By SOPHIE NICHOLLS JONES
Whether it’s pivoting to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE), servicing patients remotely or leading fitness classes over Zoom, Canadian companies are adapting to survive through COVID-19.
But not every business can adjust so easily. With the United Nations predicting at least a US$1 trillion cost to the global economy due to this pandemic, how important is business agility for making it to the other side?
Below are four tips on how agility can play into business survival and success.
As many Canadian businesses await the green light to restore operations, questions linger, including, “What will the new normal look like?”, and “Will things go back to normal?”
Craig Lund, president of Marketing Talent, Inc. and co-chair of the Mentor Exchange Program, doesn’t think so, instead believing businesses should start shaping a new future.
“If business leaders are looking to keep the lights on by [only] leveraging all government programs out there … then going back to business as usual, that’s a really big missed opportunity,” he says. “If anything, it shows vulnerability that your business model is a good business model only when things are all daisies and sunshine.”
Defining a new normal, adds CPA Rob Torok, senior manager, Financial Accounting Advisory Services with EY Canada, requires an organization to recognize vulnerabilities or redundancies in its business model and make changes from there.
Under CPA Canada’s RAISE (Resilience + Adaptability + Innovation = Sustainable Enterprises) initiative, business agility comes from the ability to identify and manage risk, build capacity within the organization, respond and transform.
“Agility is the ability to see, react and alter course,” Torok explains. “It’s quickly recognizing that, hey, my business model, environment, whatever it is, is not holding up. What can I do instead, perhaps with limited assets or employees? Can I do something with what I have?”
To find that “something” requires an evaluation of operations, exposing inefficiencies and making necessary adjustments, including sourcing new ways to generate business and cash flow, says Lund.
“Ask yourself: What other new revenue models can we move towards?” he says. “That could be entirely new lines of business, or it could be a new way of structuring revenue streams.”
Bill Guest, founder and CEO of Ontario-based CCR Solutions, a supplier to corporate and special events across North America for 25 years, feels lucky his business was able to do just that. Within two weeks of ceasing operations, and subsequently laying off 70 per cent of staff in April, the company quickly shifted gears to produce PPE, alongside Innovative Displays, a printing, signage and display company.
“Literally overnight we went from closing the doors, maybe forever, to having a product that was needed in this pandemic to help fight the fight and keep the company afloat,” he says.
With large events off the radar indefinitely, Guest saw this endeavour as an opportunity to branch into a new market, pushing products—hand sanitizer, shields and plastic partitions—that could become standard at events in the future.
“I thought, why not jump into the market now and engage both teams,” he says. “Create a much larger reach in North America and try to help out and thrive honestly.”
Keeping employees engaged and motivated is critical now and into the future, says Lund.
Redirecting stagnant staff to new areas or projects can help restore morale, giving them an opportunity to use skillsets, service clients and generate business in new ways, he adds.
“Motivating people to start being a part of what the new organization can look like is going to separate the wheat from the chaff,” he says. “You need those people to step up and recognize that they’re also creating their own future.”
Trust, Torok adds, is the foundation behind harnessing staff and carving out that future. Without it, he says, employees feel disempowered and are always asking for permission, without demonstrating much skill. “Then everything moves at a glacial pace,” he says. “Trust is the one thing in leadership and culture that drives an organization, when you don’t know what’s happening tomorrow.”
Guest can attest to this. CCR Solution’s new business pulled together and redirected all remaining staff, including 24 idle salespeople. The company has even managed to rehire some terminated employees.
“We had sales reps selling like crazy that needed back-end infrastructure support. So now, audiovisual professional managers are learning the ropes [of PPE] and helping in any way they can. It’s all hands on deck,” he says. “We reacted really well because we’ve got an entrepreneurial team and we’ve got good leadership.”
Though Guest is thrilled with his company’s pursuit, he says it’s difficult to make such drastic pivots that aren’t a part of a grander plan. Transformation, he adds, typically occurs with a long-term strategy looking into the future.
“Modifying your business is a lot easier than doing what we did. This is a crazy all-or-nothing undertaking…It’s the black swan. You can’t see it coming. We didn’t see it coming,” he says. “Over the years, we’ve transformed the company, but slowly…You plan your work, and you work your plan.”
Torok agrees, adding that real agility comes with planning and is behind most business success stories. “It’s not just simply a knee-jerk reaction from right to left, or pulling everything out and starting from scratch, necessarily,” he says.
It’s also in the planning stage, he adds, where CPAs play a key role. “Our job is to interpret the past and chart a different course of action for the future, so that the future is better than it otherwise would have been,” he says.
Whatever the strategy as we navigate through COVID-19, now is the time to start visualizing how your business will look in a post-pandemic reality, and expect things to be different, says Lund.
“Everything’s going to be much slower than people realize,” he says. “That’s why we can’t be waiting to go back to the businesses we used to run.”
Read about innovative ways businesses are staying afloat, and tips to keep your business alive. Meanwhile, here are the best ways to utilize government support for your business, and how to better service clients during a pandemic. If you are leading a remote team for the first time, use these tips to keep them engaged.
This story first appeared on CPA Canada’s online news site.