Great tips from NYT for small businesses to stay in or get back in the game.

Article by Paul Sullivan

For some companies, like Mike’s Organic Delivery, embracing higher demand without changing their core strategy is the key to survival.

This article is part of Owning the Future, a series on how small businesses across the country are coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

Mike Geller spent the better part of a decade tweaking the focus of Mike’s Organic Delivery, which he founded in 2009. Early on, the model was similar to a community-supported agriculture program, or C.S.A., where customers agreed to receive whatever food was in season.

By the third year, the company was up to about 200 deliveries a week: in Fairfield County in Connecticut and Westchester County in New York. Access to organic produce was more widespread and customers wanted options other than a preselected basket. So he created an online organic market, to allow people to pick the fruit, vegetables and meat that they wanted in advance.

In 2018, facing stiff competition from Peapod, FreshDirect and other online food services, he pivoted yet again, renovating part of the company’s warehouse in Stamford, Conn., and added a market a year later. Private parties, community events and cooking classes followed.

“It was a challenge to grow,” Mr. Geller said. “The business hadn’t reached a level I wanted to get to.”

Then, this March, the stay-at-home orders in New York and Connecticut were enacted, and his business changed again. With the massive increase in demand for deliveries and shortly thereafter, pickups, it boomed in a way he never imagined nor was equipped to handle. He went from having 200 to 250 orders a week to 5,000. He also became one of the main outlets for a half-dozen farms that had been selling their meat, breads and produce to high-end restaurants, which were now closed.

“It’s not that you don’t want to say you’re doing well,” Mr. Geller said. “But myself, my whole team, we’re not jumping up and down. We’re just thrilled to be busy, and we’re happy to be helping small farmers.”

The biggest issues for many businesses is what the economy will look like when they reopen. But the companies that are surviving — some, indeed, growing, like Mike’s Organic — are the ones that have pivoted, either within their existing business or to a new line of work, said Wendy Cai-Lee, president and chief executive of Piermont Bank, which lends to small and medium-sized businesses. “The ones who have a single source of revenue have more challenges,” she said. (Mr. Geller, of course, began with an advantage, since grocery stores are considered essential businesses.)

  • Pivot, if you can — even if that means shrinking to the core business.
  • Do more with less, at least for now. Mr. Geller is keenly aware that his business could quickly fall back to what it was before. He hasn’t added staff or expanded his space.
  • Spend money carefully. The company did buy two new vans to keep up with delivery requests, but it has resisted expanding its physical space.
  • Adapt on the fly. Letting people log into the Mike’s Organic website and shop when they wanted to was inefficient — it created shortages and made inventory management difficult. So Mr. Geller moved all ordering to Friday at 8 p.m. and now spends the week delivering those orders.
  • Know your employees. While he is running his company with social distancing protocol and protective equipment, Mr. Geller has been reluctant to add additional people for fear that they could infect his staff and shut down the business.
  • Understand that this moment, too, will end. Mr. Geller admits the current pace is unsustainable, but he and his employees are focused on providing food for as long as the stay-at-home orders last.

Many of the farms and bakeries that Mike’s Organic works with fell into that category: They were focused on restaurants who bought large quantities and were predictable customers. Now they have to look to retail outlets to survive.

“We’ve picked up the slack,” Mr. Geller said. “We’ve gotten recommendations from our farmers. Our tomato sauce guy told us about this great mushroom guy, who just sold to restaurants.”

From consumers, the uptick in interest in Mike’s Organic was intense and immediate. In March, when the stay-at-home order began, the company’s website crashed three weeks in a row, something that had never happened in the previous 11 years.

“We had a huge burst of orders in the middle of the week, and we ran out of product,” he said. “Then what happened was people said we can’t get a slot on Amazon or FreshDirect.”

Being able to pivot and sell to companies like Mike’s Organic when the restaurants closed has been a lifeline, but it hasn’t been without its complications.

“On March 13, 90 percent of our business was restaurants, in the city and the Hudson Valley,” said Marc Jaffe, who owns Snowdance Farm in Livingston Manor, N.Y., which produces beef, pork, chicken and other meat. “Thank God we had some retail or we would not have had a label that was already approved by the U.S.D.A.”

While Snowdance did not have to go through the time-consuming process of getting approval to sell its meat to retail customers, it did have to change its production methods. Whereas a restaurant might take 10 whole chickens in a box or 40 pounds of beef, no consumer is likely to buy that much.

Shifting operations to retail for the providers means extra costs that make their businesses more of a break-even operation — though none are complaining.

Mr. Jaffe said the farm’s sales to Mike’s Organic have increased twentyfold in the past two months, but the farm’s revenue is down. “I can’t exactly quantify it,” Mr. Jaffe said. “But my costs are more because they’re cutting everything up and packaging it, and my sales costs are more because of the effort. There’s no normal pattern.”

Tim Topi, the owner of Wave Hill Breads, a bakery based in Norwalk, Conn., that is ranked one of the top 100 bakeries in America by Food & Wine, lost 60 percent of his business when restaurants closed. He went from baking 2,000 loaves a day to 400, with the same 25-person staff to support.

Yet by the beginning of May, thanks to an increase in retail sales and a new home delivery option, the bakery was back up to 2,000 loaves and he said he hasn’t had to lay anyone off.

“We’re down 20 to 30 percent” this year compared with the same period last year, Mr. Topi said. “The labor has increased. We have to pack individual orders, and expenses have gone through the roof. To the restaurants, it was just a big box of bread.” He says he believes that the bakery can continue to break even for about six months with this reimagined setup.

Both owners noted that keeping their operations going was more important for the moment than returning their revenue to previous levels.

Mr. Topi said hiring and training a new group of bakers would have been costly and expensive, and potentially hurt his business’s viability after the crisis passes because all of his breads are handmade on the day they’re sold; they wouldn’t have enough bread to bake.

Mr. Jaffe said his fear was greater: slaughtering animals without a buyer. “It’s 14 to 20 weeks to get started up again with chickens, if we stopped, so we kept going,” he said, noting the lead time was even longer for cows and pigs. “So we leveraged our existing retail.”

The looming question is what happens when restaurants reopen and grocery shopping in a store is not such a hassle.

“You don’t know what the future holds, more than ever,” Mr. Geller said. “It’s so hard to predict out two months let alone 12 months.”

Mr. Geller is hopeful, though, about an expanded customer base. “It’s pushed a large number of consumers to try our food, and the reaction has been good,” he said. “I think a number of consumers who were forced to shop online will stay there at least for some of their stuff.”

10 Reasons To Join A CEO Peer Group From Forbes

Article by Henry DeVries

Growing your business is never easy. With apologies to Aristotle, Richard Franzi likes to say: “The whole effort of CEOs working together is more than the sum of those same CEOs working separately.”

I recently had breakfast with Franzi, author of Critical Mass: The 10 Explosive Powers of CEO Peer Groups. When Franzi could not find a book on the power of CEO peer groups, he decided to write one based on his experience as a member of one.

Franzi, a professional CEO peer group facilitator, says the idea for peer groups took off in the 1930s with the publication of the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The book introduced the concept of master mind alliances. Business owner roundtables, executive forums and peer groups have been growing ever since.

Some of the most successful organizations offering this peer-to-peer learning include Vistage (formerly known as TEC, for The Executive Committee), Renaissance Executive Forums, Inner Circle, EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) and TAB (The Alternative Board). Typically, the groups meet monthly and contain 10 to 16 business owner members.

Personally, I have belonged to many CEO peer groups and have derived great benefit. Here are Franzi’s 10 reasons why a business owner or chief executive should join a CEO peer group:

1. Safe Haven

Confidentiality allows each member to be totally open about issues. It provides a safe environment where a CEO can work through topics that he or she is unable to discuss with others directly associated with their business.

2. Solid Reasoning

When a CEO peer group is working on a challenge for one of their members, having diverse perspectives can pay huge dividends for the quality of the discussion and the depth of the exploration undertaken.

3. Real Feedback

When a peer member asks for unfiltered feedback, he or she gets just that. Truth can be hard to swallow sometimes, but it is good for business leaders to have their ideas challenged sometimes.

4. Guidance

The CEO peer group allows the executive to create their own personal guidance system. This steering committee of seasoned pros can be helpful when charting a course through difficult waters.

5. Motivation

The element of accountability can be underestimated by members when they are new to a CEO peer group. Everyone, from time to time, can benefit from having a respected peer hold their feet to the fire.

6. Magnification

The power of a CEO peer group includes the ability to focus the collective awareness of many executives on one specific issue. The result is an intensity of thought capable of delivering much greater mental energy.

7. Illumination

An ever present challenge for CEOs is to continue to discover information previously not known to them. When a member receives new information from the group, it is as if a light goes on for them and they can see clearer.

8. Molecular

The power a CEO peer group creates in its members a new structure for gathering fresh insights The groups not only help solve problems, they help members grow as a leader and as a person.

9. Explosive

Most businesses, even successful ones, can develop organizational inertia that is hard to overcome. A CEO peer group can give members “escape velocity” to free them from earth bound issues (at least for half a day each month).

10. Insurance

The majority of new businesses fail. By sharing in the wisdom of others, the CEO can increase the chance of the firm to survive and thrive. By taking this one simple act, CEOs begin to turn the odds in their favor.

“Most executives who join a CEO peer group stay in the program,” says Franzi, who estimates the renewal rate to be 80%. “The reason they remain are as varied as the individual members. But the power of the process is undeniable.”

Article from Georgene Huang in Forbes shares some realities for leaders bringing employees back.

Going Back To Normal When Normal No Longer Exists: A Guide To Inclusive Planning

After spending what feels like a year adjusting to our new way of life, I can’t stop thinking about what returning to the office will look like. Besides being remarkably different from the way we left it, I expect the transition back to “normalcy” will come with many of its own pains. 

We aren’t returning from a long vacation; we’re returning from a global and life-altering health crisis. As Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said: “Opening isn’t going to be an event, it will be a process.” The working world will change, so here are four things leaders should consider when making plans:

1. Make a plan that provides adequate options for every employee. 

Some employees will embrace returning to a physical workplace more quickly than others. Many schools and daycares are closed for the remainder of the school year and summer activities have been suspended, so working parents may not be able to jump immediately back into work. In larger cities, inevitable concerns about using public transportation will impact commutes. Some people are caring for parents or relatives and won’t want to risk coming in contact with others and for individuals in good health, there will certainly be lasting anxiety that remains prevalent for months — perhaps even years — to come. 

Not to mention the “one in four Americans [who have] some form of disability, and…are among the most vulnerable population for Covid-19,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “In some ways, the virus only amplifies for others what the experience of having a disability has always been,” Damian Gregory, a 46-year-old consultant and advocate with cerebral palsy, told WSJ. Although stay-at-home orders have seemingly provided an equalizer for the time being, when those orders are lifted, disabled populations will only be put at a greater disadvantage than before.

In industries where remote work isn’t possible, leadership needs to clearly articulate what is being done to protect employees’ health. Make plans so that employees who feel comfortable going back to work can do so, but come up with solutions to accommodate those who aren’t ready or need to take care of others. Prepare managers, HR and IT departments for every employee response. Even then, issues will still arise that you didn’t foresee so it’s vital to remain open to conversations. 

What accommodations employers are legally obligated to make is a major consideration, but beyond that, there are moral and health decisions that employers never imagined they’d have to make. And what impact will these decisions have on morale and corporate culture? Balancing everyone’s needs with business decisions isn’t simple, but in a knowledge economy, employee job satisfaction is highly correlated with productivity and business outcomes.

2. Managers may need to get personal and offer emotional support.

For the past few months, and foreseeable future, employees are bringing their entire selves to work because they have no other option. They’re working from home, managing children, struggling to keep their mental (and physical) health in check, taking care of relatives, and sometimes taking on additional work as layoffs and furloughs ripple through industries. 

On top of that, employees will be coming back from months of experiencing high stress and anxiety and will likely confront symptoms of burnout (if not already feeling burnt out).This isn’t the time to refrain from asking employees what they’re feeling. It will be particularly difficult for people – like myself – who try to compartmentalize their personal and professional lives. If employees feel comfortable opening up, you can better manage expectations on both sides. You may have to work harder at earning individuals’ trust, but it will be easier if your plan is transparent and you offer empathy throughout. 

3. Don’t expect things to return to what they used to be. 

Many workplaces will be returning with fewer employees than before, but with continued health, business and economic stressors. The entire workplace dynamic may become more complex as certain employees return to the office and others remain remote. When everyone works remotely, all workplace relationships are equally distant, providing everyone with the same challenges and opportunities. When a handful of employees go back to the office it’s going to take extra effort to ensure that remote employees are still included in meetings, conversations, and generally kept “in-the-know.” 

There’s also the physical element of returning to workspaces. How can you rearrange office layouts to accommodate for additional space between employees? Leaders may need to think about staggering the days when people come into the office and consider hiring additional cleaning crews (whose safety they also need to keep in mind) to keep things sanitized. 

Finally, there are hundreds of thousands of employees who don’t work in traditional offices and will face different challenges. What will happen to clothing stores where multiple people can try on the same item? Or factories where workers stand close together on an assembly line? The scale of change that we’ll need to manage is staggering.

4. Evaluate what worked and what didn’t to prepare for the future. 

Take time to reflect on what you learned, both about your employees and company. Every business and industry is going to deal with its own set of challenges, but what should unify every leader is a desire to plan for the future. While no one knows what will happen next, every company should start planning for the worst. It’s clear that few were adequately prepared for a global pandemic. Smart business leaders will take this catastrophic event and conduct a post-mortem on what happened to learn from any preventable mistakes in the future. For many this will lead to a lean cash-culture and for others more flexible work environments. 

When we return to “normal,” it’s likely that none of us will be the same, so we can’t expect the workplace to stay the same either. If we want an end-state that preserves the diversity and rich tapestry of human talent in the workforce, leaders must act intentionally to make return plans that account for everyone.

Returning to work: An employer’s safety checklist

Article by Anne Petrik

With more states lifting shelter-in-place orders, a growing number of CEOs are considering how to reopen their businesses while protecting the health and safety of their employees.

According to early analysis of the latest Vistage CEO Confidence Index survey conducted May 4-11, CEOs from small and midsize businesses plan to implement a wide range of safety measures as part of their return-to-work strategy, as shown in the chart below.

To better understand these options and other emerging strategies, we consulted with Vistage speaker Joel J. Greenwald, Esq., an employment attorney and managing partner of Greenwald Doherty LLP. Below, Greenwald provides a checklist of safety protocols, policies and practices to consider when planning a return to the office.

Reengineer the office

  • Reconfigure desks. Create physical barriers to enforce social distancing. Place desks at least six feet apart.
  • Upgrade doors and ducts. Install electronic door openers, or prop doors open slightly, so people don’t need to manually open doors. Consider installing UV light technology to kill airborne viruses.
  • Post signage that outlines new protocols. Use these to clarify new policies for handwashing and personal hygiene; explain processes for accepting deliveries or avoiding groups; outline rules for hosting visitors and working with outside vendors; requesting for ill individuals to not enter; and so on.
  • Limit the number of people present. Stagger people’s shifts. Make teleworking available to more people for longer periods of time. Prohibit meetings, parties and any other gatherings with large groups of people (e.g., more than four people); may choose to modify as state orders permit larger gatherings.
  • Upgrade cleaning and sanitization. Enlist an expert to clean and disinfect workspaces, especially if an employee takes ill. Frequently wipe down often-touched surfaces.

Put new policies into practice

  • Conduct health checks. Take employees’ temperature each morning and consider requesting antibody tests. Monitor employees’ symptoms and self-reporting of symptoms. As the CDC notes, “as of March 2020, employers may measure employees’ body temperature. As with all medical information, the fact that an employee had a fever or other symptoms would be subject to ADA confidentiality requirements. Employers should be aware that some people with influenza, including the 2009 H1N1 virus or COVID-19, do not have a fever, nor will everyone with a fever test positive for COVID-19. Review the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace page for legal guidance and to determine the best approach for your business.”
  • Set safety standards — not guidelines. Make these standards strong, clear and non-negotiable. Provide training so employees learn, understand and abide by them.
  • Provide and require the use of PPE. Issue personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, to all employees and require them to be used, while keeping in mind employer obligations to reasonably accommodate those with health conditions who may be able to be at work with modifications to these requirements.
  • Allow for remote work. This is the time to be flexible on where your people work. “Two months ago, if someone asked to work remotely, we might have said, ‘No, that doesn’t work,’” says Greenwald. “Now, it’s hard to make that argument, especially for employees who are older or have underlying health conditions.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telework is an effective infection-control strategy that is also familiar to ADA-covered employers as a reasonable accommodation.
  • Act swiftly when employees get sick. Ask employees showing symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days, or as otherwise required by their health care professional. Establish a process for notifying authorities and employees about new incidences of COVID-19.
  • Provide special accommodations for at-risk workers who request them. This includes older workers, those with underlying health conditions (e.g., heart disease or diabetes) and potentially those with mental health conditions. Also, offer accommodations to working parents whose children are still at home, and consider whether federal leave obligations apply. Be mindful not to treat these employees differently unless they request assistance, but be sure communication channels are open for such requests.

Appoint and empower leaders

  • Appoint a Chief Safety Officer. Have them monitor changing federal, state and local regulations and make executive decisions about safety protocols. “You’ve got to be thinking about what government agencies like the CDC, OSHA and EEOC are recommending,” says Greenwald. Safety compliance should be a top concern, as Greenwald notes that “Companies have already had lawsuits filed against them for failing to take appropriate safety measures.”
  • Create a safety committee. The committee should weigh in on questions such as: Who is coming back to work and why? Who determines how people will return to work? Should we ask employees to volunteer to come to work? Should we offer “hazard pay” to reward employees for coming in? Be mindful to avoid the appearance of, or actual, discrimination in making selections of who to return to work.
  • Monitor changing laws. It’s not yet clear whether businesses will get a liability shield that protects them from Covid-19-related lawsuits (e.g., if an employee gets sick and sues their employer). It’s also not yet clear whether workers who get Covid-19 may be entitled to workers’ compensation. Companies also need to be mindful about privacy laws, as they’re likely to have more access to employees’ health information than ever before.
  • Ensure open and clear communication. Leaders across the executive, director and managerial levels need to communicate openly and regularly with their employees to keep everyone informed of and on board with new and changing procedures.
  • Plan for coverage due to FFCRA. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), employees are entitled to a leave of absence and paid time off for reasons related to COVID-19. This remains in effect until at least Dec. 31, 2020. “Businesses need to be aware of these laws and plan for coverage, considering there still may be large numbers of employees out sick or showing symptoms who need to remain out of the workplace,” says Greenwald.

Overall, Greenwald encourages CEOs to stay flexible as conditions continue to evolve and the future remains uncertain. “We’re like weather forecasters right now,” he says. “I think it’s going to rain this weekend — but I don’t know for sure.”

Disclaimer

The foregoing is a summary of the laws discussed above for the purpose of providing a general overview of these laws. These materials are not meant, nor should they be construed, to provide information that is specific to any law(s). You should be aware that these laws are changing rapidly. The above is not legal advice and you should consult with counsel concerning the applicability of any law to your particular situation.

I really like these simple reminders that are relevant whether we are remote or in person. From HBRAscend.

5 Ways to Build a Culture of Appreciation on Your Remote Team

Article by Christopher Littlefield

Creating a remote team culture where people feel appreciated is everyone’s job. If you think about it, culture is a conversation that gets generated by the things we talk about with our coworkers and actions we take each day. Regardless of your position, we all play a critical role in building or maintaining our teams’ culture.

With many of us now at home battling life in self-isolation, it is more important than ever that we are conscious about the conversations we are having with our team members. Counterbalance the added stress and uncertainty of this new reality with a little celebration and appreciation.

Here are five simple yet high-value ways to nurture a culture of appreciation with your remote team during this crisis and after.

1. Show Your Appreciation through Flexibility and Understanding

Whether we are in a health crisis or not, create a culture of appreciation by showing people we appreciate their lives in and outside of work. In my recent article, How to Be a Respectful and Empathetic Remote Coworker during the COVID-19 Crisis, I talked about the importance of understanding what our coworkers are facing at home, staying in touch daily, making it safe to ask for help, and more. If you manage a small team, flexibility is easier to achieve. Take time to ask people how they are doing and listen to their response. Adapt meeting times, adjust deadlines, and show flexibility and understanding of their circumstances.  This signals to them that you care.

2. Celebrate Together with a Small Victories Practice

In this time of great uncertainty, help your teammates celebrate their progress by initiating a small victories practice. I am thankful to group process expert Glenn Johnson for this simple yet powerful activity. Every Thursday, Glenn posts the question, “What were your small victories this week?” to a Facebook group of speakers and consultants. Maybe you reached out to a client you had been avoiding, finished a report, cleaned your house, or exercised for the first time in weeks. It can be something from work or home, but the point is to create a space where people feel safe to share their progress. You can start this practice in Slack, a team chat, or do it live in one of your virtual meetings. Either way, it is about carving out time each week to help people step away from what they didn’t get done and celebrate what they did.

3. Send a Virtual Hand-Written Thank You Note (Not an E-card!)

Just because you can’t drop a hand-written thank you note on the desk of a coworker doesn’t mean you need to revert to sending an impersonal e-card!  The reason a hand-written card is often more meaningful for the recipient is the fact that the giver invested the time to write out their message and deliver it. If you want to make your message a little more meaningful than an email, invest five minutes to write your message on a card, a piece of paper, or even a sticky note. Take a photo of the card and send it to the person with a note, “Next time I see you I will give the hard copy… thank you!” Want to take it one step further? Record your thank you message in a video and send it to them. Regardless, if you send a photo of your card or a video message, you are guaranteed to make their day!

4. Implement Team “Shout Outs”

Where the Small Victories Practice (#2, above) is about helping people celebrate their own wins, the weekly Shout Out is about helping them express their appreciation to others. Carve out time in each one of your weekly or biweekly meetings for shout outs. At the start or end of your virtual meeting, ask if anyone wants to make a shout out to anyone on the team or on another team.

“I want to give a shout out to Phil who really helped me last week with my presentation. I asked him for feedback, and he picked up on two major errors, showed me how to make one of my slides much easier to understand, and it made a huge difference!”

Pro Tip: Make both the small victories and shout outs a weekly ritual. Ask the same question each week and your colleagues will start coming prepared to share.

5. Spark Gratitude with Appreciation Prompts

In these challenging times, help your people keep the focus on the positive with weekly appreciation prompts. A simple way to do this is to nudge your team to take 5 minutes to express their appreciation for the people in their lives by cutting and pasting a simple prompt into your team’s chat or sending it via email. You can start with the prompts below and create your own.

  • Today, thank a person who has really supported you during this crisis.
  • Today, thank someone who is going through some tough times during this crisis and still shows up each day.
  • Today, thank someone at work who inspires you.
  • Today, thank someone who brings fun and laughter to your day.
  • Today, thank a client or customer that you really enjoy working with.
  • Today, thank someone on your team who flies under the radar, but always gets the job done.
  • Today, thank a person in IT, HR, or accounting.
  • Today, thank someone who took feedback to heart and really worked on improving their performance.

Whether it is during this health crisis or after, with a few simple actions and a small investment of time, you can nurture a culture where your team members feel valued and appreciated every day.

Rebuild, don’t repair your business

Article by Joe Galvin

A Black Swan event is one that comes as a complete surprise and has profound and lasting economic consequences. There is little question that the COVID-crisis fits this description, and that in retrospect we should have seen it coming – the final criteria of how a Black Swan event is defined. It will be years before we can fully assess the economic devastation or impact to individuals and businesses, but there is no question it will be historic.

The economic freefall that took place in March established the new business baseline in April, a baseline that defined the bottom for revenue, customers and employees. With the flattening of the curve, CEOs have begun planning what their businesses will look like on the other side of the crisis and what the new reality might look like. In the meantime, they wait for business activity to pick up and to begin the long and painful climb out of the “COVID ditch.”

Unchartered territory for recovery

There has never been a business or economic crisis like this before. Consequently, there are no best practices, case studies or insightful analysis of exactly what to do. The well-crafted 2020 strategic plans, announced with great fanfare at the start of the year, are all in the literal or proverbial recycling bin. Leaders will need to re-imagine their strategies to ride out “the great wait,” to reboot their businesses and to position themselves for prosperity in the new business landscape that 2021 will hopefully bring.

Just 15% of CEOs indicated their revenues have either remained stable or grown as a result of the pandemic, according to early results of a Vistage survey of small and midsize businesses conducted in early May. This means the majority have faced some degree of revenue declines and are quickly acting to reduce costs, maintain employees, connect with customers and do what they can to support operations. As they look ahead to when business activity begins to accelerate, CEOs need to decide whether to repair or rebuild their businesses.

Repair suggests going back to what worked, what the business was and how it serviced customers in prior social and economic conditions. Repair suggests fixing the business with the assumption that everything will return to the way it was in January 2020.

Unfortunately, there is no going back. The long and difficult climb out of the COVID ditch will lead to a new reality that will be defined by changed human behavior, altered markets, accelerated technology, thirsty competitors and bruised customers, all wanting to grow into the recovery and prosper in the new environment and market conditions.

Rebuilding suggests a fresh perspective based on what’s possible. Rebuilding will bring forward the core strengths and best capabilities of the pre-coronavirus business, but more importantly it will incorporate creative, innovative thinking and factor in societal and market changes. This approach is requisite not just for the retention and growth of existing customers, but also to capture those customers left behind by a failed or weakened competitor. Other opportunities will include expansion into adjacent markets and development of new products and services based on changing customer needs. Opportunity will abound in the new reality provided CEOs can deliver winning strategies to rebuild business.

Blueprints for effective rebuilding

Rebuilding does not mean starting over. Rebuilding starts with taking the core elements of what worked well in the past, and then enhancing and expanding that model with innovation, new capabilities and fresh perspectives. Each area of the business requires special attention.

Rebuilding Talent: We are no longer in a talent war. Small and midsize businesses now face the greatest free-agent market in the history of hiring. Layoffs and furloughs have put many “A” players on the street. Unemployment has spiked to 33 million people with big company layoffs just beginning. While 59% of CEO respondents from our survey have not cut staff, the surplus of talent presents an opportunity to replace poor performers with better talent. For those who have reduced staff, there will be competition for you to recall your top employees since they will have other job options.

Rebuilding Customers: Customers, competitors and markets have all been disrupted by the COVID-crisis. Rebuilding begins with a sharp focus on your surviving customers and what their new requirements might be. As a customer’s business stabilizes, they will look to reward or punish their vendors. This creates opportunity for businesses to secure incremental budget or acquire a new account where a competitor collapsed or failed to perform. Sales execution will be required in either scenario to effectively connect with customers, engage with prospects and assess the market dynamics of the new reality. Many businesses are taking the time now to sharpen the sword, providing their sales personnel with training, and building the skills to help them better identify customer needs and position relevant solutions.

Rebuilding Operations: The behavioral change, adoption and utilization of technology exhibited in just 30 days was equal to 15 years of traditional human change. The newfound appreciation and adoption of technology by the workforce will accelerate the opportunity for businesses to double down on existing technologies that drive productivity as well as invest in new capabilities to power performance. Digital transformation initiatives will accelerate recovery and inoculate the business for future disruptions.

Rebuilding Finance: Whatever the financial, revenue and growth projections were in January, they must be reset to reflect the current business baseline of activity. Prior financial models and historical calculations are meaningless in a COVID-recovery. The great business reboot will reset all metrics and be the base from which growth, cost and profit will be measured. All prior sins and mistakes are forgiven as progress from of the baseline of the COVID ditch will be all that matters. Incorporate rate-of-change data to identify inflection points and be ready to take action.

Rebuilding Culture: Nothing tests a culture like a crisis. Already the top leadership priority of CEOs as identified by our research, the strength of the culture is what holds people together and powers the business forward when everything is uncertain. Once the climb begins, your culture will need to heal from the trauma of the crisis; some coworkers may not return, some customers will be gone, some employees will have suffered personal loss and everyone will need to change for the long climb and the new reality waiting for them.

Leading through the long climb

The climb out of the COVID ditch will require hard, heavy lifting by everyone in the organization to get the flywheel turning again. Business activity will return very gradually as quarantines soften, more people return to work and the economic engines start to turn.

The recovery will happen in a series of small steps as more consumers cautiously return to the market. As jobs begin to return, more consumers will feel comfortable spending again. Virus testing and tracing capabilities will further reduce consumer safety concerns, a prerequisite to buying. Ultimately a vaccine will be widely available and we will have arrived in the new reality.

Leading in a crisis tests CEOs in ways they hadn’t imagined. The spotlight is focused exclusively on them as employees look for answers to their fears. Shifting from crisis to recovery will place a premium on the leader’s vision and ability to see their new reality and the potential it has for the business and its people. After the tremendous effort needed to simply survive the crisis, leaders must engage their employees in the process of rebuilding. It will be a hard climb. Success depends on the leader’s ability to motive their people, inspire a new vision and transform the culture into one that will thrive in the new normal.

So You Had a Bad Day …

Here are some tips to pick yourself back up again, regain some dignity and soldier on after the lousiest of days.

Article from the New York Times by Jen A. Miller

It was the tail end of a long day of small, stupid things that in normal times would have been tiny grains of sand to knock out of my shoe. But on that day, another pandemic day in a long string of pandemic days, those small, gritty things — the dog wanted too much attention, work was causing stress, the neighbor’s kid was outside, screaming, again — became boulders.

But I set those things aside, I thought, and got ready to do a tele-seminar for a few hundred strangers.

And then my recycling blew down the street.

“I can’t take it anymore!” I shouted from the middle of the road while chasing boxes and newspapers.

It’s not uncommon for the small to become the insurmountable right now. “There’s a lot more coming at us and fewer ways to discharge it than ever,” said Seth J. Gillihan, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of “A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life.” “A lot of us are taking on more than we can really process in real time and more than our nervous systems can digest.”

Your nervous system is in overload, so it’s no wonder you don’t know what you’re feeling anymore. This is called “experiential blindness,” said Lisa Feldman Barrett, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Northeastern University and author of “How Emotions are Made.”

Essentially, our brain takes cues from what our body is doing at any moment. If our heart rate goes up, the brain parses info about whether we’re running from a lion or merely walking up the stairs. From there, the brain reacts — often in the form of emotions. However, we rely on our memories to tell us that indeed, this is the drab flight of stairs to our walk-up. Most of us, however, have never been through a global pandemic. There are no previous memories for our brain to draw on.

Hence, my shouting in the middle of the street about a crushed beer can blowing in the wind.

Remember, however, that you don’t have to stay in that awful place for good. You can rebound. Here’s how.

As clichéd as it sounds, stopping to take a breath can snap you out of your mood. When you are feeling your worst, stop and take two minutes to inhale and exhale deeply, said Alexandra Elle, a wellness consultant and author of “Today I Affirm: A Journal that Nurtures Self Care.” Doing this kind of breathing helps her “remember to be in the moment and to be present with whatever is in front of me, behind me and what’s to come,” she said.

Dr. Barrett says she tries to either consciously reason out exactly what she might be feeling and why, “or I take a more Buddhist approach and think, OK, I’m feeling something, I’m just going to sit with it and let it wash over me,” she said.

You don’t have to retreat to a special place to do this, whether you need this breath now or later. “We’re not all ‘sit on a pillow and mediate’ type folks,” said Mrs. Elle. Wherever you are works just fine. (Though maybe, for your own safety, get out of the middle of the street first.)

It’s fine just to take some time to think about what is happening and how you feel. Just be aware that constant rumination or getting stuck in negative thoughts may be a sign that it’s time to reach out to a mental health professional.

If your blowup involved another person, simply apologize.

And after apologizing, try to tell the other person what happened, “not to justify it, but to explain it,” said Philip Levy, Ph.D., family therapist and co-author of “The Resilient Couple: Navigating Together Through Life.” Then discuss with the other person “what did we learn from it, and what can we do differently moving forward.”

Talk about what you need from the other person, especially if they did something well-intentioned (like interrupted your work to tell you that a delivery had arrived, or spent way more than you had budgeted for groceries). “It’s important for you to be able to try to listen and not get into whether you’re right or wrong or debate it, to demonstrate that you hear the other person and that you care about how they felt,” said Dr. Levy.

Laughing about it doesn’t hurt either. I turned my follies into a Twitter thread, which made other people laugh, which in turn made me feel better, too.

Yes, it takes effort to get your workout clothes on when you already feel lousy, but quite a bit of research, including a 2015 review of studies published in Frontiers in Psychology, shows a single bout of exercise can boost positive feelings for a few hours afterward. (However, that same review found data on reducing negative emotions was somewhat inconclusive.)

Sometimes you just need a distraction. A hard puzzle or game can be the perfect antidote, says Dr. Barrett. When completed, the sense of accomplishment will further boost your spirits.

“Humans need to be around other people, we’re social creatures,” said Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman, an urban anthropologist and an adjunct professor at Drexel University. Ms. Johnston-Zimmerman studies behavior in public spaces and says that even micro-interactions — like watching a rat pull a piece of pizza down the street with two strangers — enrich our lives. Most of us feel starved for that contact right now. Call a friend, do a video chat, or even just sit on your fire escape and wave at the person in the next building over.

Venting your anger may actually make you feel worse, said Lennis Echterling, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at James Madison University. “Merely venting negative emotions by screaming or yelling does not have any health benefits,” he said, and the research on the topic seems to point away from venting diminishing our rage in any tangible way.

A lot of things in the world are bad right now, but figuring out what you’re thankful for can help you bounce back.

Expressing gratitude for the people or things in our lives “can help us feel more connected and inspired to help others,” said Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of “The How of Happiness.” It can also lift you out of whatever sent you into a spiral. It “takes attention off you and directs it onto someone or something else,” she said.

The gratitude could be for small things, like getting a bag of coffee beans from your favorite roaster, or big things, like being safe and secure in your home.

You can express this gratitude by telling another person what you’re thankful for (about them or not) or by writing it down privately. However, gratitude needs to come from you. Don’t ask for it from someone else; just like telling someone to calm down inspires the reverse, telling someone why they should be thankful is most likely to inspire ire, not thanks.

For example, if you’re mad at your kids and someone tells you that you should be thankful for them, “in that moment, I’m thinking, I know that I’m grateful for my kids, don’t tell me what to be grateful for,” said Dr. Lyubomirsky. And if this is the thing that sets you off, well, take a breath and start over again.

That false sense of security we had was just that, false.

As the CEO Peer Advisory Chair and Coach, I ask business owners what is different now in their worlds.  I regularly hear that they have less certainty and less confidence, and their sense of security in the future is shaken.  I totally understand that.  The world just threw us all for a loop. Standards of business are different, and they are probably not going back to anything recognizable in the near future.  There are lots of questions we need to be asking ourselves.  As business leaders right now we need to make decisions that can be life and death determining.  

What strikes me most in all of this is the fact that we get to a place of false security and are happy to reside there.  Six months ago, people were enthusiastic.  They were making plans to spend money, hire people and invest in the future.  They didn’t know a virus would cause a pandemic and the government would shut down business as we know it in America.  But they slept at night, they projected, predicted and looked at best-case and worst-case scenarios as they made decisions.  We didn’t know anymore about the future then than we do now.  We didn’t know any less about the future than we do now.  Maybe the recent months are lessons that we shouldn’t be optimistic.  I don’t think so. Maybe the recent months brought lessons that we should be prepared for anything.  I think that might be closer to the truth. What can help us be ready for anything that comes our way? I have five suggestions:

  1. Know your values so you can make decisions based on them when times are tough. 
  2. Have a strong cash position so you can handle any downturn or take advantage of any opportunity that may happen at any time.
  3. Have a strong relationship with at least one banker so you can get access to cash if you need it.
  4. Don’t live or work in a vacuum:  use the counsel of smart successful people so you aren’t isolated.
  5. Realize we can’t predict the future, and we should not rest comfortably imagining that everything will stay the way we like it.  Have contingency plans that allow you to make fast decisions and act on those decisions just as quickly. 

That false sense of security last year was just that: false.  You still slept better.  How can you position yourself to be ready when the world turns upside down and still be able to sleep at night?  As Jim Collins suggests in his Stockdale Paradox: be candidly realistic in our current reality, but be optimistic that we will get through it. 

Lead on. 

Realizing a new reality for your business

Article by Joe Galvin

There will not be a “new normal” on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis. When business activity picks up and the world begins to spin again, people and businesses will engage in a “new reality” that will not resemble what we knew to be normal. We will individually and organizationally engage in new norms defined by fundamentally different societal changes and business dynamics that emerged in the pandemic.

At some date in the not too distant future, there will be a total business reboot — CEOs will be resetting their business in terms of employees, customers and financials — to a new, post COVID-19 level. From that starting point, we will begin to rebuild and grow through the recovery into this new reality.

The transition begins when the current quarantine level of essential services expands to include certain segments of businesses that had been considered non-essential — this will trigger a return to work for many.

The transition will also accelerate as we increase testing, analyze more data and develop better knowledge about the virus. We can expect that manufacturing, construction, business and personal services will reboot first, while bars, restaurants, entertainment and hospitality businesses will reboot later.

Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly when the reboot will happen and when the recovery will begin in earnest. Our April survey of CEOs provides valuable insights into how leaders in our community are feeling about the economy and the state of business.

What CEOs think: April 2020 survey results

In the Vistage CEO Confidence Index survey conducted April 1 – 8, 11% of CEOs from small and midsize businesses felt that economic conditions would begin to improve in one to two months. An additional 40% thought the economy would improve in three to five months, and another 37% reported it would take six to 12 months.

According to this data, business activity is likely to follow a predictable trajectory: People will return to work in new segments of non-essential businesses, which will ignite the businesses that support them. Once these businesses are in full swing, customers will be encouraged to spend more, resulting in more business activity and the growth of more businesses.

The split in CEO opinions regarding when the economy will improve suggests an economic restart — on local, regional, national and global levels — is still uncertain and will likely take time.

Looking further ahead

When asked about the state of their businesses in six months, 21% of CEOs felt their businesses would be “stronger than before” and 16% expect it would be “back to normal.” Nearly half (49%) expect their businesses will be “moderately weakened but gaining momentum,” while 14% expect it to be “significantly weakened.”

Should a second wave of the virus hit, these outlooks are likely to worsen dramatically. Much depends on the timing and availability of a vaccine or the realization of herd immunity.

15 years of behavior change in 30 days

The most challenging aspect of any business transformation initiative is human behavior.

Whether it’s the introduction of a new technology initiative or a major shift in culture, transformation is always dragged down by humans’ reluctance to change. Often, this reluctance comes from fears of the unknown or losses in job status.

What’s remarkable is how much the COVID-19 crisis has reduced that resistance. Over 30 days, we saw 15 years’ worth of human behavior change.

This is true in both in personal and professional contexts. Our acceptance and use of technology for digital collaboration, entertainment streaming and the acquisition of food has accelerated as quickly as our individual technology skills have improved. Our acceptance of doing things differently — because we have to — has accelerated our adoption of technology. Technology has allowed much of our lives and businesses to continue in ways that would not have been possible years ago.

Consider these transformations:

Work from home: The genie is out of the bottle on working from home. According to our April survey, 91.8% of CEOs have implemented some form of work-from-home solution during the crisis.

Advances in collaboration applications such as Slack, Zoom and GoToMeeting, combined with the astonishing performance of internet infrastructure, have made distributed workforces possible. The forced march to digital collaboration has broken down both generational and emotional barriers to this work style. Work from home was already high on the list of preferences for the emerging workforce. It will now become part of everyday life for knowledge workers.

Tele-everything: Practicing social distancing has accelerated tele-capabilities in healthcare, education, business and more.

  • Tele-medicine has enabled doctors to care for a large number of patients, digitally. While not eliminating in-person care, tele-medicine offers a more efficient alternative to traditional medical care.
  • Online education has kept students learning and connected to their colleges, universities and schools while physical buildings remain closed. Many professors and students have already adapted well to digital classrooms.
  • Food delivery has ramped up. Beyond ordering takeout, people are placing orders with farms, grocery stores and local restaurants more than ever before.
  • Tele-business will replace the need for physical office spaces. Combined with the work-from-home reality, office workspace requirements will change.

Business travel may never return to prior levels. As businesspeople have learned to connect and communicate digitally, they have also realized that digital communications are just as effective as face-to-face relationships when blended with occasional human contact. Businesses may reconsider how often they schedule face-to-face meetings and may choose to leverage technology for more customer interactions.

No-Touch Transactions: ATMs, airline check-in terminals and other ‘touch” interfaces will be replaced by a purely digital experience. Apple Pay, QR codes and Bluetooth will eventually eliminate the need to touch anything minimizing potential exposure. Cash will become obsolete in advanced economies. Credit cards will be replaced and physical tickets of every type will be done digitally, all managed from a “smarter” phone.

Digital transformation: The rapid adoption and utilization of technology will energize digital transformation efforts. As businesses begin to reboot, rebuild and recover, initiatives to digitally transform how business is done will further accelerate, driven by employees’ behavioral changes and newfound flexibility. Lessons learned in the crisis will form the foundation for business change. In turn, this will fuel demand for the 5G network and digital infrastructure to satisfy our ever-greater thirst for bandwidth.

Unanswered questions: The COVID-19 crisis is raising other questions about how business and society may change in the months and years to come.

  • Will our collective thinking about healthcare change like our feelings about security did after 9/11?
  • Will we think differently about renewable energy after the collapse of the oil market and seeing the skies clear over Los Angeles, Shanghai and Mumbai?
  • After we thank essential workers for keeping us functioning and alive, will we rethink the minimum wage and how we help those most at need in our community?
  • Will we think differently about globalization when supply chains and critical components reside outside any country’s influence — and will we think it’s worth the cost to “build our own”?
  • What will we think about paying for the cost of stimulus packages on top of an already massive debt?

It only took 30 days to go from what was normal to our current “state of wait.” We continue to look for signs that we can begin rebooting our economy, rebuilding our businesses and start the climb to a new reality. We will know we’ve arrived when we all feel comfortable going to a sports event, concert, restaurant, theater or other large social gatherings.

Until that point, be prepared to rethink, reimagine and relearn everything about the business you knew before the coronavirus — and focus on preparing your business to be one that thrives in the new reality.

I think we are on this for a longer haul than we would like. Create consistency in how you stay connected. Here are some suggestions from Inc.

How to Strengthen Relationships During the Pandemic: Don’t let your relationships fall through the cracks while navigating these unprecedented times.

Article by David Nour

One question about strategic relationships that I’ve been asked countless times over the years has been a nature versus nurture one. Was that person born a relationship builder, or did they pick up the skills, knowledge, and behaviors through their upbringing, developmental education, or workplace development?

With less frequent physical visits these days because of the pandemic, how will entrepreneurs develop and nurture business relationship skills, knowledge, and behaviors? The essential question for all of us in this crisis and beyond will be how we choose to identify, nurture, and sustain our digital relationships. Here are three thoughts on developing relationship skills at this time:

Know Thy Candid Self

Most of us are born with certain relationship-centric traits–natural tendencies and abilities. Some of our colleagues are quintessential extraverts. Others we interact within our ecosystem are social yet more reserved. Many people we interact with on our daily Zoom sessions are optimistic, while others are distraught with pessimism.

I’ve always loved being around the naturally curious and find myself perplexed by the cautious. With each relationship interaction, we better understand ourselves; we adjust and compensate for different scenarios. When we face relationship conflicts at work, struggle with political jockeying, or feel the support of a coach/mentor, it strengthens us in our engagement with others.

The key to personal and professional growth through your relationships is candid self-awareness. The single most valuable trait in expanding and extending your digital relationships is knowing who you are, who you’re not, the types of relationships which fuel your growth, and those who suck the life out of you.

Where possible, nurture the former and dramatically limit if not eliminate the latter. You have a choice in the relationships you choose to invest in every single day. As we all work more hours than ever before, become more prudent with those investments. The future will disproportionately reward authentic brands and value-based relationships.

Collaborate to Make the End Result Profoundly Stronger

I’ve long believed that collaboration for the sake of collaboration is a waste of time. Self-preservation is one of the strongest of human instincts. With greater self-awareness, it’s ideal if you can move your digital relationships from pure self-interest to shared outcomes.

Like the rest of the world, I’m in daily awe of our healthcare heroes, who not only put their own health and wellbeing on the line but are also collaborating in an unprecedented fashion. Scientists worldwide are racing to develop more than 160 new drug and vaccine candidates to combat the pandemic. 

What the rest of us can learn from this kind of collaboration toward a common mission, vision, or enemy is to ask yourself a key question: How can you invest in fewer, more strategic, and collaborative relationships to co-create something that may be impossible by you going at it alone?

Don’t Confuse Digital with Interpersonal

I’ve never understood the conventional wisdom to create walls between your personal and professional relationships. The rest of the world builds personal relationships, from which they do business. Unfortunately, much of the Western economies are so focused on the sales funnel, the project plan, or the purchase order that we forget the individual stories behind each.

As our lives have become exponentially digital, we must find prudent opportunities for interpersonal interactions as well. As an example, I recently reached out to a personal friend and neighbor to check in and see how he’s doing and what he’s seeing. He suggested that since he lives down the street, he could walk over, and with a six-foot physical distance between us, we could catch up in-person.

That spark has turned into regular “Nour Wine and Cheese Front Porch” gatherings with one or two visitors at a time and responsibly distant friends, colleagues, neighbors, parents from our kids’ school, investors, board members, and clients alike. We need physical interactions as it helps us become more grounded and able to listen, empathize, and respond to others more impactfully.

What’s critical to understand is that this pandemic seems likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. It’ll challenge many of our assumptions, from the environment to education, and how we define work. Many industries will continue to struggle to adapt. Unfortunately, many small businesses may close and never open again. The fundamental shift in our labor is just one of several factors in every organization’s ability to maneuver. The common thread will be both the nature and nurture of our biggest asset– our portfolio of relationships.