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April 10, 2020
The coronavirus has thrown a real monkey wrench into what looked like a terrific year for most contractors. This may prove to be a very short-lived public health matter, and the rebound may be swift, but no one really knows what to expect. There are, however, some things that leaders can and must do to keep their businesses moving forward and productive even in such a time.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic. We don't know if the current situation is going to last a month, several months, or even years, and there's no way to know. No one has a crystal ball. Looking at the situation from a different perspective, however, causes me to think that this unique situation has created a terrific opportunity for you to LEAD. Especially in times of crisis, your employees, partners, and vendors are looking to you for leadership, guidance, direction, and optimism. The following are five tips for how to manage through this unpredictable circumstance.
1. Calm is contagious. Just as panic is contagious, so is calm. Your people need you to be calm and resolute. Going about your day in a state of fear, panic, or doom and gloom can only make the situation worse. Stay calm, focused, and in control. Review the things you need to review and control the things you can control – especially yourself. Demonstrate calmness and resolve at a time when others around you are losing their heads.
2. Deal in facts only, not speculation. Few reading this article have any background in science or medicine. It won't do any good for you to engage in speculation which only encourages others to do the same. Deal only with the facts as they present themselves and encourage those around you to play by this rule as well.
3. Be optimistic, but realistic. Optimism is a terrific and necessary thing in business, but foolish optimism isn't. The coronavirus situation is going to present us all with threats, problems, and challenges, but it will also present opportunities. Be on the lookout—and instruct those on your team to be vigilant as well—for opportunities that may arise unexpectedly. Perhaps you'll be able to attract new talent to your team that was exceedingly difficult even one short month ago. Most contractors have crisis management programs in place; once your program is up and running, and you've got the current situation in hand to the degree that's possible, be open to opportunities so that you can seize them quickly.
4. Communicate frequently! A Monday morning email or a quick meeting at the beginning of the workday is not going to cut it. The news is evolving by the hour, and it isn’t business as usual. It's more important than ever for you to communicate with your team frequently. Anticipate problems before they spin out of control, and communicate daily with your team about what you're going to do, and why you're doing it.
5. It's okay to say, “I don't know.” Most contractors think they must be strong, silent, Gary Cooper-types with all the answers. It's impossible to have all answers in unsettled times like these. It's all right to say you don't know; it's okay to be vulnerable. When someone asks you a question for which you don't have an answer, simply say so and tell them you'll do your best to investigate and get back to them as quickly as you can.
During the Great Recession, our business, like that of many readers, was down about 50%. I found myself on a phone call with a client, Don Woodruff of Woodruff Construction in Iowa. I was moaning and groaning about how tough things were, and Don took that opportunity to give me a stern lecture.
He said, “Wayne, you are the leader. It's your job to lead your organization to find ways to be productive, add value, and make money irrespective of the conditions around you.” That was some wake-up! The scales fell from my eyes, and I realized that Don had imparted to me some powerful wisdom. The Coronavirus situation is presenting you with a powerful challenge. It's your job to lead and inspire your people despite the turmoil going on around you. Calm is contagious. Be the kind of leader your people need at the time they need you most.
Wayne Rivers is the president of The Family Business Institute.