Turbulent times don’t have to sink your boat – but they will definitely show you the leaks.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, we are in the midst of interesting and (in our lifetimes) unprecedented times. This uncertainty breeds anxiety and instability in the economy, and as a result many are experiencing fear and a kind of paralysis. Unexpected seasons like this one tend to create pauses in our lives and plans as everyone waits to see what the outcome will be.
But fortune favors the bold. The one who wins is the one who does the opposite of everyone around them.
If we want to move forward in these uncertain times, we must choose to react with wisdom and careful intentionality, not out of fear. In fact, I would argue that times like this abound with opportunities to invest now, so that your team and your business are stronger on the other side of this thing.
If you have the resources, you can use this time to expand your capabilities – strategically, carefully and intentionally. The one who overcomes the temptation – common to all of us! – toward paralysis and acts decisively will gain ground while others are frozen in place watching what they consider to be disaster.
In that vein, there are three core, interrelated truths which are guiding our thinking, and our recommendations to our customers, as a custom software development consultancy:
- The pain we experience in a crisis reveals where we have opportunities to strengthen our organization and our offering.
- Difficult times are good times to tighten your belt, but it’s critical to cut fat, not muscle. The goal is to come out of the crisis leaner and more maneuverable, not less capable.
- Those with vision and courage can capitalize greatly on boldness and ingenuity. Now might be the time to invest some reserves to increase your long-term success.
Crisis reveals where you can grow and gives you the space to do it
Experiencing a crisis like the COVID pandemic can reveal weaknesses that you’ve been living with, essentially in the hopes that they would never be tested. If you think of your business as a boat, you’d no doubt say it’s seaworthy. But I also suspect you could easily identify maintenance you’ve been deferring and perhaps some improvements you’ve been wanting to make for a while.
The problem is that it can take a lot of firefighting to keep the boat moving in the right direction. There really is a tyranny of the urgent. If we’re not careful, we can spend so much time doing the urgent things that we don’t get to the important things. And COVID-19 or not, we must develop the discipline and skill not to succumb to everyone else’s agenda for the day as it pours into our inboxes.
But when the normal operational hamster wheel is radically disrupted by something like a pandemic and we’re thrown back on our heels a bit, it can both clarify where we have gaps in our capabilities and clear the deck to allow us to focus on addressing them. So, we can either look at this as a negative disruption, or as the space we need to develop strategic plans and make deliberate investments.
Expanding your core capabilities, strengthening your offering and investing in your team will pay huge dividends as we come out of this unusual season. Don’t continue to hold back on these things, dramatically increasing the risk that unexpected storm surges could plow you under.
Instead, now might be the time to execute on critical-but-long-deferred repairs and invest in your future.
Which important project(s) have you been wanting to do forever because you know it will really move the needle for your business, but which perpetual firefighting has been preventing? Perhaps the current environment is the best time to make them happen!
“Building Efficiencies” isn’t the same as “Playing Not to Lose”
Every organization builds inefficiency and waste into its systems as a matter of daily function. Like old hard drives that needed occasional defragmentation, organizations require constant tuning and tweaking to remain healthy. It always costs time and money to do so, but when done right, it can result in tremendous dividends going forward. Times of crisis underscore the importance of these kinds of optimization exercises, but they also smuggle in the temptation to overdo it.
It’s an important discipline not to act out of fear. In times like these, the siren’s call is to batten down the hatches and hope you survive the storm. But playing not to lose very rarely results in a win, certainly not a big one. On the other hand, focusing on efficiencies might really help you free up time and money to make the big bets discussed above. The hard part is how to tell the difference. It takes skill and savvy to properly distinguish between wasteful spending (which we want to curtail) and the proper care and maintenance of critical and costly assets (in which we want to invest).
Here are some helpful principles we’re embracing at Prominent in three specific categories:
Avoid letting key resources go in an attempt to reduce payroll at all costs. Instead, consider adding strategic, foundational talent – the people you will build your business on as you move into the future. It’s vital to retain and invest in your core team. You rely heavily on the people who have good attitudes and invest in their skills, who own the vision and work diligently to execute the mission. This includes employees and contractors from every corner of the organization.
Cut the assets that yield low return, not the assets that cost money. Just because something’s expensive doesn’t mean it should be on the chopping block in times of crisis. Specifically, partnerships can be pricey, but they can also be a key part of the foundation on which you build the next level of your company’s success. In fact, sometimes you can dramatically increase your return from partnerships and other assets by investing more comprehensively in leveraging them. For example, Prominent is helping a number of customers optimize their IT through outsourced services and the creation of highly efficient purpose-built tools, all of which saves money and increases their potential in the long run.
Processes and Tools
Assess your processes and tools. Where could efficiencies be gained?
- Now might be the time to consolidate and shut down unneeded infrastructure or standardize key processes. If you’ve been waiting to move that expensive server farm to the cloud, this could be a fantastic way to save money, increase capacity and harden your offering at the same time.
- Or what about the tools from which you’ve experienced only mediocre return on your investment? Maybe it’s time to transition to something that better fits your business.
- It’s okay to have thin, distributed processes that let you leverage low-cost, open source strategies, but it’s not helping you to have your most important data spread all over everyone’s laptops to save a few dollars a month. The money you save is dwarfed by the inefficiency produced, the risk of exposure and the barrier to growth created.
Ferreting out process inefficiencies and honing tool sets to match your business can yield huge returns. And if they have some down time, consider engaging your core team to drive these process improvements. This not only improves your business but helps them acquire new skills.
In both ways, you are better equipped for the future.
And that brings me to my third point…
Fortune Favors the Bold
Invest in the future and press forward with boldness. Pivot and be opportunistic rather than hunkering down. The post-COVID world won’t be a return to the status quo. Both internally and as you serve your customers, ask the question, “How can we prepare now for that new world?”
Let’s look back at our three categories for investment. What are some intrepid steps we could take to race ahead in a time when many are frozen in indecision?
- Retain those who are truly invested in your organization.
- Hire new key people that level-up your shop.
- Invest in improving the skills and capabilities of those you depend on.
- Work together with customers to move forward on important initiatives. It’s easier to make strategic moves with like-minded partners who will be zealous for and know how to steward your business.
- Don’t assume sales will be stalled and anemic until things return to “normal.” Instead, look out at the horizon and see what possibilities could exist a year from now if you were to invest today.
- Double down on partnerships that move the dial and encourage your customers to do the same. Make sure they know that you are one of these indispensable relationships for your customers and that you have their best interests at heart.
Process and Tools
- If you’ve always envisioned a world in which a new tool or process dramatically expands your capabilities, maybe now is the time to invest! In a business like Prominent’s, non-billable time (as projects experience more slack than usual) is being invested in exactly this kind of expansion of capabilities.
- Level-up the processes that consolidate and fortify your capabilities. Do the work that will increase your position of strength when the crisis ends.
If you've been living on the razor’s edge and have little margin to invest right now, you might have less room to maneuver. But even if you need to hunker down, you can still begin the important work of strategic planning, intentional prioritization, and more.
On the other hand, if you have some margin and the money in the bank to help you press forward intentionally and strategically, then don’t let the crisis paralyze you. Act with courage. Make bold moves. Decide what’s most important and go after it.
Prominent does what we do because we believe in the power of custom software to transform businesses like yours and dramatically increase your capabilities.
So, if we can help you achieve your goals and build your capacity in preparation for the post-COVID future, even if you’re just beginning some of this strategic analysis, please reach out. Leveraging technology to help business succeed–even during a pandemic–that’s what we do.