually then restricted, in-school physical presence, and places of worship will hold limited parishioner services. Still, large gatherings will be prohibited, as will attendance at movie theaters, sporting events and concerts, and we’ll have our designer face masks handy. Phase III will continue until we have a vaccine and therapy in place that reduces the mortality rate of COVID-19, likely 10 months from now. That will be the start of Phase IV, what we knew as normalcy four months ago, yet radically changed forever going forward.
If you think in phases, completing this COVID-19 business marathon becomes all the more real, and the truth is not so elusive because you gain control. Establish personal and business goals and milestones for each period. Focus on completing these goals, achieving milestones, and thinking and planning for the next phase. Each phase offers some real opportunities to restructure your business and adapt to new ways of interacting with customers in the future.
For each phase, you should be asking yourself, “Who is my target market, and how do I sell to them? Is my business best structured to adapt to the new environment? Do I have the right strategies in place for each marketing campaign, by phase? Are my cost structure, financial reviews, and key performance indicators relevant, informative and timely? Do I have the right team, and are they trained and in place to thrive?”
Don’t let the elusive truth of today cause you to make irrational decisions or freeze. The only way to complete this marathon is step by step, mile by mile, and phase by phase. Invest the time, define, clarify and plan each of your phases, then lead, think, plan and act your way to success once Phase IV shows up. Soon, not soon enough, though, the world will be reopened. Now, let’s get after it!
Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions.