Disrupt or Be Disrupted

As we begin to bring the economy back to life and restart our collective business engine, it will require ingenuity, agility, and flexibility to survive in our new reality. The business world as we knew it has changed before our eyes. The business models, strategic plans, and proven operating systems that business leaders have developed and refined over the years have now been disrupted. In fact, when asking business leaders, “What will put you out of business?” a common response is “A new disrupter to the market.” Often the disrupter is a new technology, a new low-cost provider, or an innovative solution. COVID-19 is a whole new kind of disruptor.

The following excerpt from my book, Go Slow to Grow Fast, illustrates why restaurants make for great business examples. Unlike almost all other businesses, restaurants provide their customers a complete experience in about an hour, and to be successful they need to get everything right. The moment you walk into a restaurant, you experience their branding, marketing, order taking, production, delivery, and ultimately the full service. If they don’t get it right, the customers won’t return and will probably tell others about their bad experience.

Today, we see the restaurant industry completely disrupted. Some have completely closed, others are curbside only, others are preparing for partial re-opening. Yet, most of these restaurant’s business models never contemplated the ingenuity, agility, and flexibility they now need to survive.

Take for example a high-end steakhouse. Think back to the last time you went to one. Remember the experience. From making the reservation, valet parking, and being escorted to your carefully prepared table. The quiet music in the background, the white gloved waiter providing water and taking drink orders.  The carefully prepared menu, the presentation of food, wine glasses filled, and the succulent dessert. How does this restaurant adapt to curbside dining or partial opening?  Most likely curbside dining and social distancing are not in their business models. In fact, it is a highly social experience.  But this is true for all restaurants as they look to the future. The leaders will need to rethink their entire business model to ensure the experience aligns and the customers return.

This example is not only true for restaurants but almost all businesses today. Businesses will need to reevaluate their business model and the complete experience, and adapt to partial or full virtual sales, virtual service, and support.

Take for example those businesses that have a sales force and a product line or service that relies on networking, relationships, and entertainment. These sales professionals may now need to rely on teleconferencing, emails, and phone calls. How do they replace the relationship style selling of the past with content selling today? How do they evolve their marketing materials to meet this new reality?

Businesses disrupted by COVID-19 will need to employ new measures of ingenuity, agility, and flexibility in order to survive. May I challenge you to sit down with your team this week to come up with your action plan for these three critical steps? Go ahead and send that meeting invite.

Step 1: Ingenuity

Gather your leaders, distribute your existing business plan, and begin to challenge each of your prior assumptions with our new reality. Will the economy return in a V-shape, U-shape, W-shape, or the dreaded L-shape? Based upon each of these cycles how will your business respond and what will the impact be on sales, production, delivery, and service? Assess the business’s financial strength. It is critical during times like these to quickly adjust cash flow burn to sustain until the economy has gained momentum.

Step 2: Agility

Change is difficult to achieve if not embraced throughout an organization. It is imperative that leaders are consistently communicating with their organizations and preparing them for the need to be agile during this recovery. Many will be doing things they have never done before.  Think of the first time that employees began teleworking and were trying to figure out how to do a Zoom call. Now they do it every day but need to step up their game by staging their home environment. It is said that it is the reverse office. When working in an office environment the office is designed in front. In an online environment, it is what is behind the desk not in front. Make plans for the re-opening of the economy and be prepared to evolve as it does. How will your business respond if it is a U-shape vs. one of the others? In what areas will you need to be agile, how will you respond? Be prepared for each of them.

Step 3: Flexibility

Most businesses have a standard work schedule for how work gets done from the time the day begins. Business leaders now need to adapt to managing what gets done, not how and when it gets done. This is one of the more challenging areas for managers as many will need to change their style of management to address morale issues, productivity issues, fatigue, and fear as employees emerge from their homes. Now is a good time to work with managers to help set expectations of how to be flexible yet consistent when working with employees. Review the various schedules and work styles of your staff and ask in your teams what needs to adjust to adapt to current needs.

As we face these uncertain times ahead, Going Slow to plan for the future through ingenuity, agility, and flexibility will prepare you to Grow Fast.