This is the second in a series of posts where I will share my business lessons learned (thus far) from the global health crisis. How long a series will this be? No idea… I am still figuring out the things I have learned. And no one knows how long this whole thing will last. So I will just keep writing.
The last several months have challenged nearly everything I believe to be true. Most business “truisms” that I held dear have been tested in major ways. Which very quickly sets up a major lesson that I will share today.
It is important to have principles upon which you base your leadership and business approach. Without any principles at all, you essentially become “boneless.” (This is a phrase I am shamelessly borrowing from a series of childrens’ books about a stuffed animal called “Flat Stanley.” Both my kids love that character, and now every night at bedtime, my daughter asks me to “go boneless” for a minute, so she can push me around and treat my face like play dough. Back to our story… ) Without any principles, your leadership and your business will lack an exoskeleton, a frame upon which you can make decisions, build a culture, and grow your business. You need to have a frame. You need to have principles. You need structure.
But you also need agility. The last few months have taught me, once again, that agility and reaction time are equally critical business skills. Under most circumstances, the business environment might change over the course of many months or even years. So, if you have correctly identified the change, you can adjust with modest speed.
But starting in mid-March, the world changed immediately, in a matter of days. In late February, our team was on its way to our best year ever, after two incredibly strong months of performance. Four weeks later, the pendulum had swung in the complete other direction. And we, just like everyone else, had to react quickly and significantly.
So while we all have always known of the importance of agility, we all have now learned how important it is to be able to react quickly. Very quickly. And that is not easy to do.
In order to react to a rapidly changing environment, a few things have to happen:
- You have to realize what is happening, even when you don’t know what is happening. (Not a typo… that is exactly what I mean.) You have to realize that everything is changing, even if you don’t know exactly what it is changing into.
- You also have to understand the speed of change, and determine whether you will have much time to react. Do you have to move super fast, or do you have a lot of time to let things evolve? This is critical to understand.
- You have to allow yourselves to grieve a little… for a period of two, perhaps as many as four, weeks, I gave our team a lot of time to complain, discuss, express their dismay, and get their frustration out. Other work was happening, of course. We were not only complaining. But I gave everyone, including myself, room to expel the negative. Those feelings have to be released. If not, they will eventually metastasize.
- Then, eventually, you have to say “OK, enough about the past. We have to start moving forward now.” You have to let the bad feelings out. But then, at some point, you have to say “enough.”
- You have to become comfortable making decisions with imperfect and incomplete information. Long-time readers of this blog know that I am a poker player, which is a great study in game theory. It is a challenge to make educated bets based on constantly changing information. But it is a critical skill. Every few days, my team and I would have an “OK… what do we know for sure” kind of conversation. The list was usually pretty short. But we would always anchor on however many certainties we could identify. And then we would discuss, out loud, what we thought was happening.
Over the last five months two things have become obvious. First, you must have a “skeleton” to your business, a set of principles and foundations upon which you build and run your business. We all have known that for a long time. But second, and just as importantly, you have to always be ready in the back of your mind to change anything and everything when the environment changes immediately and drastically. In other words, have a strong structure, but be ready to move very quickly when the entire world changes.
Nope… that’s not easy. But it is essential. In an environment like this health and economic crisis, you must be able to adapt, or else your business is at significant risk. It’s just that simple.
Stay safe and healthy, hug your family, and have a great day.
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