Anyone who has been around long enough to go through a few business or economic cycles knows that having the internal fortitude to weather bad times is an essential characteristic, especially for senior executives and entrepreneurs. If your organization has never experienced an existential threat, you might not be thinking big enough. ‘Grow or die’ is a well-established idiom for almost every organization in any sector. And bound tight to that ambition is the other half of the story: risk tolerance and risk management. As we move through the next phase of the economic turmoil created by the COVID pandemic, it seems time to assess the extent to which your organization is ‘hanging tough’ – which I take to mean having steely resolve and capacity to adapt, as opposed to ‘hanging on’ – which suggests a white-knuckled grip just before impact.
The speed with which myriad markets were being disrupted before the pandemic – by technology or demography, primarily – should have sent warning signals to any and all of us. The pandemic has affected the nature and/or the pace of some changes, but mostly has just made glaringly clear that there is no going back to what I suspect will come to be seen as a genteel pace of transformation in the past. There have been, and will be, some tragic business losers from this time, sometimes through no fault of their own. The speed and impact of the pandemic’s rise created some truly unavoidable business fault lines: for hospitality, travel, commercial real estate sectors, to name a few.
And there will be some extraordinary ‘winners’ as well, sometimes because there were visionary tracks laid before 2020, but also some who were just fortunate in the particular kinds of trauma that this pandemic created: a different kind of global crisis would have resulted in a different set of winners and losers. Serendipity is certainly a part of the legacy we will reflect on down the road.
But irrespective of sector, every leader in every organization should be thinking about change management, about innovation, about transformation. Incremental steps might seem appropriate during such a confusing time as 2020…but as we move into and through 2021, we should expect to be inspired by the courageous work of the next generation of organizational leaders, those hanging tough to their values but unafraid to experiment, explore and establish new paths for their organizations.
In such a heady time, communications isn’t the only key management tool, but it is certainly one of them. Creating clarity about the potential for the future, inspiring teams to lean into that future, ensuring confidence of customers, investors and even regulators, if necessary. During my stint in corporate communications – during another period of extraordinary disruptions brought on by global developments, in particular – the CEO for whom I worked described my team as the ‘nerve center’ of the corporation. It was where the data that laid out what needed to happen became the information shared to bring our stakeholders along.
In the decades since, it has been a core competency of our firm to bring that set of communications skills to bear for our clients across a broad range of industries: helping great organizations through challenging, but also exhilarating times. Hang Tough!!