On Thursday, April 9, the ACCJ hosted Mike Alfant, ACCJ Emergency Disaster Response Advisory Council Chair and ACCJ President Emeritus, to have an open discussion covering Leadership, Creativity and Action During the Covid-19 Crisis. The discussion was moderated by Jim Weisser, Vice Chair, ACCJ SME CEO Advisory Council.
Opening statement from Mike Aflant
- Listen to your clients and be flexible in your offerings.
- Cut costs NOW! Every other crisis I’ve seen we always cut too late, rather than too early.
- Provide a flexible work environment for employees. Explore alternatives such as WFH or even remotely from other counties. This can give people peace of mind
- Physical presence is a key component of leadership. Being visible in community, office, and making yourself accessible to employees, clients, and business partners
If this moves to be a short-term emergency to a medium-term issue that businesses deal with, how should we make that operational shift?
These crises typically go through three phases:
- 1st: disaster response phase focus on acute remediation - specifically health and well-being risks
- 2nd: disaster recovery phase – looking to address come of the consequences of the disaster in a sustainable way
- 3rd: the new normal and post disaster
- Very hard to see the future when we are in the first two stages. People are focused on the here and now, and struggle with visioning, planning, and strategizing
- A fundamental rethink of a lot of business models is called for
- Focus on what you have direct control over and what you have strong influence over. Health and well-being of family, employees and business
Will the recession have a greater impact than what we realize at this point?
- Firms such as SME and startups have the advantage in moving quickly and change direction because of the governance process and fewer stakeholders
- Firms who have not become emotionally attached to pre-existing business models, status quo, and can be customer centric will come out of this crisis in the best shape
Advice for companies/SMEs heavy in terms of sustainability? Alternatives to cutting employees?
- Executives can cut their own compensation and employees are often willing to do the same
- Be transparent and don't mislead. If there’s no bonus this year, say it now.
- Maintaining the continuity of the firm comes first so tough decisions might have to be made to cut fixed costs such as employment and salaries
- Commission payments or incentive plans can possibly be suspended or deferred
- Encouragement of use of vacation days, leave, and sabbatical to avoid overhang when this is all over
Differences you found in this crisis versus others in terms of reactions?
- Widespread use of technology and SNS - schooling and work can now be done remotely
- Less emotional attachment during 2008 financial crisis. When well being is jeopardized, hard to be analytical and dispassionate which hinders good business decisions
What are some “cash is king” tools businesses can use in order to survive this crisis?
- Cutting recurring bank transfers such as monthly office supplies delivery, corporate credit cards, off-site storage facility, phone-line extensions and cloud computing costs
- Ask the bank for a debt repayment holiday for immediate cash flow
- Rent holidays in exchange for lease extensions for fixed leases can also be requested
- Reaching out to larger clients for new deals as there is mutual interest for survival
What are the communication challenges you have come across with having to lead from home? How have you changed your work habits?
- Inspirational leadership style is hard to do virtually, communicate more and try to safely meet in person
- Establish regular cadence of communication, regardless if there is anything new to say
Balancing “supporting internal employee “development” vs “cutting costs”
- Now is potentially a good time to invest and train employees, especially if the way you do business if going to change but have to be more selective in investments
Are there any deals getting done in communities such as investing, start-ups, and venture? What about over the next 6-18 months?
- Deals are getting done because this this is a global challenge but with more selectivity
- People such as VCs can get good deals that were previously too expensive
- Pooling of assets or interests by smaller firms may be incoming
- People need to prioritize taking care of yourself and do not get burned out
- We are all members of the same community so be transparent about ability to pay
- Don't spread rumors or false information. Everyone gets their information from the same sources. Focus on what you personally have control over