I am using a single word to describe 2020: uncertainty.
In most presidential election years, there is also uncertainty because no one is ever sure which way the country will go starting on Jan. 20 of the following year.
If there is one thing CEOs hate, it is uncertainty. Which is why in many presidential election years, the economy generally stays flat.
Unfortunately, not 2020.
No one knows how long this COVID-19 created recession will last or how it is going to end.
CEOs have made changes, on the fly, with the goal of making do or getting by since March.
In my conversations, most CEOs believe that things will get back to a somewhat normal basis, whatever that is, once a proven vaccine has been found and is being broadly administered.
That may be quite a while down the road, so in the meantime let me share the advice I am giving to my clients, regardless of how their companies are performing.
First, to the extent that you can, provide stability. Take care of your people. Do what it takes to keep your employees safe and healthy. This is the time when a CEO can build genuine goodwill with every employee. Don’t let this opportunity pass.
Second, determine what your goal is when your company comes out on the other end and be clear about your strategy. I am not saying be naïve and assume you will quickly have double digit growth if you have lost half or more of your customer and revenue base. I am saying set reasonable goals that the company can rally around.
I understand that you could well be in survival mode; that every penny counts when looking at cash flow and that you likely have laid people off and you just might have to do it again soon.
The Good Book says that “Where there is no vision; the people perish” and I can assure you that your people, from top to bottom, want to know “Where are we going?” and “What is the plan?”
Let me clarify that last question so I am clear: your employees are asking you, the CEO, “What is your plan for our company to get us through this pandemic?”
What people aren’t asking but are thinking is, “Will I have a job?”
Some companies thrive in chaos, but most do not.
So, here is my third piece of advice: provide transparency.
I am not saying that you need to open the books and show everyone all the numbers whether it be black ink or red.
What I am saying is lay it out, where things are, at that moment in time, and share the options or alternatives as you see them.
This will be a moment of truth; the fourth piece of advice.
Because now you can share with your employee audience how they can help the company to survive; even to thrive. Maybe it means a pay cut. It may mean working less hours. You may have to suspend a benefit that the company can no longer afford. If your employees understand what and why, they will strive to perform.
In uncertain, turbulent and troubled times companies need their leaders to show the way forward. Provide stability, execute the chosen strategy and let transparency guide your communications.
Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies and greater profitability. Email:[email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of the SCVBJ.