As a successful business leader, you probably already have a proven model for strategic decision-making that has served you and your business well.
But very few businesses—if any—could have had a model for decision-making that accounted for an unprecedented worldwide pandemic that has negatively impacted billions of people and devastated businesses across the globe.
Though there was no playbook in place for COVID-19, there is a model for strategic decision-making during a crisis that you can follow as your business recovers from this crisis and prepares to handle the next one, whenever it strikes.
Poor communication can sink an organization during prosperous times, so before you do anything else, you need to identify the most immediate problems and establish parameters for crisis communication among your managers and their teams.
Follow these steps:
Identify and record the most critical and immediate problems stemming from the crisis
Determine who needs to be involved in the conversation to find solutions for these problems
Initiate the conversation with a clearly stated goal (i.e., finding a solution) and make sure all necessary participants are included using the most appropriate channel (i.e., email, collaboration tool, etc.)
Decide on your next steps only when all necessary participants have had a chance to respond with their input
Office closures and a forced transition to remote work have complicated matters, but thankfully, the technology is available now to make it easier than any time in history to communicate with your team from afar.
Being proactive about communication is the most important step you can take to guiding your organization through a crisis—every good decision starts with good communication.
If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to draft a basic emergency communications plan for the next time there is an unexpected crisis. This can save valuable time during the early stages of a crisis.
Some of the hardest decisions that any business leader will have to make during a crisis involve the human element: employees, payroll, clients, customers.
But the best model for strategic decision making when it comes to staff and customers is relatively simple: when in doubt, favor the employees and customers that you already have over pursuing new opportunities or meeting organizational financial goals.
This approach isn’t just ethically responsible—it’s a good business strategy.
After all, acquiring new customers comes with much more risk and uncertainty than retaining existing customers. Gartner research (full report available to clients) suggests that businesses, especially subscription-based businesses, “must rely on customer retention and the expansion of existing relationships to grow their business.”
Similarly, it can cost thousands of dollars and months of time to get a new employee up to speed, as opposed to retaining someone who has already been hired and trained. In other words, the customers and employees that you already have are among your most valuable assets.
Still, if your organization is struggling to stay afloat during a crisis, you may have to make tough decisions anyway. But this could mean instituting a hiring freeze or cutting bonuses and other perks before turning to layoffs, or shifting spend from marketing campaigns to customer retention efforts.
Consider the hidden costs of recruiting and customer acquisition before making decisions that help your bottom line in the short term—these decisions may be putting your business in a vulnerable position during a downturn.
In the midst of an evolving crisis, a hasty decision can seem better than no decision at all. But decision makers should be wary: hasty decisions turn regrettable after conditions change again and the original problem resolves itself. And in the meantime, you’ve just created a bigger problem.
Consider remote work. If your organization has struggled with remote work, the answer is not to decide that remote work is permanently off the table because your teams couldn’t handle it. It may just mean that—when the crisis has passed—you need to better equip your team to work remotely through training and tools.
According to Gartner research, 74% of organizations plan to permanently shift to more remote work post COVID-19. Rather than ditching remote work at the first opportunity, think of this challenge as a stress test that can help you identify gaps that your organization needs to fill to stay competitive going forward.
Once you’ve identified a problem, ask yourself if it needs immediate action or if you can afford to take some time to see how things play out. Taking a wait and see approach on decisions when you can afford the extra time could set your business apart from those that are overly reactionary.
Take time to review the lessons your organization learned from the crisis (which problems require immediate action and which problems can be examined further) so that you can make wise decisions based on those lessons in the future.
You don’t need a complex plan to make sound decisions during a crisis. In fact, due to the unpredictable nature of crises, you’re better off having a streamlined model with basic, guiding principles based on communicating, putting people first, and giving yourself extra time when you can afford it.
Finally, we can all make better decisions by thinking calmly, and it’s easier to be calm when you’re prepared. Click through more resources from GetApp’s Coronavirus Business Resource Center to help you get there.