Food for Thought

While the future can seem uncertain, Vistage speakers on the economy, Alan and Brian Beaulieau say don’t fear.

Do Not Fear the Future

Pending Home Sales in the US took a real beating in April. The April 2020 to April 2019 year-over-year comparison (1/12 rate-of-change) posted the steepest decline on record, falling 34.6%. US Existing Home Sales fell 17.8% from March to April, establishing a record drop for the month. US New Home Sales ended April 7.8% below April 2019. Housing prices are not providing any encouragement either. The average price of houses that actually sold in April came down $19,800 from February to $364,500. It looks very bleak out there if you stop at the April numbers, but that would be a mistake.

The chart below should help eliminate any fear you may have about the future of housing through at least the near term. Mortgage applications for purchase (the blue line) are moving higher, at 8.9% ahead of this time last year.

Do not wait if you are considering buying a home. Remembering that all real estate is local, we expect home prices to be moving up in the face of tight inventory and extremely advantageous interest rates. Yes, it is harder to qualify, but it is well worth making the move at today’s prices and today’s rates.

How can changes to IRS rules benefit your business?

IRS Rules Are Changing (For The Better) For Business Owners Due To Covid-19

Article by Moira Vetter from Forbes Magazine

For several months all eyes have focused on getting through the changing dynamics with our revenue, our teams, and our operations intact. Now that we’ve navigated most of the business hurdles of Q2 2020, many are swinging back to longer-term planning. 

For those of us that have participated, the PPP program has necessitated a look at our accounting and reporting operations. For some, this has meant opening new checking accounts to help better manage our paper trail. We have also had many more discussions with our CPAs to ensure we set ourselves up to handle our fiduciary responsibilities properly. 

Many do not begin planning for tax season until Q4, but there has been much talk about shifts in tax credits and deferrals that you should begin looking at now.

James Jack, Seth Carpenter, Paul Crisci, and Brad Dillon of UBS conducted a useful podcast in April, framing the immediate and long-term ways that Covid-19 might financially impact business owners. 

Although final decisions have not been made on all the items below, it is essential to begin thinking about them now as they could impact you at Fiscal Year-end, and possibly in years to come.

Changes in 2019 tax filing and payments

July 15 seemed like a lifetime away, but it is important, particularly as many of us begin focusing on re-opening our businesses, not to lose track of time. If you still need additional time to complete your federal taxes, you can still file for an extension using Form 7004.

Also, states have different policies and deadlines, so ensure that you comply with your local state guidelines. No one wants to deal with penalties at a time like this. 

Potential changes that may benefit you on your 2020 taxes

To further assist with the continuity of business and provide relief for small businesses, some tax policy is under review. It is worth looking at these areas to see if you should be recording or tracking things differently, rather than waiting until year-end and trying to backtrack. 

  • Delaying payment of Employer Payroll Taxes to 2021 and 2022 – While the administration continues to advocate for changes to payroll tax policy, there are interim discussions about potential deferrals or delays in employer payroll taxes. It is important to note that those who received PPP funding will not be eligible for this payroll tax relief. Understandably, if you’re using forgivable government funding to make your payroll, they would not offer a deferral. Again, payroll taxes are very much in flux, but it is crucial to keep an eye on this, particularly if you did not qualify for or participate in the PPP Program, and are looking for financial relief.
  •  Changes to Net Operating Loss Rules – When businesses record net operating losses, they are typically limited to the period they can use those losses against profits. There is a discussion that if you paid tax on earnings in recent years (specific periods to be determined), you might be able to claim losses in 2019 and 2020 against those past profits to receive a refund. For example, if you had a banner year in 2019 and paid a sizeable tax bill, only to suffer a significant loss this year in 2020, you may be eligible for a refund against past taxes. This could inject critical cash back into your business. Work closely with your CPA to ensure you are accounting for all losses of income and Covid-19 related costs to ensure you appropriately state this year’s profit or loss to recover what you can from previous year’s performance. 
  • Increases to the amount of interest expense businesses may deduct (potentially) from 30% to 50% for 2019 and 2020 – Given the number of working capital loans and financial relief packages that business owners seek at this time, interest expense is expected to be an increasing cost of doing business. Be sure that your CPA is working with the latest tables when it is time to calculate your deductions. If you have already filed and paid your 2019 taxes, and the IRS enacts this change, you may be eligible to take additional deductions on interest you paid on your 2019 taxes. 
  • Employee retention tax credits of 50% up to $10,000 per employee on wages paid from (dates in flux) 3/12/20 through 1/1/21 for COVID-19 impacted businesses – This particular tax credit will require much more definition before it is finalized. Not unlike the PPP and the SBA Disaster Loan program, the definitions for an “impacted business” continue to change as do the dates of the impact period. It is worth your time to work with your CPA to see if you qualify for this tax credit once the rules are finalized as the credit amount could be substantial. Note: There are different rules for those that employ under and over 100 employees, so be sure to review the guidance. 
  • Tax credits for employers who offer paid leave to those with Covid-19 – According to the IRS, “The paid sick leave credit and paid family leave credit are available for eligible employers who pay qualified sick leave wages and/or qualified family leave wages from April 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020, and who have fewer than 500 employees.” This program may change in the coming months in terms of the amount and function of the tax credits. Be sure to visit the IRS site for updated guidance. 
  • Payment deferrals on existing loan programs – Although it isn’t specifically tax-related, many loan programs are currently adjusting or deferring repayment schedules. Check with the SBA—or if you have payment programs in place with the IRS or traditional lenders—to see if your repayment schedule can be amended to your benefit. 

While anything related to taxes typically causes me to break out in hives, I love it when the word “tax” is combined with the word “relief.” If you’ve been operating with sub-par accounting help in recent years, now is the time to ensure you have a qualified advisor. Ensure you have the help you need to take full advantage of programs that can keep you in business while you pay your fair share.

Many of us were finalizing our taxes when the world went into a remote work stance. For those that did not file for an extension, the government moved the federal tax filing and payment deadline to July 15, 2020. 

In addition to the rules, let’s consider the people in all our plans to reopen.

The human side of returning to the workplace: 3 considerations for CEOs

Article by Anne Petrik

Since the onset of the pandemic, 80% of small and midsize businesses have implemented work-from-home options for their employees. That’s according to 1,498 CEOs and other leaders of small and midsize businesses who responded to the May Vistage CEO Confidence Index survey.

Businesses have been able to maintain or improve productivity during the shutdown by using technology that enables remote work. The ability to leverage technology helped employees stay at home and keep themselves, their families and their communities safe.

As the country enters the phased plans for reopening, businesses are looking at how they bring employees back to the office safely. From the business side, return-to-work plans include new employee policies, new office configurations and new creative scheduling to meet recommended safety guidelines.

But returning to work is more than an operational or policy issue. There are human elements that leaders must consider as well. Every one of us has been impacted by and reacted to this pandemic differently. Leaders not only need to consider the physical safety of their team, but develop plans that also address the emotional needs of employees. Here are three considerations for accommodating those emotional needs.

1. Create an environment of physical AND psychological safety

Most return-to-work plans have a mitigation strategy focused on physical safety, which is table stakes for getting people in the door. But once your team is on site, leaders need to ensure there is an environment that encourages communication so that everyone can share their perspective and hear the perspectives of others.

Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, notes that one of the key components of effective teams is psychological safety. According to Edmondson, psychological safety is “the belief that a conversation is safe for interpersonal risk taking—that speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes will be welcomed and valued.”

The pandemic has ignited different emotions for each person in your company, and as a leader, a people-first approach is critical. Leaders should acknowledge that individuals will have different thresholds and expectations for social interaction during the pandemic. Create the time for team members to voice their thoughts with coworkers, starting at the executive level so that the team is aligned on how to accommodate differences as they arise.

2. Balance individuals’ desired social contract with new policies

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes defined a social contract as “the condition in which people give up some individual liberty in exchange for some common security.” While your return-to-work plan may include all of the requisite policies about hygiene, social distancing and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) that are part of the global measures taken to protect public health, these requirements are sparking controversy in society—not all individuals have come to accept these as part of their social contract. Wearing masks has become politicized, and everyone has different thresholds for what they are comfortable with beyond the current guidelines. But the bottom line is that while each individual has a right to their views and a judgement-free environment is important for morale, your policies need to set the guiding rules—not personal preferences.

3. Accommodate those who are vulnerable

Some businesses will continue to offer remote working for employees even once states begin to open. The ability to work from home should be equal opportunity for all employees as long as there is no impact on productivity or the ability to perform basic business functions. While some work functions may not be able to be performed remotely, there will be individuals that have valid reasons for not returning to a physical workplace who may request exemptions or accommodations.

The most obvious are people who are in at-risk categories, whether they have underlying conditions or are in an at-risk demographic group. Employees caring for children or a family member may also ask for special accommodations. And while their needs are covered in the Families First Coronavirus Act, creating opportunities for them to work remotely can create a win-win for the employee and for the business. The final category of employees to consider are those that have fear or anxiety about being exposed—anxiety is a very real impact of the pandemic which leaders need to be sensitive to as well. These instances should be considered by managers and leaders, and guidelines should be created for managers to help them address each scenario.

How will you shape your culture as your employees return back to the office? Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky, author and thought leader on company culture, advises leaders that “the decisions you make today are the seeds of your culture tomorrow.” Grodnitsky offers business leaders a three-step approach to supporting and communicating with employees: 1. Lead with empathy to understand employee experiences and situations. 2. Ask how you can help. 3. Share facts and information. Learn more in 5 ways to strengthen your culture during COVID-19.

When leaders take steps to address these three components of the human side of returning to work, they build a culture of respect for employees’ emotional and psychological needs. While taking physical precautions such as social distancing and sanitizing the office are important first steps to re-opening your workplace, showing your employees that you will make reasonable accommodations for their personal needs will go a long way. Bookend your new policies with empathy and clear communication to help create a safe space—physically and mentally—for all.

What opportunities have you found and taken advantage of in the midst of all the challenges we face?

How to pivot not panic in challenging times

When lockdowns were issued to contain the coronavirus, many businesses had to shut down, or pivot their business quickly. It was during this time that many leaders were faced with the challenge of what they were going to do.

This was true for the manufacturing business, SEKISUI KYDEX whose business came to a grinding halt.

Yet, in just four days time, SEKISUI KYDEX was able to shift from primarily making plastic sheets for aviation to becoming an “essential business” producing materials for lifesaving medical devices.

In four days, 400 people were working in unison; all three plants were running 24/7 and SEKISUI KYDEX was paying bonuses and developing new products.

So how was Ronn Cort’s company able to achieve so much in such a short amount of time? This LinkedIn Live interview helps explain it.

https://www.vistage.com/research-center/business-leadership/20200604-how-to-pivot-your-business/

I have been at a loss because I don’t know what to do. Here are some insights on what to do and what not to do when leading your people during this time of unrest.

How to Talk Trauma & Protests at Work. The (very non-definitive) Guidelines.

Article by Benish Shah

Talking about race at work is uncomfortable for most people, but for Black people (and many POC) it comes with a very real fear that: (1) they will be labeled as “angry,” (2) they will have to listen to racist statements quietly; (3) they will lose their jobs.

This guide is not written for those that want to “have the uncomfortable conversation.” This guide is written for those that want to support Black people and other POC at work after this last week but don’t know how to.

Guideline #1: POC are experiencing trauma response. So, Google trauma response.

This week has traumatized and re-traumatized Black families. They’ve been living this reality in America since their ancestors were forced to the shores. Their lives here started with trauma and have continued in it. Here’s a great resource to understand trauma’s physical effects: The Body Keeps the Score.

For brown people, it has brought up images of police brutality and complete stripping of our rights since 9/11. It reminds us of how thoroughly colonized we are that we thought they were protecting us by stripping our rights. POC of color have been dealing with daily traumas, big and small, for decades. This is re-traumatization for many. It’s not new. It’s constant. You’re just aware of it now.

But make no mistake: this moment is about Black Lives in America. It is about Black People. Their histories, their todays, their experiences. Everything else is secondary. All other voices are here to support, not to take center stage.

Google “How to Talk to Someone About Their Trauma.” Read EVERYTHING you find. Think about you would want someone to support you; what would you not want them to say. Here’s a good starting point.

Remember: it is not the traumatized person’s job to teach you about their trauma. Do your research.

Guideline 2: It is your job to listen, not debate.

This is not a moment to share your philosophical ideology around the world and how economic systems are “the real issue.” This moment is about Black people in America. It is about a systematic devaluing of Black lives, bodies, and experiences.

Your job here is to listen if they want to talk to you about this. Talking, for any trauma survivor, is a key way to work through emotions, feelings, anger, and experience. Sometimes they may need to tell the same stories over and over again. Actively listen to them. Do not offer solutions to their experience or a “different perspective.” Listen.

Guideline 3: Do not “open the floor” to discussion

The decision to talk about what is going on is up to Black folks and POC individually. Creating a moment during a team or company meeting where “the floor is open” to discuss the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement is an invitation for: (1) everyone to stare at the Black person or other POC color in a likely short-on-diversity-room and expect to be educated; (2) the Black person or other POC to feel singled out and/or angry because they are yet again forced into a situation they may not want to be in. If you want to offer that, check with them first.

The decision to engage in a discussion or express an experience is up to them, not you.

Guideline #4: Create a safe space and then actually stand by it.

Instead: create space, send a company or team message that your door is open and that you are here to listen, support, and ensure that a safe space exists for your POC team members. That you are extending deadlines and moving meetings as necessary. Then stand by that statement. If your POC team member needs a day off, do it without questions asked this week. If they want to skip team meetings, let them. Reschedule the meeting. If they need space, give them space.

Do not assume they want a day off. Some people will use work as a place to channel anger, energy, experiences. But for those that need the day, don’t make it harder for them.

If you see your non-Black team members (including other POC) making statements that are racist, overtly or subtly, shut it down. Be aware of micro-aggressions and stand up in those moments. You’re in a position to create a safe space — take that position seriously.

Guideline #5: Do not list off everything you’ve done to support POC and then expect a high-five.

It is natural in difficult situations to want to feel like we’ve helped, like we’ve done something. We want to feel acknowledged for our efforts. This need for acknowledgment is also made worse with our participation-trophy culture where we feel that every small thing we do should come with accolades and cheering.

Avoid that need for acknowledgment. If you’re telling your team all the things you’ve done to support Black people and other POC, it should only be as an information exercise so they know where they can support as well. If you are doing it because your brain says “see, I’m not racist! I’m an ally!” then you are doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Guideline #6: Do not make it about your feelings.

I cannot emphasize this enough: do not tell Black folks and POC on your team how this has affected you. (Also — note to my Brown folks. This applies to you as well. Do not do this to Black people. As a brown person, your job is to act as the first line of defense in these situations so your Black friends and colleagues are not burdened.)

Do not put the burden of your emotions on Black folk right now. Steer clear of your need to talk about positivity, self-actualization, meditation, universal principals, and the desire for “things to go back to normal.” Normal may have been good for you, but it was never good for Black people and other POC.

Black (and brown) people are not here to coddle you and hold space for your feelings right now. If that makes you feel alienated, you’ve made it about yourself. That’s not support, that’s a desire to feel acknowledged.

Remember. You are better than a participation trophy.

Guideline #7: You may not know the perfect thing to say, but you know all the things NOT to say. So start there.

It is not easy being an ally right now because it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s not easy being a POC, definitely not easy being a Black person in America. Sit with that uncomfortable feeling. Recognize it for what it is: your privilege to feel discomfort because you have not been living with racism and fear day in and day out.

Realize that privilege does not make you bad. It gives you a choice. How you use that choice defines the person you choose to be.

If you’ve gotten this far in reading this, you have a desire to use your privilege to make a positive impact. Stay with that. Know it will be an imperfect effort but that’s what effort is.

Be kind. Be empathetic. Stay safe, even as you need to stay brave.

Good luck.

We can’t watch live sports now, but we can still learn from the great sport leaders.

Bill Belichick reveals his 5 rules of exceptional leadership

Article by Suzy Welch

Ask Bill Belichick if he’s one of the winningest coaches in NFL history because he’s a football genius, and he makes a face that’s familiar to anyone who has ever seen him annoyed. Which is, basically, everyone.

Roughly translated, the face says, “You’re killing me here.”

But then, after a sigh, because, after all, he’s agreed to talk about his life and career in a wide-ranging interview with CNBC, Belichick offers: “I think I know a little about coaching. I think I know a little about leadership.”

You think?

Love the Patriots or hate them, Belichick’s 209-78 record for New England says it all. Football teams do not lead themselves, and they certainly do not lead themselves to five Super Bowl victories.

So, according to Belichick, what exactly is the “little” he knows about leadership? His answer, it turns out, could fill a book, but here are the top five principles that emerged over nearly two hours of conversation.

1. Leadership means building a team that’s exhaustively prepared, but able to adjust in an instant

“The only sign we have in the locker room is from ‘The Art of War.’ ‘Every battle is won before it is fought,’” says Belichick, who started breaking down films of opposing teams when he was 7 years old and hanging out with his dad, Steve, an assistant coach at Annapolis.

“You [have to] know what the opponents can do, what their strengths and weaknesses are … [and] what to do in every situation,” he says.

That ability — to adapt on a dime — is why Belichick says he spends so much time building teamwork, from having the team train with Navy SEALs, to organizing trivia nights, where, incidentally, all social media is banned.

“Nobody is against [social media] more than I am. I can’t stand it,” Belichick says. “I think it’s important for us, as a team, to know each other. Know our teammates and our coaches. To interact with them is more important than to be ‘liked’ by whoever on Chatrun.” (In the same conversation, he also derided “InstaFace” in all seriousness.)

2. Leadership means having the discipline to deploy your “dependables”

You know your star performers? The ones who can dazzle and amaze, except when they don’t? They’re definitely appealing, Belichick admits.

But over the years, he’s learned they’re not his type. He’d rather stick with his tried-and-true people — call them his “dependables.”

“There have been times when I’ve put too much responsibility on people. … They might have been the most talented, or the people you hoped would do the right or best thing, and they didn’t come through,” Belichick says.

Big mistake.

When it comes to getting things done, especially critical things, forget the high flyers: “You have to go with the person who you have the most confidence in, the most consistent,” Belichick says. “And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but I’m going down with that person.”

3. Leadership means being the boss

Belichick says this principle first came to him when he was just 23, addressing the Colts as a special teams coach. Two players, one of them a talented starter, spent the beginning of the meeting giggling and chatting. Inside, Belichick recalls, he was seething: “I’m not afraid of these guys. It’s either [them] or me. We can’t run a team like this.”

Finally, he let loose. “Look, either you shut up or you get out of here. That’s it.”

It worked.

And it was an aha moment that has guided him since. “I don’t care if they’re a star player,” he says. “I don’t care who they are. You have to set the tone.”

4. Leadership means caring about everything going on in the lives of your people

Maybe the previous rule would make you think otherwise, but Belichick strongly believes you must see your team not just as players, per se, but as people who have full, three-dimensional, and often messy lives.

“There are a lot of things that affect what happens on the field that occur off the field,” he says. Players “have wives and girlfriends. And they have babies. And they have personal situations. They have parents that are sick. All of it runs in together.”

Work and life, in other words, are inseparable, and it’s incumbent on leaders to help their people sort through it. “The more you and the organization can help take care of personal situations,” he says, “the smoother the ship runs on the football end.”

5. Leadership means never resting on your laurels

Ask Belichick if he’s still celebrating the stunning come-from-behind Super Bowl victory in February and you get another “You’re killing me here” look.

“We’re onto 2017. No one cares about 2016 anymore,” he says. “You can’t look back. We don’t talk about last year. We don’t talk about next week. We talk about today, and we talk about the next game. That’s all we can really control.”

In other words, it’s OK to celebrate a big win — but get it over with fast.

Oh, come on, not even a little parading the championship rings around the house? Belichick pauses — and smiles. (Yes, he smiles.)

“I’m not a jewelry guy,” he says.

What are you doing to get out of your comfort zone, stick with your plan, keep, attain, retain and expand your customer base?

CEOs can accelerate sales in a recovery using 3 core areas

Article by David Mattson

Sales is the lifeblood of a business.

As CEO, your sales team drives revenue for your organization and provides the time and space needed for you to focus on strategic decision-making.

However, sales leaders aren’t necessarily equipped to pull through a crisis like the one we’re in now. In part, that’s because sales leaders are often the least-trained people in an organization, as they come to the role with little or no experience in management. In addition, the average sales manager has only five to seven years of tenure, which means the majority did not work in a managerial role through the 2008 financial downturn.

It may also be the case that as CEO of a small to midsize business, you are the person accountable for sales. Either way, it’s your responsibility to get your sales function ready for what’s next because it plays a critical role in your company’s recovery. Fortunately, salespeople are made, not born, so they tend to be fast learners. Here’s how to prepare them and, in the process, increase the efficiency of your entire sales operation.

The Success Triangle

To build a strong sales team, you need people who have the right attitude, practice the right behaviors and use the right techniques. These components make up what I call “The Success Triangle.” In the context of sales, attitude refers to how salespeople think about a sales scenario; behavior refers to when and how often salespeople engage in sales activities; and technique refers to how salespeople actually perform those activities.

When coaching a sales team, sales leaders tend to focus more on the techniques of selling than the attitudes or behaviors involved. But it’s important to emphasize all three areas. Consider what happens when any of these components is missing from a salesforce:

  • Behavior + Technique – Attitude = Salespeople go through the motions
  • Attitude + Technique – Behavior = Salespeople work frantically and sporadically
  • Attitude + Behavior – Technique = Salespeople work too hard

Let’s take a closer look at these three components and what you can do to make them stronger.

1. Attitude: Get out of your comfort zone

Attitude is about mindset. To get in the right mindset, you need to get out of your comfort zone. The reason: If you’re always working in your comfort zone, you’re only operating at 60 to 70% of your capacity.

Salespeople often fall into this trap once they’ve made enough money to pay their bills, or they’ve achieved a professional title they’re satisfied with. Unconsciously, they say to themselves: “Why would I stretch myself when I’m perfectly comfortable here?”

As a CEO, you need to challenge this complacency by shaking up your sales process. Next, I’ll show you how to do just that.

2. Behavior: Create a “cookbook”

What would your salespeople say if you asked them, “What behaviors do you need to do every month to hit your quota?” I’d bet you 80% could not answer that question. They might say they need to “do 300 presentations” or “get 50 new customers” to hit a quota of $10 million. But those are lagging indicators, not behaviors.

This is why you need to develop a “cookbook” that spells out behaviors for salespeople. Like a recipe, the sales process is a science, with an added dash of art. You have to prescribe the steps involved, instead of counting on them to happen on their own.

The way to write the behavioral “recipes” for your cookbook is to reverse engineer your sales funnel. Sounds simple, but you need a sales process in order to complete it. You should conduct a reality check to validate your team follows a consistent sales process by asking everyone on the sales team to write down every step involved in securing a sale—from the time they identify a prospect to the time they have a happy customer—and look for commonalities.

When working on that second method, don’t be surprised if you see inconsistencies. Often, everyone on a team uses a different sales process. Take this as proof that you do, in fact, need to prescribe your preferred sales process. You can’t manage anything that you can’t control, so you need to control behaviors to manage your sales.

3. Technique: Use the KARE model

In sales, technique boils down to—what your salespeople say and how they say it. Your team needs to own their “talk tracks.” A talk track is made up of all the things a salesperson could potentially say to a customer. It usually includes an elevator pitch, a value proposition, a list of competitive advantages and answers to top-ten objectives.

Because COVID-19 has dramatically changed the world, every sales manager needs to reevaluate and rewrite their team’s talk track. What salespeople said to prospects two months ago is probably not relevant today. And what salespeople say to prospects today will probably not be relevant in another 60 to 90 days. In this evolving environment, sales managers must stay fluid when developing their talk track, while also building their team’s fluency in the language.

To customize talk tracks for specific audiences, I recommend using the KARE framework. KARE refers to four categories of customers:

  • KEEP: Existing customers you want to keep
  • ATTAIN: Prospective customers you want to do business with
  • RECAPTURE: Customers you have done business with in the past but have moved on
  • EXPAND: Existing customers that you would like to do more business with

By default, salespeople mostly focus on customers in the KEEP category because they are the easiest relationships to protect. However, this narrow focus will dry up your pipeline over time. To correct this imbalance, sales leaders need to provide salespeople with the right talk tracks to reach customers in the other categories—ATTAIN, RECAPTURE and EXPAND—and arm them with the products and services that address those customers’ specific pain points.

Additional sales tactics: Check these boxes

In addition to the steps outlined above, consider these tactics and strategies for accelerating sales during a recovery:

  • Pay attention to momentum. Observe the momentum in your industry and competitive landscape and revise your ideal client profile accordingly. Look for opportunities to address gaps that your competitors are neglecting to fill. Consider how you can serve new segments of customers who are facing new challenges due to the crisis.
  • Conduct Weekly Individual Meetings (WIMS). Every Monday morning, sales leaders should have a five-minute call with each salesperson, asking: “What are the top three things you’re going to achieve this week? How can I help you achieve them?” Then, on Friday, the sales leader should call back their team members for an update.
  • Create time blocks. Structure what your salespeople do during the day. This doesn’t mean micromanaging them; it means providing guardrails so they know what activities to focus on and for how long. This will help them work proactively instead of reactively.
  • Entice buyers with small opportunities. Instead of trying to sell someone a $3 million training engagement, offer them a $5,000 suite of coaching services. When you make a small sale first, it’s easier to form a relationship that leads to bigger sales down the line.
  • Use LinkedIn to your advantage. Send three to five emails each week via LinkedIn to a targeted list of prospective customers. Keep the emails short and sweet, limiting your copy to three to five sentences. Don’t talk about how great your company is. Talk about your customer’s problem and how you can help them solve it. Addressing someone’s frustration will capture their attention.
  • Ask your connections for introductions. Contact customers who love your company and ask them for introductions to prospective customers they’re connected with on LinkedIn. This will move you into the sales process more quickly. Even if you discover the prospect is not a good fit, you can still have a relevant conversation with them. That’s key to sales success.
  • Conduct pre-call and post-call checklists. A pre-call checklist covers the key points a salesperson must cover in a call with a prospect. It includes questions such as: What is the agenda? What do we hope to accomplish? What are the five to six questions we want to ask? A post-call checklist identifies the questions a salesperson must be able to answer when they finish a call. It includes questions such as: What are the customer’s pain points? Do we have viable solutions? Does the customer have the time, money and resources to work with us? Adopting this process will make your sales teams more self-sufficient.

Sales is the lifeblood of a business.

As CEO, your sales team drives revenue for your organization and provides the time and space needed for you to focus on strategic decision-making.

However, sales leaders aren’t necessarily equipped to pull through a crisis like the one we’re in now. In part, that’s because sales leaders are often the least-trained people in an organization, as they come to the role with little or no experience in management. In addition, the average sales manager has only five to seven years of tenure, which means the majority did not work in a managerial role through the 2008 financial downturn.

It may also be the case that as CEO of a small to midsize business, you are the person accountable for sales. Either way, it’s your responsibility to get your sales function ready for what’s next because it plays a critical role in your company’s recovery. Fortunately, salespeople are made, not born, so they tend to be fast learners. Here’s how to prepare them and, in the process, increase the efficiency of your entire sales operation.

The Success Triangle

To build a strong sales team, you need people who have the right attitude, practice the right behaviors and use the right techniques. These components make up what I call “The Success Triangle.” In the context of sales, attitude refers to how salespeople think about a sales scenario; behavior refers to when and how often salespeople engage in sales activities; and technique refers to how salespeople actually perform those activities.

When coaching a sales team, sales leaders tend to focus more on the techniques of selling than the attitudes or behaviors involved. But it’s important to emphasize all three areas. Consider what happens when any of these components is missing from a salesforce:

  • Behavior + Technique – Attitude = Salespeople go through the motions
  • Attitude + Technique – Behavior = Salespeople work frantically and sporadically
  • Attitude + Behavior – Technique = Salespeople work too hard

Let’s take a closer look at these three components and what you can do to make them stronger.

1. Attitude: Get out of your comfort zone

Attitude is about mindset. To get in the right mindset, you need to get out of your comfort zone. The reason: If you’re always working in your comfort zone, you’re only operating at 60 to 70% of your capacity.

Salespeople often fall into this trap once they’ve made enough money to pay their bills, or they’ve achieved a professional title they’re satisfied with. Unconsciously, they say to themselves: “Why would I stretch myself when I’m perfectly comfortable here?”

As a CEO, you need to challenge this complacency by shaking up your sales process. Next, I’ll show you how to do just that.

2. Behavior: Create a “cookbook”

What would your salespeople say if you asked them, “What behaviors do you need to do every month to hit your quota?” I’d bet you 80% could not answer that question. They might say they need to “do 300 presentations” or “get 50 new customers” to hit a quota of $10 million. But those are lagging indicators, not behaviors.

This is why you need to develop a “cookbook” that spells out behaviors for salespeople. Like a recipe, the sales process is a science, with an added dash of art. You have to prescribe the steps involved, instead of counting on them to happen on their own.

The way to write the behavioral “recipes” for your cookbook is to reverse engineer your sales funnel. Sounds simple, but you need a sales process in order to complete it. You should conduct a reality check to validate your team follows a consistent sales process by asking everyone on the sales team to write down every step involved in securing a sale—from the time they identify a prospect to the time they have a happy customer—and look for commonalities.

When working on that second method, don’t be surprised if you see inconsistencies. Often, everyone on a team uses a different sales process. Take this as proof that you do, in fact, need to prescribe your preferred sales process. You can’t manage anything that you can’t control, so you need to control behaviors to manage your sales.

3. Technique: Use the KARE model

In sales, technique boils down to—what your salespeople say and how they say it. Your team needs to own their “talk tracks.” A talk track is made up of all the things a salesperson could potentially say to a customer. It usually includes an elevator pitch, a value proposition, a list of competitive advantages and answers to top-ten objectives.

Because COVID-19 has dramatically changed the world, every sales manager needs to reevaluate and rewrite their team’s talk track. What salespeople said to prospects two months ago is probably not relevant today. And what salespeople say to prospects today will probably not be relevant in another 60 to 90 days. In this evolving environment, sales managers must stay fluid when developing their talk track, while also building their team’s fluency in the language.

To customize talk tracks for specific audiences, I recommend using the KARE framework. KARE refers to four categories of customers:

  • KEEP: Existing customers you want to keep
  • ATTAIN: Prospective customers you want to do business with
  • RECAPTURE: Customers you have done business with in the past but have moved on
  • EXPAND: Existing customers that you would like to do more business with

By default, salespeople mostly focus on customers in the KEEP category because they are the easiest relationships to protect. However, this narrow focus will dry up your pipeline over time. To correct this imbalance, sales leaders need to provide salespeople with the right talk tracks to reach customers in the other categories—ATTAIN, RECAPTURE and EXPAND—and arm them with the products and services that address those customers’ specific pain points.

Additional sales tactics: Check these boxes

In addition to the steps outlined above, consider these tactics and strategies for accelerating sales during a recovery:

  • Pay attention to momentum. Observe the momentum in your industry and competitive landscape and revise your ideal client profile accordingly. Look for opportunities to address gaps that your competitors are neglecting to fill. Consider how you can serve new segments of customers who are facing new challenges due to the crisis.
  • Conduct Weekly Individual Meetings (WIMS). Every Monday morning, sales leaders should have a five-minute call with each salesperson, asking: “What are the top three things you’re going to achieve this week? How can I help you achieve them?” Then, on Friday, the sales leader should call back their team members for an update.
  • Create time blocks. Structure what your salespeople do during the day. This doesn’t mean micromanaging them; it means providing guardrails so they know what activities to focus on and for how long. This will help them work proactively instead of reactively.
  • Entice buyers with small opportunities. Instead of trying to sell someone a $3 million training engagement, offer them a $5,000 suite of coaching services. When you make a small sale first, it’s easier to form a relationship that leads to bigger sales down the line.
  • Use LinkedIn to your advantage. Send three to five emails each week via LinkedIn to a targeted list of prospective customers. Keep the emails short and sweet, limiting your copy to three to five sentences. Don’t talk about how great your company is. Talk about your customer’s problem and how you can help them solve it. Addressing someone’s frustration will capture their attention.
  • Ask your connections for introductions. Contact customers who love your company and ask them for introductions to prospective customers they’re connected with on LinkedIn. This will move you into the sales process more quickly. Even if you discover the prospect is not a good fit, you can still have a relevant conversation with them. That’s key to sales success.
  • Conduct pre-call and post-call checklists. A pre-call checklist covers the key points a salesperson must cover in a call with a prospect. It includes questions such as: What is the agenda? What do we hope to accomplish? What are the five to six questions we want to ask? A post-call checklist identifies the questions a salesperson must be able to answer when they finish a call. It includes questions such as: What are the customer’s pain points? Do we have viable solutions? Does the customer have the time, money and resources to work with us? Adopting this process will make your sales teams more self-sufficient.

Sales is the lifeblood of a business.

As CEO, your sales team drives revenue for your organization and provides the time and space needed for you to focus on strategic decision-making.

However, sales leaders aren’t necessarily equipped to pull through a crisis like the one we’re in now. In part, that’s because sales leaders are often the least-trained people in an organization, as they come to the role with little or no experience in management. In addition, the average sales manager has only five to seven years of tenure, which means the majority did not work in a managerial role through the 2008 financial downturn.

It may also be the case that as CEO of a small to midsize business, you are the person accountable for sales. Either way, it’s your responsibility to get your sales function ready for what’s next because it plays a critical role in your company’s recovery. Fortunately, salespeople are made, not born, so they tend to be fast learners. Here’s how to prepare them and, in the process, increase the efficiency of your entire sales operation.

The Success Triangle

To build a strong sales team, you need people who have the right attitude, practice the right behaviors and use the right techniques. These components make up what I call “The Success Triangle.” In the context of sales, attitude refers to how salespeople think about a sales scenario; behavior refers to when and how often salespeople engage in sales activities; and technique refers to how salespeople actually perform those activities.

When coaching a sales team, sales leaders tend to focus more on the techniques of selling than the attitudes or behaviors involved. But it’s important to emphasize all three areas. Consider what happens when any of these components is missing from a salesforce:

  • Behavior + Technique – Attitude = Salespeople go through the motions
  • Attitude + Technique – Behavior = Salespeople work frantically and sporadically
  • Attitude + Behavior – Technique = Salespeople work too hard

Let’s take a closer look at these three components and what you can do to make them stronger.

1. Attitude: Get out of your comfort zone

Attitude is about mindset. To get in the right mindset, you need to get out of your comfort zone. The reason: If you’re always working in your comfort zone, you’re only operating at 60 to 70% of your capacity.

Salespeople often fall into this trap once they’ve made enough money to pay their bills, or they’ve achieved a professional title they’re satisfied with. Unconsciously, they say to themselves: “Why would I stretch myself when I’m perfectly comfortable here?”

As a CEO, you need to challenge this complacency by shaking up your sales process. Next, I’ll show you how to do just that.

2. Behavior: Create a “cookbook”

What would your salespeople say if you asked them, “What behaviors do you need to do every month to hit your quota?” I’d bet you 80% could not answer that question. They might say they need to “do 300 presentations” or “get 50 new customers” to hit a quota of $10 million. But those are lagging indicators, not behaviors.

This is why you need to develop a “cookbook” that spells out behaviors for salespeople. Like a recipe, the sales process is a science, with an added dash of art. You have to prescribe the steps involved, instead of counting on them to happen on their own.

The way to write the behavioral “recipes” for your cookbook is to reverse engineer your sales funnel. Sounds simple, but you need a sales process in order to complete it. You should conduct a reality check to validate your team follows a consistent sales process by asking everyone on the sales team to write down every step involved in securing a sale—from the time they identify a prospect to the time they have a happy customer—and look for commonalities.

When working on that second method, don’t be surprised if you see inconsistencies. Often, everyone on a team uses a different sales process. Take this as proof that you do, in fact, need to prescribe your preferred sales process. You can’t manage anything that you can’t control, so you need to control behaviors to manage your sales.

3. Technique: Use the KARE model

In sales, technique boils down to—what your salespeople say and how they say it. Your team needs to own their “talk tracks.” A talk track is made up of all the things a salesperson could potentially say to a customer. It usually includes an elevator pitch, a value proposition, a list of competitive advantages and answers to top-ten objectives.

Because COVID-19 has dramatically changed the world, every sales manager needs to reevaluate and rewrite their team’s talk track. What salespeople said to prospects two months ago is probably not relevant today. And what salespeople say to prospects today will probably not be relevant in another 60 to 90 days. In this evolving environment, sales managers must stay fluid when developing their talk track, while also building their team’s fluency in the language.

To customize talk tracks for specific audiences, I recommend using the KARE framework. KARE refers to four categories of customers:

  • KEEP: Existing customers you want to keep
  • ATTAIN: Prospective customers you want to do business with
  • RECAPTURE: Customers you have done business with in the past but have moved on
  • EXPAND: Existing customers that you would like to do more business with

By default, salespeople mostly focus on customers in the KEEP category because they are the easiest relationships to protect. However, this narrow focus will dry up your pipeline over time. To correct this imbalance, sales leaders need to provide salespeople with the right talk tracks to reach customers in the other categories—ATTAIN, RECAPTURE and EXPAND—and arm them with the products and services that address those customers’ specific pain points.

Additional sales tactics: Check these boxes

In addition to the steps outlined above, consider these tactics and strategies for accelerating sales during a recovery:

  • Pay attention to momentum. Observe the momentum in your industry and competitive landscape and revise your ideal client profile accordingly. Look for opportunities to address gaps that your competitors are neglecting to fill. Consider how you can serve new segments of customers who are facing new challenges due to the crisis.
  • Conduct Weekly Individual Meetings (WIMS). Every Monday morning, sales leaders should have a five-minute call with each salesperson, asking: “What are the top three things you’re going to achieve this week? How can I help you achieve them?” Then, on Friday, the sales leader should call back their team members for an update.
  • Create time blocks. Structure what your salespeople do during the day. This doesn’t mean micromanaging them; it means providing guardrails so they know what activities to focus on and for how long. This will help them work proactively instead of reactively.
  • Entice buyers with small opportunities. Instead of trying to sell someone a $3 million training engagement, offer them a $5,000 suite of coaching services. When you make a small sale first, it’s easier to form a relationship that leads to bigger sales down the line.
  • Use LinkedIn to your advantage. Send three to five emails each week via LinkedIn to a targeted list of prospective customers. Keep the emails short and sweet, limiting your copy to three to five sentences. Don’t talk about how great your company is. Talk about your customer’s problem and how you can help them solve it. Addressing someone’s frustration will capture their attention.
  • Ask your connections for introductions. Contact customers who love your company and ask them for introductions to prospective customers they’re connected with on LinkedIn. This will move you into the sales process more quickly. Even if you discover the prospect is not a good fit, you can still have a relevant conversation with them. That’s key to sales success.
  • Conduct pre-call and post-call checklists. A pre-call checklist covers the key points a salesperson must cover in a call with a prospect. It includes questions such as: What is the agenda? What do we hope to accomplish? What are the five to six questions we want to ask? A post-call checklist identifies the questions a salesperson must be able to answer when they finish a call. It includes questions such as: What are the customer’s pain points? Do we have viable solutions? Does the customer have the time, money and resources to work with us? Adopting this process will make your sales teams more self-sufficient.

Just like the 2008 financial downturn, this crisis shall pass. In the meantime, CEOs should put their energy toward building sales competencies in the organization that can survive and thrive—and get a head start on recovery.

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.