The current Covid-19 crisis has gotten me thinking about all of the big challenges that we have faced at TRC. These include:
• A flood that destroyed our Headquarters
• A fire that destroyed our biggest call center
• Three recessions of varying depths
• Transformational industry changes such as the move from phone to web
We’ve persevered for over 30 years through these and other challenges. I thought it might be helpful to share some of what I learned as a result. Hopefully it will help others navigate the very challenging current business environment.
Of course if you don’t have a plan you’ll more or less have to make it up as you go along. But let this be the last crisis that you haven’t planned for. With each challenge our plans have gotten better. You have to think through even unlikely scenarios. For example, you might have had a plan for people to work from home but did you think through whether your systems can handle that kind of load or whether it can be sustained over a long period of time?
My business’ most important asset is our staff. I’m lucky to work with really talented and smart people. Thing is, they are smart enough to recognize trouble and talented enough to have other options on where to work. Providing them with honest communication on where things stand and what you are going to do is critical. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Your credibility will carry you far. I’m proud to say that more than half my staff has been with us for 20+ years. That doesn’t happen if you lose credibility.
We value our client relationships, and just as with employee relationship you don’t want to lose credibility. You should tell your clients about anything you are doing that could impact them. For example, don’t let them find out on their own that a key staffer has been let go. At the same time, communicate clearly why you can handle this challenge. It is worth noting that this is important even in situations like the current one. Clients may wonder if you have the capability to meet their needs in a challenging environment.
Once you recognize that you have a problem you need to consider options and move quickly to put them in place. For example, if you are hemorrhaging cash, the earlier you cut expenses the less you will have to cut. Being decisive is also important. Making a bunch of adjustments all at once is harder but doing things piecemeal will cut into your credibility (see tips 2 and 3).
Even as you struggle to deal with the business challenge you can’t lose sight of the future. Cutting expenses, restoring lost facilities and so on are not enough. Every challenge is an opportunity to remake the company into something that is better suited for the future. For example, when we lost our call center it made me question how long we were going to be in the call center business. This, in turn, accelerated our move toward the web and allowed us to better take on that challenge.
This can be a powerful and good thing. I’ve relied on advice from peers to help me through every challenge we’ve had. I’ve seen how incredibly good people can be. It should also be a warning; not everyone plays nice. When we had our flood a competitor called a number of our staff warning them that “most firms don’t survive these sorts of things.” Luckily I’d done a good job with tip #2, which in that case meant being clear that we had cash on hand and were well insured.
I will close with one really positive anecdote. When we had our flood the then president of TVG, Gail Keppler, technically one of our top competitors, tracked me down and offered me the free use of half a dozen offices with phones and computers. You have no idea how much that offer lifted my spirits.
So as we go through this crisis, I hope you and yours are healthy and that the worst you have to deal with is a business challenge. If you are struggling, try reaching out to your network and sharing ideas; you can get through it. If you are fortunate enough to be executing your own previously laid plans with little business interruption, as we are so far at TRC, try to think of what you can do to help others through these challenging times.
Rich brings a passion for quantitative data and the use of choice to understand consumer behavior to his blog entries. His unique perspective has allowed him to muse on subjects as far afield as Dinosaurs and advanced technology with insight into what each can teach us about doing better research.