As the economy restarts after the forced shutdown caused by COVID-19, businesses face a litany of unknowns. How quickly will shoppers return to their buying routines? Will temporary measures – working remotely, eating at home more, using delivery services – become permanent for large numbers of Americans?
“Many businesses won’t be able to return to their old way of doing things, but in some cases that might be just as well,” says Bill Higgs, an authority on corporate culture and the ForbesBooks author of the Culture Code Champions: 7 Steps to Scale & Succeed in Your Business (www.culturecodechampions.com)
Often, those old ways probably weren’t working, says Higgs, a founder and former CEO of Mustang Engineering who recently launched the Culture Code Champions podcast.
“Many companies have problems within their corporate culture that keep them from prospering the way they should,” he says. “They hire whoever is available instead of seeking out the best talent. They communicate poorly. They have silos within the company that create a lot of rework and foster competition instead of cooperation.”
Now is a chance to do better, Higgs says, and he recommends a few thing business leaders should do as they work to bring their companies out of the economic downturn:
Be a visible presence. Higgs says he has known instances where, during a downturn, leadership goes into hiding. “They would just disappear,” he says. “They didn’t want to face the music with their people. But as businesses struggle to recover from our current crisis, owners and CEOs need to get out and talk to their people. I call it ‘management by wandering around.’ They need to engage their team and discuss how everyone can pull together to get through this.”
Understand this could be an opportune time to hire. The unemployment rate spiked upward as the economy went into freefall, but that means there’s an opportunity for businesses that want to build a strong team, Higgs says. “During just about any downturn, the people who lose their jobs include top-notch performers,” he says. “Be on the lookout for that talent. Snap them up if you can. But even if you can’t hire right away, it’s important to be aware that those top performers are out there so you can go after them when the time is right.”
Don’t get comfortable. One problem businesses encounter when good times return is that they revert to bad habits, Higgs says. They aren’t as diligent about eliminating waste. They keep poor-performing employees long past the point where they should have parted ways. “Companies by necessity run lean in the lean times,” he says. “But they also need to run lean in the good times, so they will be in better shape the next time the economy goes bust. Staying lean in the good times is a game changer.”
“One more mistake businesses make in good times is that when they get really busy, they stop selling, or at least aren’t as motivated to sell,” Higgs says. “I always say you should sell while the shop is full. That way when your salespeople are in a client’s office, they don’t come off as desperately begging for work. Instead, they are talking about all the fun stuff and good stuff you’re doing at your company. That makes a big difference in how you are perceived.”
Bill Higgs (www.culturecodechampions.com)
Higgs is also the co-founder and former CEO of Mustang Engineering Inc. In 20 years, they grew the company from their initial $15,000 investment and three people to a billion-dollar company with 6,500 people worldwide. Second, third and fourth-generation leaders took the company to $2 billion in 2014. Higgs is a distinguished 1974 graduate (top 5 percent academically) of the United States Military Academy at West Point and runner up for a Rhodes scholarship. He is an Airborne Ranger and former commander of a combat engineer company.