Tips for the Coronavirus Business Environment from Harvard Business Review  

By at 9 April, 2020, 2:21 pm

by Raymond J. Keating-

The coronavirus and related economic shutdown continues to take a heavy toll on individuals, families, and businesses. And as the latest initial unemployment claims report from the U.S. Department of Labor makes clear, with 6.6 million new claims in the week ending April 4, troubles will not be easing up soon.

As the struggle in economic terms slogs on for small businesses and their employees, there are sources providing some tips on ways to deal with an assortment issues in this environment. For example, I journeyed over to the Harvard Business Review’s website, and discovered that HBR is making coronavirus-related content free for all readers.

Here a few highlights providing some value. Consider…

In “How to Keep Your Team Motivated, Remotely,” Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi provide some interesting insights on dealing with people working remotely. The key point regarding motivating people working remotely, such as from home, is:

“It’s important for leaders to … remember that work can deliver a much needed boost to their teams, even when there’s little choice involved in their work-from-home situation….

“If you want your teams to be engaged in their work, you have to make their work engaging.

“The most powerful way to do this is to give people the opportunity to experiment and solve problems that really matter. These problems won’t be the same for every team or organization. They may not even be easy to identify at first. Your employees will need your help to do this. Ask them: Where can we deliver amazing service to our customers? What’s broken that our team can fix? What will drive growth even in a time of fear? Why are these problems critical, valuable, and interesting?”

In “5 Ways to Stimulate Cash Flow in a Downturn,” Eddie Yoon and Christopher Lockhead focus on a central issue for all businesses in these tough times, i.e., cash flow. The authors offer five complementary actions, and each warrants attention. Here’s part of the step that fully grabbed my attention:

“Accelerate Innovation. Launch near-ready innovations in the pipeline now. Most companies are risk averse regarding innovation, but just as generosity begets generosity, empathy begets empathy. Customers who may typically nit-pick new innovation will now be grateful for new and improved products/services — even if they’re released before all the kinks are worked out. They likely will help you identify problems and fix them before a broader rollout.”

In “Supporting Customer Service Through the Coronavirus Crisis,” Matthew Dixon, Ted McKenna, and Gerardo de la O discuss key challenges being faced on the customer service front during this crisis. They then go on to detail three broad recommendations for customer service representatives. For example, the authors focus on maintaining more “integrated coaching” (that is, weaved into the daily workflow) among managers. They note:

“The good news is that integrated coaching can be done virtually. A home products manufacturer we work with has made a significant commitment to this type of coaching and was initially concerned that their forced work-from-home environment would scuttle any progress. However, they found that with a few small-but-important adjustments, they were able to prevent managers from reverting to old behaviors. As one leader explained, ‘We had to make sure our managers were doing more open-ended questioning with their reps to find out how their calls were going — what they were feeling good about and what they were struggling with — and scheduling several mini-check ins across the day with their people using video conferencing to mimic the cadence and structure of integrated coaching sessions.’”

And in “Brand Marketing Through the Coronavirus Crisis,” Janet Balis discusses behavioral changes during this crisis, noting that some might become permanent. She focuses on the question: “what actions can brands take to serve and grow their customer base, mitigate risk, and take care of their people?”

Balis then goes on to offer five steps to boost brand marketing in this uncertain time. Among her suggestions – and all have value – is the following:

“It’s encouraging how quickly many companies were able to transition to remote working arrangements. Deploying collaboration technologies can seamlessly provide chat, file sharing, meeting and call capabilities, enabling teams to stay connected and remain productive. Already, virtual happy hours are emerging as the new normal to build team morale. Partners are ‘pitching’ remotely, recognizing that an in-face sales call is unlikely to transpire for weeks to come. Leaders have to do their best to transition each element of the operating model—from marketing, to sales, to service—to this new normal. New sources of innovation and even margin improvement will emerge out of our current discomfort.”

Balis offers a point worth closing on: “Brands are all having to think, operate, and lead in new ways during these uncertain and unprecedented circumstances, and we will all have to learn together with both confidence and humility.”

Stay safe, healthy and innovative!

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.


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