Reflect and reassess. Slow down business operations to create long-term benefits

When the pandemic kicked off, we reacted fast and fled indoors. Businesses fell, schools went online, and in some countries the public was put on a strict curfew. It was an appropriate reaction to a crisis. Are we still in crisis or is this something different? Do we need to slow down business operations? 

I’ve worked with businesses as they’ve adapted through the best and worst of times.  This pandemic is of course, a whole new challenge and we are learning valuable new lessons about operating during tough times.

With constant and unpredictable changes, we have become cognitively and emotionally tired. Returning to work or not? / take transit, go for that weekend break, meet in person or Zoom,  coffee chats or walks? Homeschooling or classrooms? The amount of analysis and decision making required on a daily basis is taking its toll on our mental and emotional state.

Rather than pushing for changes and solutions, some businesses have taken an approach that I think provides long-term benefits, rather than a short-term fix. They’re slowing down. 

The temptation to power through and attack every challenge we are given is strong, but this is a marathon, not a sprint. We’ve been so focused on fixing the situation that we’re leaving problems like ‘Zoom fatigue’ in our wake. Where’s the middle ground?

Shift the focus from new projects and updates, to a period of reflection

One of my clients decided that for the next month, the business would be stopping all new projects and new initiatives. The teams would focus on operations. They were being given a chance to take a deep breath, reassess the current landscape. They even froze a Slack channel designated to new ideas.

This includes the executive team — 2020 has been one thing after another. Organizing a new communications strategy. Creating a return-to-work plan. Formulating a response to different ideas and situations. There is a lot of reactive work, and not much time for proactive work and prioritization.

After just a week-long break, two members of the staff came up with one of the most innovative product development ideas that had existed for the business. It’s now being put into a long-term business strategy. 

There are risks related to this. But a break can actually create long term stability. Similar to our lives, a small sacrifice can constitute a big win. Secondly, it’s not about ‘not working’ per se, it’s about taking a moment to understand the present before rolling out updates and projects. Our old work suited our old normal. To adapt to the new normal, you need to take a breath and a moment to understand it. 

How to slow business operations down, and why

So what should your sales response look like? Let’s break it down into four stages. 

The initial immediate response involves the ‘must-dos’ that have to happen within the first 2 to 4 weeks. The biggest priority during this time was creating a digital, remote workforce, allowing work to continue outside the office. With that in place, the main priorities were customer needs and the reprioritization of sales and sales tools.  

The issue now is that this part of the process is being extended — the changes keep coming, and businesses are stuck between the phases 1 and 2, adapting to the situation without really taking it into stock. 

The second phase requires a business to stop and reflect, and this is where businesses should be spending their time now. Revisit old business plans and relook at customer needs. Work with HR to review the sales team. 

I mentioned a CEO that paused all new projects for a month and got good results. You don’t have to take as drastic of an approach, but a certain version of this should be playing out for your business. Why? To be able to ‘reimagine’ and ‘rebound’ as BCG describes it, you need this reflection stage. 

If you want to thrive in the existing situation, understand what that is first. Whether you’re building a house or a business — survey the land, construct a foundation, and then build a strong structure.

Key takeaway? Be open to a new approach. Be comfortable with doing ‘nothing’.

I’ve mentioned in previous articles that overcoming a challenging mindset is often business’s biggest obstacle. This is the same. If this is the solution you’re hoping to adopt, you have to be okay with taking a week off of ‘moving forward’. Stop solving every problem thrown your way, stop reacting to the news, stop signing off on projects that are going to boost your revenue by 100%. 

The end goal is to grow the business and nurture the team, and so it’s understandable that leaders feel under pressure to solve every problem they’re given, and foster success. Here I’d like to reiterate that the goal is eventually to be proactive, not reactive. Stop trying to knock every ball out of the park, set the bat down, and have a team huddle. 

Understand that every team member will process the situation in their own time. By taking a moment to slow down and allow a chance for reflection, you’re allowing the entire team to get on the same page. One CEO applied the five stages of grief to business changes during the pandemic. The news was being delivered at different times to different members of the team, and so of course, they were all at different stages. Running at full speed just wouldn’t do.

May are struggling to lead their business through this pandemic. It might well be the biggest challenge we’ve faced in our lifetime. As with any challenge, stopping to take stock and assess before acting is a proven formula for success.  Ask yourself, is this the time  your business needs to just take that breathe?