Whether your company provides face-to-face services or virtual ones, the novel Coronavirus pandemic has given us an opportunity to examine what has been going wrong… and what we can do to fix it. In this episode, you’ll hear some positive changes that are emerging from this crisis, a few negatives, some hidden opportunities, and potential threats to future success.
I will also explain the “neutral zone” of transition and why it’s important to acknowledge and fully experience the grief of what we’re leaving behind.
04/23/2020 – 30 minutes 39 seconds
Highlights and Take-Aways
Here is a transcript of key points in this episode.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every business across the world. Every business is affected by how the market is functioning; and right now, consumers are changing their behavior:
- The way they purchase,
- Their decisions about buying,
- Their interest in which items to buy and which to stop buying.
All of these are profoundly changing. One example of this is how many people are ordering online, when they may never have done it before for certain products. I don’t know about you, but I was looking online for toilet paper and cleaning products as soon as we found out that stores were running out of them!
That’s just one example of consumer behavior that has been changing. It’s really interesting to see how it’s going to impact a variety of industry. The hardest hit, obviously, are companies that rely on face-to-face contact. Practitioners and service providers who cannot serve customers without being with them face-to-face are in a real pickle. They could consider alternative ways to provide value, or they’ll just need to wait until restrictions are lifted and they can see customers in person again.
This is a time when we can examine what’s going wrong with the current way we are doing things.
In This Episode…
First, I want to introduce the four aspects that are important to review:
- Positives that are happening in this experience we are all going through;
- Negatives, or things that are not going well;
- Opportunities that could come out of this, and
- Potential for things to go wrong.
I will also be explaining the process of losing things and why we need to grieve, and a book that has helped me tremendously.
Let’s start with the good things. Even in a chaotic, horrible experience, there are still some good things that come out of it. (That’s my Positivity talent shining through!)
One of the great things is that we’re connecting with people. If you own a business, one way to make sure you can continue to operate is that you reach out and let them know what your business is doing to provide value for them. We can communicate in new ways—and there are so many new tools that have suddenly come to the forefront, on virtual platforms that we may have never used before.
There are some wonderful ways we can continue to connect after the quarantine ends. Look for ways to provide value and communicate with your customers in new ways.
We have seen some incredible ways that folks have solved problems in ways that have never been done before! One of the ways we’re applying our creativity in my house is with a COVID-19 Time Capsule. I like the one designed by Long Creations, which you can find here. This free resource includes questions and activity to document how we’re responding to this situation and look for ways to see positives in it.
I encourage you to look for new ways to solve problems and to innovate. This is a fantastic time to review what was going wrong with your business processes in the past. Spend time correcting those, so you have a way through it… rather than giving up.
One of the best things that has happened during this experience is a new awareness of what has taken our time away from the things that are really important. We are going into nature and seeing the positive effects of our actions. You’ve probably seen the photographs of cities around the world before and after the Stay-At-Home order: smog before, clear skies and wildlife roaming free after. Nature is revitalized. It’s amazing how a change in our normal activities can have such a profound effect on the world around us.
I hope we will continue to be aware of our effect on the earth, but also our impact on each other. The busy-ness of our “typical schedule” may have taken us away from relating to people or doing what we really believe is important.
A final positive that has come out of this is that we are going through this experience collectively—as a society and as a globally. We have an impact on each other, and this event shows us just how much we rely on and affect each other as a group.
In the years to come, our distinct memories from “the quarantine” is something we will have in common. Even after we go back to a (somewhat) normal life, I hope this will not stop us from seeing what we can do as a collaborative community.
Now, on to the not-so-nice things that I believe could happen as a result of COVID-19.
I’m a very analytical person, and I tend to take emotion out of decision-making… which might make some people uncomfortable. This topic might make you uncomfortable—what could go wrong, and the possibility of your business suffering terrible effects, or even cause it to fail. But the more realistic you can be about what is going wrong, and the more conscious you are about the telling signs, the better equipped you will be to make risk-intelligent decisions moving forward.
Whether you make adjustments that are very uncomfortable, or whether you decide to close the doors of your business, it’s important to be aware of the threats before you’re forced to make a decision without being prepared for the consequences.
The first negative impact I foresee is that we will treat this as a short-term experience. We will reduce the seriousness of this pandemic as a singular event, but we won’t see how it’s transcending the way we live. We can improve the way we have been doing things up to this point.
I’m nervous about the discussions on social media (and in virtual and phone call meetings) about a strong desire to go back to “the way things were.” All of us want the world to revert to what it was like before all of this took place, but we can’t. We can’t return to what life was like before COVID-19. This experience is so profoundly impacting. It has the potential to go beyond what we did before… but only if we allow it to happen.
If business owners focus just on the short-term, I think it will hold them back from analyzing what they could do differently, and how they can adapt.
It’s human nature to “do what’s right for me,” and not think as much about others.
Now, as a collective, I think we have done a wonderful job of “flattening the curve” and stem the time of infecting more people. I’m proud of all the healthcare workers, first responders, delivery drivers, food service workers, and other people who have selflessly made it possible for us to take care of those who are ill and to provide the things we need during this pandemic. But we’re also selfish beings; we want what’s best for our families. That has been pretty obvious here in the United States.
A self-focused point of view can make it very difficult for business owners to continue operating. As I talk about in my blog series on Frankenstein Management, the way an owner sees the world can greatly affect how the business operates.
- your personality traits,
- your perspective,
- your core beliefs,
- the way you design the business culture
These all affect how people see you and your business, and how they experience the services and products you provide. It’s really good to self-evaluate how you are perceiving and experiencing this situation, and what you may be doing that you aren’t even aware of. Maybe get some input from those you trust: a coach, or someone who can analyze your marketing message and leadership style. Our deep-seated beliefs come out without even realizing it; and sometimes, those need to be adjusted. Those beliefs will come out in the way you communicate with customers and how you present your company to the world.
If you don’t want that message to be unnecessarily offensive, this is a good time to analyze how the message is being created.
The speed at which businesses can go back to operating is also tied to selfishness. Obviously, we want companies to stay profitable. But I think it is quite realistic that most business owners will go right back to the way they were doing before, and not consider all the ways their processes can improve; all the waste and excess that can be eliminated and which weren’t serving the business well.
This is the time to be creative. This is the time to innovate! There are so many things you could do differently, because you have a chance to analyze what you’re doing and do it differently.
The next negative impact I see is a focus on simply surviving. With millions of people losing their jobs and furloughed and seeing a decrease in pay, this will greatly affect the economy and many industries beyond the industry in which they worked. Small business owners are also going to see a shift as they adjust to serving new customer needs.
The reality is that a lot of small businesses will need to shut down. I know that is not a popular thing to say, but it’s not realistic for some companies to continue operating. And as much as we wish it were true, there’s no “magic pot of gold” that will allow them to get through the next few months.
If you are nearing the point where your business needs to close, look at ways to adjust how you are solving problems for customers and how you can reach them. Look at how to cut out every activity except the few steps it takes to get results and generate income. Stop doing anything that costs you money without generating any return on investment. Then focus on the activities that bring in revenue.
Yes, this sounds simplistic; and sometimes, the best answer is the simple one. But that doesn’t mean this is easy. It’s not easy to implement these changes.
What could happen in the future is that people are likely to continue spending—both by increasing their business credit limit, and even dipping into personal budgets to stay afloat. I think owners will continue buying as they were before and act like sales will pick right back up.
Realistically, it won’t. Most businesses will not generate as much; in fact, they will probably face a few months of deficit unless they take drastic action now. That’s because company leaders who are not adapting to a new market will struggle to find a way through it. If they continue doing things the way they’ve done them all along, and they don’t adapt the way they create or deliver services, they will run into problems.
Customers are changing the way they buy and what they expect. So they may choose a vendor who has adjusted to meet their new reality. Some customers may decide to stop using services, especially if their household income has drastically reduced. These decisions will have a wide-reaching impact on tens of thousands of businesses across the country and the world.
We all want to survive. We instinctively want to identify the problems and solve them. But this is the time to analyze what is going well, and how to continue providing value—even if your sales are going down.
Another negative is seeing a view of just what’s happening in our own backyard, rather than seeing a big picture. I really hope you find inventive ways to face this challenge. You can find new ways of doing things that will set you apart from your competitors.
Neutral Zone, Change, and Grief
This brings me to one of my favorite visual graphics. It comes from the book “Managing Transitions, 3rd Edition” by William Bridges, Ph.D. This book is fantastic, because it describes what happens when we go through changes:
- transitioning from being a child, to an adolescent, to an adult
- from a single status to being in a relationship
- from having no children, to becoming a parent (that’s a huge transition!)
Every transition starts with something that is known and comfortable, even if the situation isn’t ideal. Dr. Bridges explains that change begins by ending where we are now. Then we enter a “Neutral Zone” where things are unknown and scary.
Here is Dr. Bridges’ original image of a square that turns into a circle:
In order to make this happen, we could try to cut off the edges; or we could force it into a new shape. But the best way to transition the shape is to rip up all the pieces of the old shape, and re-form them into the new shape.
Here is the graphic that I designed to explain this concept:
There’s no possibility of continuing in the old way. Too many things have shifted. We may kick and scream our way through it, but a transition must happen. As painful as it is, we need to “tear up” our old way of doing things, in order to create something new.
Grieving a Loss
We also need to say goodbye. Change brings an underlying sense of loss. It’s important to grieve this loss of what we had before: A way of life where we were comfortable. A way that we understand and enjoy. Processes that worked. Customers that purchased from us regularly; they were happy, and we were happy. That may no longer be the case.
So we could try to “keep the square” as long as possible. But the longer we hold onto an old way of thinking and refuse to end it, the worse the process will go.
Instead, although it’s painful and difficult, you’ll see much better results if you tear apart old thinking and examine it. See this time as an opportunity to create something even better.
Several experts talk about the “roller coaster” effect of grief. Here is a graphic that demonstrates this, including the six stages of grief as developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (the sixth one was added several years after her original book, but I believe the Meaning step is absolutely vital).
As humans, we don’t like unknowns. Sure, there’s a thrill to jumping off a cliff, but when we do there’s a huge amount of fear to overcome when we make that leap. If your business is to survive, you’ll need to enter something that is unknown. Consider that this is a great chance to see what your business is capable of doing.
In a future episode, I’ll talk about more ideas for adapting, as well as the option to quit: closing a business by choice. You may decide to try something completely different. There is no shame in quitting, as long as you analyze what you’re doing and why, and that you’re not running away from something but making a conscious decision. Closing a business is a very risk intelligent thing to do, and there’s nothing wrong with it once you realize it cannot be profitable even with adjustments.
We’ve talked about positives coming in the future, some negatives that could happen. And we’ve reviewed the loss and grief process when we give up something that is known and enter something new.
Next, I want to mention a few areas where we can blaze a new trail.
Flexible Work Accommodations
I foresee that both employees and employers will see continued benefits from flexible workplace options. This is really exciting for me; I have a passion project to help business owners to create an environment that accommodates working moms that allows them to balance work and family responsibilities. I’m especially passionate about breastfeeding and lactation pumping at work, infant at work programs. A lot of business owners see value in providing options to working parents when their children are young.
Now that many employees have been forced to work from home, and they get just as much output on conference calls and virtual projects than in an office, this could translate into some great opportunities for businesses to adapt their work environment even after the Stay At Home orders are lifted.
Family as a Priority
Another area of focus is with prioritizing family needs, and not making this an afterthought. Most employees (and employers) have been forced to stay home; and while this is not always the ideal place for all work activities, it has caused us to be with our children and family members more than ever before. I have seen amazing outcomes of people playing more board games, doing activities together, and using creativity in ways that didn’t happen prior to this experience.
I also see a surge in traveling and visiting new places once borders are re-opened. This forced At-Home experience is making us crave being outside our homes. We are bottled up, and we want to explore. So I think travel will be very popular. I also see less reliance on consumerism; and although I’m hoping this minimalism trend will continue, I have a feeling that most will return to old purchasing behavior.
I’ve heard some opinions that after this, we will purchase more products than ever to self-soothe, and that companies will use compelling marketing campaigns to tempt us to bring them back into a hyper-consumer mindset.
One study shows that shopper behavior in these areas will actually be permanently changed due to the COVID-19 experience:
- going on fewer shopping trips,
- buying more at once,
- using store pickup,
- spending more money on groceries, and
- sanitizing shopping carts.
The biggest changes in US consumer spending so far have been:
- 63% drop in outside-the-home entertainment
- 55% drop in accessories (and 44% in furniture/appliances)
- 53% drop in jewelry
- 50% drop in clothing (and 47% in footwear)
- 49% drop in personal care services
- 40% drop in fitness and wellness
- 38% drop in skincare & makeup
- There were also decreased purchases of electronics, pet services, alcohol, tobacco, and even take-out food and snack foods.
The only increased buying was for groceries, products for children, at-home entertainment, and household supplies.
My hope is that we will be smart enough to not fill our lives with material things, but instead invest in experiences and on products that are long-lasting.
Crafts and Trades
I also see a new chance to return to our roots. This could happen with a resurgence in genealogy, old-fashioned crafts, maker activities, and ancient methods that have been overlooked. I think we will appreciate what our ancestors did:
- Planting gardens
- Making things from scratch
- Creating things by hand
- The importance of trade occupations
As wonderful as technology is, there are still many things that must be done by hand.
This is a great time to pivot into a new career, go back to school, get certifications, or move to a new place. I predict there will be a lot of transitions and changes in living situations and occupations.
Finally, the threats. There are some serious problems I foresee in the future after COVID-19.
First of all, we’re already seeing a trend in job losses, businesses closing, and economic pressure. But I believe we can make a conscious change. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, we all have options. We all have the ability to make a change by using the time, money, and resources available to us.
This is the time to make a change.
If you’ve always wanted to start a new career, this is the time to do it.
I would really caution you to do a lot of research. Don’t be talked into an “opportunity” that will cost more than what you can earn on the other side. I’ve made this mistake myself, by paying for an educational program that didn’t turn out as it was promised. And I’ve also spent a lot on Multi-Level Marketing “business” schemes that promised a great outcome, but which was a big waste (because MLMs are not designed to help you succeed; they are designed to move money to the top of the pyramid). If you want to read more, check out Why I Hate MLMs: My Story [Video].
Multiple Areas of Crisis
Another threat is the tremendous number of financial, housing, and domestic devastation that will happen in the wake of this experience:
- Domestic violence
- Mental health crisis
We need to prepare for a wave of challenges, and we need to support people who are suffering during this time. As an employer, please look into ways to support your employees and to not abandon them. Please consider the emotional toll this is having on them, and be patient. If you’re hiring new people, consider their situation and the restrictions they’re facing. They may need more flexibility due to a lack of childcare. Let’s remember to have empathy for others.
Cheap, Throw-Away Goods
The final threat I see is a continued reliance on unsafely produced goods. The next time you walk into a store with “cheap” products, look around and consider:
What will happen to this in a year?
Most of those items will probably be thrown into the garbage and sent to a landfill. This is a hot topic issue; but wouldn’t it be great if we could avoid buying products that are cheaply made from resources that are non-renewable… and instead we invest in items that have a longer duration of use?
That’s it for this episode! Do you have a question you’d like answered on an upcoming show? Record your message at https://anchor.fm/laconteconsulting/message
Interested in hearing how to identify the source of staff turnover and low profitability in your business? Learn more here.
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.