The criteria required to become a first responder include the ability to quickly make accurate assessments, provide basic and potentially life-saving care, remain and promote calm, and make strategic decisions in real time. When faced with an unprecedented, rapidly changing situation, business owners must become the first responders for our companies: remain calm, assess the risk and its impact on our surroundings, and react strategically.
What do we know as of this hour? A few members of the Tullius team live at the epicenter of the crisis in the United States: Seattle, Washington. We have watched our city transform overnight. Buses have empty seats. Freeways have empty lanes. Our topics of conversation include working from home, social distancing, flattening the curve, protecting the vulnerable, and long grocery lines. We are washing our hands or looking for the nearest hand sanitizer. A cough across the room gets a reaction akin to someone dropping a tray of glasses. Speculation is rampant, assumptions are being made, and reactions are often based in fear rather than fact. While we should not take any of this lightly, as leaders in our communities it is a critical time to know the facts, share the facts, and plan strategically.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve spoken with a number of clients across a variety of industries. All are seeing effects from COVID-19; some far greater than others. Those on the front line of this are naturally worried. Those closer to the sidelines, less so. However, for all of us facing this situation, we suggest focusing on the fundamentals—those things we do know:
This is a human issue first and foremost. Take a deep breath. Realize the context. Keep yourself, your family and your employees healthy. Working together and acting responsibly can truly diminish the impact of this virus. Check in with the CDC regularly at cdc.gov/coronavirus.
Economically, what does this mean for my strategic plans? Now is the time to assess the situation, while being careful not to get lost in it. It is early, and effects on markets are changing rapidly. Depending on your industry, you may be experiencing declines already, or possibly seeing early side-effects. Others may be fielding more customer or employee inquiries and requests. Critical in a situation like this is to take each day as it comes, review the scenario currently in front of you and determine what can be done in the immediate.
What can we do right now? Start planning. Reach out to your customers and your vendors; how can you best retain them? Stay on top of your Accounts Receivable; keeping this figure in line is good for your Balance Sheet and for communication with your customers. Check in with your employees; quelling fear and disinformation is key. Closely track your inventory needs; supply chains are under extreme strain, and shortages and price increases are happening across industries.
Do I need to make staffing changes? Think strategically. As your assessment continues, determine your level of need. Is triage necessary? If so, which critical metrics need to be met to stave off drastic cuts? Consider the immediate alternative solutions. Are you able to hold on to more cash, or deploy other assets? If making cuts, be thoughtful as we do not know how long this will last or how far it could go. Keep in mind, furloughs and layoffs are expensive and come with a substantial emotional cost as well. Check in with local and state governments; programs are often already in place or are in the works to assist during times like these.
What about my longer-term goals, such as my exit plan or retirement? These goals are built utilizing fluid levels that allow for corrective action. They can always be adjusted as necessary. Focus on the short and near term through this period. Stay in touch with your advisors critical to these goals, they will have the guidance to help you through this time.
History says that this too will pass. Previous diseases and outbreaks have been encountered and survived. Turbulent economic times have been endured and overcome. As leaders, it is important to stay healthy and focused. We must lead out teams through this tempestuous time and set the stage for our successful recovery.