Eleven Business Coaches on How Business Leaders Should Navigate the Uncertain Road Ahead

In the coming weeks and months, the Align team will be dedicated to sharing out the best advice for maintaining the health of your business from the business coaches, SMBs and partners we work with. We’ll have downloads, blog posts, webinars and more on emerging best practices for adapting to the rapid changes in the economy and workplace. 

As businesses continue to adapt their workplaces for safety or closings or remote work due to the spread of COVID-19, we have asked several of our coach partners from around the globe for their advice on how to help your business survive and even thrive in this strange period.

In addition to CDC Guidance and SBA assistance, these coaches’ advice, many of whom led business through recessions in the past, may serve to help guide your response plan. 

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Verne Harnish

“Here are 5 actions to take as a leader. The first is THE most important – do the rest in whatever order makes sense.

1. Communicate Daily 

Send out a DAILY communication – email, 2-minute video, voice message – to all of your employees. You must over-communicate during a time like this. And it can be brief – a few sentences or 90-seconds is all that’s needed. If you think you need to communicate more than this, you won’t do it, and that’s worse than doing nothing at all. 

Your team wants to know that you’re at the helm of the ship (or flying the plane – pick your favorite analogy) – and that you’re working and acting. The key is to stick to the facts – no time for rants, theories, or using phrases like “I bet you’re feeling…” – this isn’t a time for guessing. Present what is happening, don’t sugarcoat, but balance one negative with several positives over the next several days and weeks. 

And if you have a negative to share, mention it first in the communication – then note what is being done to address it. Doing this, according to Robert Cialdini, the godfather of influence, makes you more believable and trustworthy. 

Communicate something NOW and send it out – don’t give it too much angst – just do it! Your team will be thankful.

2. Customer/Community Support

There is a tendency to turn inward when something like this happens – but consider “how might we support our customers and community.” Gather teams of employees to brainstorm, then act. The key is giving, giving, giving with no expectation of return. Your customers will remember this when all of this clears up – and it will clear up! 

Research shows that one way to combat depression, sadness, etc. is to help someone else.

3. Clean Up and Catch Up

Organizations have been running hard for years during this decade+ of unprecedented global expansion. Use this slowdown to clean up and catch up. Download Paul Akers’ book Banish Sloppiness – https://paulakers.net/books/banish-sloppiness (it’s free), and then focus on the handful of processes that drive the customer and employee experience and improve them. It’s time for spring cleaning all aspects of the business. A key focus is on how to make things easier – for customers and employees. When Gene Browne did this at his trash hauling business, The City Bin Co., with a theme of “Bin It,” he was able to strip out about 25% of needless activities and costs, making everyone’s jobs easier and saving money.

4. Cash, Cash, Cash 

Related to “clean up” is a specific focus on the cash side of the business. Review all monthly recurring expenses (I found we were paying for two CRMs!) and eliminate redundancies. And involve your entire employee base in finding ways to save money. Again, when Gene Browne focused on cash for one quarter, his team of 60 found €40,000/month savings, which netted the firm almost a half-million for the year. 

In the US, pursue an SBA Loan. There is a simplified program where you can get a $350,000 10-year loan within four weeks and with the Feds dropping the rate to zero, these loans should be sub 6% with no pre-payment penalties. I’m pursuing one for Scaling Up as a precaution.

5. Calm and Considerate

At Tony Robbins’ “Date with Destiny” experience, I adopted a new mantra – to approach everything in a “Peaceful, Playful, Passionful” way. It’s been helpful, especially during this crisis. You set the tone for the entire organization. 

To help stay calm, breathe! I remember my son Cameron (12 at the time) getting stuck inside the magician’s box while performing the famous Metamorphosis illusion. He told me later, having escaped in time, that he started to panic and then remembered to take a couple of deep breaths and a solution came to him. 

Years later, when he was quarterbacking his Catalan team to a city and then country championship, his team was down 28 – 7 at halftime. I remember watching him during the second half take several deep breaths as he was readying the team to execute a play. 

Right now take a few deep breaths – and give thanks for being able to take those breaths. Namaste and good luck.”

Wayne Voogd, California, USA

Wayne Vogod“Information on the Coronavirus is ever-changing and fluid.  Creating a communication rhythm for your employees, customers, and suppliers can help alleviate the uncertainty and anxiety of the unknown and any disruptions to the normal flow of business.  Establishing a specific time or times throughout the workday to communicate relevant and vital updates can help reduce distractions allowing everyone to remain focused on the job at hand. At the same time, it also establishes a level of care and responsibility that a business has during uncertain times.

For example, a business could establish communication updates that go out at 9:00 am and 6:00 pm, with urgent updates throughout the day as needed.  In situations when there is no new additional information since the last update that should also be communicated at the designated time to reduce confusion.

Clear, updated information with specific times of communication to employees, customers, and suppliers can help reduce uncertainty and anxiety for all involved while establishing a level of care and responsibility that a business has during uncertain times.”

Anna Samios, Australia

Anna Samios“Scaling Up Leaders, here’s your to do list:
1. Establish a special team that meets every morning to deal with the impact of #COVID19. Only discuss facts sourced from government sites or World Health Organization #who. Share this information with everyone in your company. This is critical. Decide on facts, not information from media sensationalism.
2. Keep meeting rhythms going, especially daily huddles. Now, more than ever, you must communicate and keep your team close. Use zoom or similar so that people see your face.
3. Chat with your suppliers. Supply chain ripple effects are yet to be felt on the bottom line.
4. Chat with your customers about the impact on their business, and also on their customer base. (This is critical).
5. Contact local suppliers and secure your supply.
6. Run through expenses and spring clean. Run a weekly cash flow forecast. Know your numbers.
* Filter out the noise.
* Savour the stillness.
* Lead from the front.
Your team needs to hear your voice of hope, calm and unity.”

Peter Boolkah, United Kingdom

Peter Boolkah“One thing I always suggest to business owners that I work with is to keep 10% of your turnover available in liquid cash in the bank. Doing so affords you the flexibility to make sure that you are able to hire people etc and you have the cash to get you through.

The second thing I always recommend is to start looking at your balance sheet. If you needed to, could you access the cash tied up in your balance sheet today?

So many business owners I come across put all of their profit back into their business. Investing in your business is a good thing to do, however, I’ve come across businesses that have as much as £4 million tied up in machinery and stock.

In an economic winter, a £4 million balance sheet is worth nothing; if you can’t access the money quickly, it’s of little use. Also, if you’re in a situation where you need to sell off stock/machinery in a hurry, a £4 million balance sheet will never generate £4 million. To put it simply, if you need cash to continue to trade and everything on your balance sheet is tied up, then you’re going out of business.”

Rob Zammit, Australia

Rob Zammit“For many businesses this is a time of battening down the hatches to weather the current storm, but some businesses will thrive and expand as they adapt readily to the new environment. Right now, it’s important for businesses to brainstorm alternative business models that suit the current circumstances, what can be shifted online? What can be done remotely.

Create sub-teams that are physically located in diversified areas and keep them isolated from other teams if they need to meet in small groups. To manage productivity, set SMART goals for your staff working from home and stay in touch with regular communications. Work with your staff to provide the flexibility needed to be able to retain them through the crisis.

While the temptation will be to solely focus on the immediate issues, allocate some entrepreneur time to ensure the robustness of your strategic plan for the new circumstances as you look forward. Leaders must remain positive, use their advisors and coaches to support them and provide the benefits of their experience. 

Consider accelerating the timetable to complete administrative activities or staff personal development activities. Training and coaching activities can switch to online readily and if activities can be accelerated into the current quarter it can mean freed up time later in the year when things will be incredibly busy.” 

Herb Cogliano, Mass., USA

Herb Cogliano“My advice for leaders dealing with adversity centers around changing their perspective and understanding that we cannot control negative events. Our attention should center on how we gain more control by resourcefully responding to them. It is a great message to share with your teams that we get comfortable during good times because we mistakenly think that we are in control.

When adversity occurs the feelings of depression and hopelessness can arise requiring leadership to focus their teams energies on being creatively proactive. The ability to use what is available to create small wins and progress prevents the feeling of getting stuck due to dwelling on what’s missing. 

Lastly, it is always important to be grateful and remind your team they have a choice on how they feel and by controlling our response and staying proactive we will get through this together!”

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Andy Bailey, Tenn., USA

  • Andy Bailey“First, we cannot freeze, we cannot stop, we have to DO – we must LEAD (Everyone wants to be a lion until it’s time to do lion shit…. Well, it’s that time!)
  • Put ‘people’ first. EVERYONE is scared. Put the well-being of those around you at the top of the list. I often look at decisions as 25 year decisions, will this matter in 25 years? It helps me make better choices.
  • This is temporary – I feel this is a 30-60 days of extreme chaos that we MUST address and manage and then 18-24 months of rebuilding/building. *We will get through this and be okay.
  • Plan like you have never planned before – Pick a situation – Define a plan – Work it – Remain Flexible (day by day / hour by hour) 
  • There are two ‘sides’ to this, obviously we must lead our teams, our businesses and our clients in the ‘immediate’ disruption AND we should be exploring the areas of this where we can add value and create an opportunity for the longer term (do what you can to not just focus on the disruption) 
  • Manage cash. It seems obvious and we tend to jump to cost cutting first. While we all need to define the areas we can cut back for sure, be sure you are making the right choices with a short AND longer term view. (Think value not just costs)

Also be sure to check out Petra’s COVID-19 Town Hall for Business Leaders.” 

Stacy Eads, Oklahoma, USA

Stacy Eads“Businesses who are feeling overwhelmed with the ‘the right words to say’ may want to contact their local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau for ideas. They are not alone. They do not need to reinvent the wheel from scratch if other messaging, posters, restroom signs, and event cancellation tips have already been created.

Some terrific samples can be found on the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce website. They’ve created an extensive online resource library of COVID-19 resources and guidelines for businesses, employees, event planners, and specific industries (such as food, healthcare, HR, and more). I’ve already seen industry-based associations creating online library resources like this as well to help lessen the burden on businesses who want assistance with their corporate messaging during this difficult time.”

Chuck Kocher, Colorado, USA

Chuck Kocher“Remain Vision Driven

These are emotional times. That’s understandable. Still, we need to keep emotions in check. Recently I posted an article about the importance of making business decisions based on logic, rather than on emotion. That approach is crucial in times of stress. To do that, however, means your actions need to be driven by your vision.

Your specific plans may change, but your vision needs to remain constant. Take some time to remind yourself of the big picture. Are you still on track to accomplish your vision? Don’t let disruption and conflict knock you off your path. As you examine your decisions and your processes, make sure they are in line with your vision. Let your vision drive your decisions—rather than responding to the changing circumstances around you.

Focus on What Doesn’t Change

So often, human nature causes us to overact to change around us. Events happen that upset our equilibrium, so we immediately look to change gears to compensate. I recently posted an article that highlights the dangers of adopting a kind of “plan of the month” mentality. In situations such as the one we’re in, it’s important to focus on what doesn’t change, rather than on what’s changed around us. What hasn’t changed about your customers’ needs? What will remain constant? You might even want to make a list of those things (as they pertain to your business). Then start thinking about what your company could do differently to continue meeting those existing/unchanging needs in a brand-new environment.

Keep an Eye on Your Cash

A situation such as the one in which we find ourselves is a reminder of the need for cash reserves. This may be a wake-up call to reexamine your current cashflow and cash-savings situation. Do you have a “rainy day fund” that can help you survive times when your income stream is disrupted? How long can you last without a normal influx of cash? Explore other options (loans, investors, etc.) that you might use if cash becomes a problem. Be proactive. Doing the research ahead of time can save you from making a knee-jerk reaction or choosing an option out of desperation.

Keep Calm and Scale-Up

We tend to admire the British “Stiff Upper Lip” mentality. There are always new variations on the “Keep Calm and [Do Something] theme. That mentality is helpful for companies that are planning to scale. Keep calm and (continue) to scale up. Over the past week or two, I’ve talked to clients who are doing just that. Sure, they’re impacted by what’s going on, but they are not abandoning their visions. One is in the process of physically moving his company to enable it to scale. Another (on the East Coast) is considering new ways (i.e. online) to continue our coaching so that they can continue making the changes they need to scale their business. 

As is the case with any business challenge, how you respond now that will determine your success later. Act responsibly in the short run but keep a long-range perspective. Make sure your vision is still right, then revisit your specific plans regularly.

Keep calm and scale up!”

Shawn Johal, Montreal, Canada

Shawn Johal“I have been preaching two very specific things to all of my clients:

  1. Reduce stress: In times of crisis, energy and calm are incredibly important. Take the time to meditate, do yoga, journal, run outside and speak often (virtually) to loved ones.
  2. Stay Strategic: Time will be available to us. Plan ahead, think strategically, create your vision for the next 3 years. Every downturn eventually turns and we want to be ready to look at all opportunities when they arise.

If you’re an entrepreneur or executive, you have some tough decisions to make right now. I spent the weekend meeting and debriefing with clients and colleagues about the impact of #COVID19 on their businesses. Through all the conversations, one thing became clear from a business perspective:

This crisis will have a major negative impact on companies everywhere. As a leader in a company, tough decision-making may be around the corner. But remember: strong leadership also means leaning on others.

Sharing best practices is necessary in a crisis. Entrepreneurs and executives must turn to each other when it comes to finding solutions for navigating complexity. Reaching out to colleagues, mentors or competitors for advice is important. Whether it’s:

  • Tips on creating work from home processes
  • Advice on how to manage financial tightening
  • Ideas on how to relieve the fears of team members
  • Thoughts on how to create honest internal communication strategies

We’re all in this together – stay united. Lean on your network, reach out to people in or outside your industry, have conversations, seek advice. Many of us may be isolated, but from a distance we can get through a crisis together.”

Rob Simons, Texas, USA

Here are several tips to making your Daily Huddle even more successful:

  • When first starting a Daily Huddle, you’ll likely receive pushback from team members. Nobody likes change, and they certainly don’t want more meetings. Share the article “Daily Huddles: Keeping Teams Aligned in Real-Time” with all team members, so they know the purpose and process of the Daily Huddle. Also, commit to the Daily Huddle as a critical communication touchpoint for the organization. It should be non-negotiable moving forward. 
  • Start on time, every time. If someone is late to the meeting, just start without them. Later, follow up with those team members and coach them to be on time.
  • Everyone must come prepared to keep the meeting 15 minutes or less. Create a simple template for everyone to pre-fill out before the meeting, or use a tool like AlignToday.comMetronome, or even Google Sheets to capture the information in one place. Having a record of everyone’s Daily Huddle becomes a living journal of the team’s wins, losses, key learnings, and accomplishments. Download the Simons.Coach Daily Huddle Planning Tool.
  • The Daily Huddle is not for discussions or questions. If team members need to follow up on a topic raised during the meeting, they should do it after the meeting. When team members start conversing about an item, ask them to take it offline.
  • Identify the person or group of people that are good at running a meeting. These are typically high-energy, extroverted team members that are comfortable keeping a team focused on the agenda. It’s okay to rotate the leader of the Daily Huddle, or just have one designated leader. Note that the manager is not always the best person to run these meetings.
  • When meeting with remote team members, use a video conferencing system like Zoom, Teams, or Google. Seeing someone in person creates connections and also keeps them engaged. If they call in on the phone without video, it’s tempting to put their phone on mute and get distracted. When people are on video, it is easy to create accountability. For more information about effective video conference calls, read “7 Tips for Better Video Conference Calls.”
  • If someone can’t attend a Daily Huddle, they are responsible for sending their updates to another team member to share during the Daily Huddle. Just because they can’t attend, doesn’t mean they get to skip. If you’re using a written tool to capture everyone’s responses, any person that missed the Daily Huddle is responsible for reading everyone’s updates later in the day to stay informed.
  • Be on the lookout for team members who continually repeat the same information over and over without progress, lack any focus, or have nothing to contribute. Coach these team members to address their performance. The Daily Huddle is a great tool to quickly identify disengaged or unfocused team members.  
  • The best time for people to prepare for the Daily Huddle is at the end of the day. Schedule a calendar event for team members from 4:45 pm to 5:00 pm to “Prepare your Daily Huddle for the next business day.” This step serves three purposes. First, the relevant information they need to share at tomorrow’s Daily Huddle is still fresh on their mind. Second, team members come prepared to the Daily Huddle with their updates in writing. And finally, it provides a distinct endpoint to the workday.
  • Encourage team members to capture throughout the day any information to share in tomorrow’s Daily Huddle. It becomes a habit to identify news for the Daily Huddle and will reduce the number of mass emails sent to the team. Team members should keep a copy of the Simons. Coach Daily Huddle Planning Tool on their desk to capture notes during the day. The Daily Huddle will reduce the number of internal emails. 

We hope you have found this information helpful. If you would like to receive more of our updates, subscribe to our newsletter or join our next webinar. 

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