The COVID-19 Pandemic has been a challenge across the country and in our Minnesota community. The recent growth in Minnesota cases has further increased the challenge the past couple of months. The dramatic shift in environment, expectations, and processes has kept even the best of managers on their toes.
It has been a new environment for all businesses. We have businesses that have seen stable demand and we have businesses where demand has vanished overnight. The disruption caused by COVID-19 cannot be understated.
As we manage through this new wave and a new executive order by Governor Walz instituting a four week shutdown for a number of businesses and services providers, I wanted to reflect on some good guidance on managing through this pandemic.
Resources out there you should be reviewing right now if you are located in the Twin Cities Metro Area and are impacted:
- Hennepin County Small Business Relief Fund Grants Up to $15,000 (Deadline December 2, 2020)
- Ramsey County Small Business Relief Fund Up to $15,000 (Deadline December 4, 2020)
- State of Minnesota Guide for Small Business’s that need help
- Library of Congress: Small Business Hub has a comprehensive list of resources
Employee safety has been at the forefront of our actions. We have used the tools to set up remote work environments, plexiglass and separated in-office work environments, and other arrangements that allow our organizations to best meet the physical and psychological needs of our employees. Even so, we still need to manage our organizations to maintain sustainable performance.
Mercer recently had posted a similarly titled article asking four critical questions for senior leaders to consider. Here is my take on these questions.
How aligned is your organization—both internally and externally—right now?
Priorities are always the name of the game and in a pandemic as in a crisis, it’s extremely important to have a focused and unifying purpose. Our purpose at Flagship Bank is simple, we are Investing in you to help you prosper. We levered all we could to support the PPP loan program and continue to do business loans throughout the pandemic.
We believe that getting a small business loan should not be complicated nor should it be overwhelming. We built a Guide to Business loans but ultimately, we want to hear from our clients and prospects on what they want and what they need. Relationships have always driven our growth and to have a good relationship with your banker means you can call them to discuss what matters to you. It means we need to communicate more. Internally, externally and all of the above.
What do your customers want or need in the COVID-19 environment that has changed? How can you connect to generate demand to serve this need? How can you meet your customers where they are?
How is this pandemic affecting the way your organization operates?
The pandemic has definitely changed the way that work gets done. The amount of adjustment in the operations of the organization changes by industry. We have seen an increase in the electronic service needs. From increased debit card use to bill pay to cash management services, the demands of our customers are changing but that is not the only impact to consider. For instance, restaurants are now seeing a significate rise in take out orders, small retail shops are seeing a need to increase their online sale capabilities whether through their own website or Facebook Shop/Instagram Shop. Have you built the workflows to manage these changes?
- Invest in the tools, technology, and training needed for effective remote work.
- Are you set up with Zoom, Teams or similar? Do you have VPN capabilities? Security infrastructure?
- Keep an eye on decision-making and cross-functional coordination.
- In the new environment, smaller teams will be more effective. Focus on the agility of the team and the progress that is being made from week to week.
- Encourage your workforce to come up with better ways of working.
- The best problem solvers are our employees. Those that are closest to the issue. We need more empowerment in our organizations. Push accountability down the organizational chart and reward those that are bringing forward solutions that make a difference.
What support do your employees need during this outbreak?
It is a difficult time. Anxiety is high. Pfizer and Moderna announced recent vaccines with great early results but we are awaiting their mass distribution. We have always supported our employee’s health. One way is through employer paid employee health insurance premiums, but in 2020, we encouraged our employees in new ways. What are you doing to help your employees?
- Be flexible.
- Increase support for immediate managers.
- Sustain a sense of community.
How does your organization need to evolve?
The pandemic is changing the way the economy operates. The permanency of the change is yet to be determined but routines are changing. As routines change, demand changes and how will it impact your business?
Agility is a strength of any business. I live within a heavily regulated business. Our agility is meant to be limited to reduce risks and unforced errors. However, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look at how we can be agile within the regulatory construct. The increase use of the internet during the pandemic lowers the barriers for Flagship Bank. We have invested in online account opening, building a social presence, and continue to invest in our ability to do business electronically while providing creative and attentive solutions for our clients.
- Focus on small wins and little innovations.
- Not every success needs to be a large one. If you follow Marcos Lemonis’s The Profit on CNBC, you know that the three focuses he has are people, product, and process. I think the most undervalued and least talked about improvement areas is process improvement. There are a lot of small wins that can be made in this area that continue to make small and large wins for organizations.
“At Honeywell, involving frontline staff in process improvement would allow us to achieve multiple adjectives at the same time: we could weed out inefficiencies and improve performance across a number of dimensions while also giving workers a voice and engaging their minds to the fullest…any process improvement effort we undertook would need to be a company-wide initiative.” David M. Cote, Winning Now, Winning Later
- Identify new and emerging needs.
- Don’t be limited by the way you have always done business. The pandemic has opened up the door to creativity across the United States. What are other businesses in your industry are doing? Locally or nationally. Embrace new ideas and responses as you may discover innovations that will transform your business.
- Conduct after action reviews.
- No change should go without a review. Understand how the change has impacted the business. What worked? What didn’t? How could the process been improved? Should you continue with the new or revert back to the old process if deliverables were not achieved?
We need to manage our organizations for the future but not be lost to it. Thoughtful management and successful leadership means iterating. Constantly iterating around alternative pathways and doing so while working towards or achieving goals and deliverables. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the necessity and frequency for us to make changes and review their impacts. It’s not been easy, but with focus, empathy, and resolve, we will succeed and make it to the other side of the pandemic stronger and more agile.