COVID-19 is not the problem you’re dealing with.
Well, for businesses and gig workers who rely on in-person customer traffic, it is the problem. But, for a lot of businesses, COVID-19 is the trigger that amplified whatever problems your business was actively solving (or ignoring) before the pandemic.
For these businesses, pre-pandemic problems are not gone just because you’re in “survival mode.” They grow stronger as this pandemic winds its way around the globe, accelerating many of the problematic outcomes that would have come to pass at some point in the future.
And yet, as bad as business may be, I can’t help but think: How can you turn your pre-pandemic problems into business opportunities in COVID-19?
The first step is awareness. The next step is action.
Reframing problems into opportunities
Let’s go back to BC (Before Corona) times.
A business deals with many tactical or short-to-medium term problems in its daily/monthly life. It’s the job of its managers and their teams to figure out ways to solve these problems. It’s the daily things you do to survive.
The C-suite is also dealing with longer-term problems that have no definite deadline, but are keeping them “up at night.” Over the course of our practice, we’ve observed four main long-term business problems:
1. Core Vision Drift
Like our Founding Fathers, some group of people got together, in the beginning, to hammer out an ideal vision of why your business should exist. This core vision is usually inspiring, emotionally-motivated, and just awesome.
Over time, as the business grows, that awesome, original core vision is distorted with new product lines, growth opportunities, or someone’s really great idea to do X. As a visionary business executive you feel the core vision drift in your gut, but with everyone so excited about new growth opportunities, you’re sometimes not being heard.
2. The Myth of The Founder
The founder (or founders) is often an inspiring, passionate, and sometimes “cooky” person, a god-like figure within a company. As the business grows, the founder necessarily steps away from day-to-day operations to become “the face.” Or, at least to deal with higher-level problems, leaving the details to the capable managers they’ve hired.
With time, employees stop seeing the founder as human. Instead, the myth of the founder emerges. The founding myth (and the founder’s “human-ness”) gets dressed up in stories. Sometimes real, and other times carefully crafted PR narratives. Most importantly, the “way of the founder” permeates corporate culture, instilling rigid corporate practices. It gets in the way of existing business reality, blocking growth instead of inspiring.
3. Assumptions as old as time
No one can remember why something is done the way it is. It just is. Digging deeper always reveals a set of business assumptions that were made somewhere along the way, and for good reason….at THAT time.
But, do these assumptions still hold up? Rarely do we see people asking why something is the way it is. Most people execute as they’ve been taught. It’s easier that way. There’s less cognitive load.
But, decades-old assumptions that no longer work, stagnate the business.
4. A gap in understanding between the business and its customers
It happens for different reasons. Somewhere along the way, the business stops listening to its customers and assumes if business is good, then it’s all good. But, is it enough to meet the bare minimum for a customer? Or, is the mark of a great business to be connected to its customers on a visceral level, a space where the business and its product/service is meaningful?
Further, business people, especially those who’ve been in the company or industry for a long time, often believe that they’ve seen and heard it all. Their past experience is a valid input. However, it’s one of many available inputs, and a biased one at that.
So what are the business opportunities in COVID-19?
Perhaps, you can re-define the above four age-old business challenges in light of COVID-19 using cognitive reframing – a process by which we identify and then change the way situations, experiences, events, ideas, and/or emotions are viewed.
1. Core Vision Drift → Reframe → Does what we’re doing reflect our founding mission?
Pandemics usually force businesses (and people) into survival mode. Getting back to the original “WHY” behind the business is a way to re-center the business in the midst of chaos. When everything is shifting, remembering the original core vision and processing actions/decisions through the filter of your “WHY” will help the business survive in the long-term.
2. The Myth of The Founder → Reframe → How do we shift corporate culture to reflect reality?
Reframe the “myth of the founder” problem in the context of COVID-19 to gage if the myth is helping or hurting your business.
It’s an opportunity to ask hard questions: is our founding story and corporate culture helping or hurting the business? Is today’s business context the same as it was when the business was founded? How can we utilize our founding story (including the story(ies) around our founder) to help our customers at this time?
3. Assumptions as old as time → Reframe → What beliefs no longer serve our business?
The truth is, very rarely does anyone take the time to question persistent assumptions in “normal” times. Pandemics force people to reckon with assumptions that no longer serve the business because the consequences of these assumptions no longer hold up. The golden opportunity in this pandemic is to turn long-held beliefs on their head.
Start – as we always do – by asking questions. Lots of them. Persistent inquiry into why the business has been doing something the way it has, will uncover assumptions that no longer work. Once you have a good roster of assumptions that don’t serve, brainstorm ways to solve them. Remember to tie any solutions back to your core vision to figure out a way forward.
4. A gap in understanding between the business and its customers → Reframe → How do we bridge the customer knowledge gap?
This is our favorite age-old problem. It’s the one most evidently hurting businesses today, and the one where business opportunities in COVID-19 abound.
We talk about understanding your customers by actively listening to them and creating a shared customer-first language among employees. If you’re not implementing some system for actively listening to the needs of your customers, and then translating these needs into an experience your customers deserve, your business may be missing a HUGE opportunity.
Whether you do it through customer research or simply informal online listening/one-off empathic, anecdotal questioning,, some data is better than no data.
The one thing everyone agrees on is that this pandemic is a shift of some kind. Given the multitude of unknowns we’re facing, it’s hard to imagine going back to “the way things were.”
Even if you don’t rely on in-person customers, this pandemic is likely hurting your business. It’s hurting everyone’s business (maybe except for the company behind Zoom). Businesses are not operating “as usual.” Customers are losing their jobs, and therefore spending less. It’s a domino effect, and it can get much worse.
Recognize that the problems you were dealing with in pre-Corona times may be contributing to the fires you’re putting out now. Try to reframe them into business opportunities in COVID-19 as outlined above, taking the new environment into consideration.
And, most importantly, remember: control the things you can, and stop worrying about the things you can’t.
As always, we’re glad to hear from you. Contact us.