The Three Stages (So Far) Of Our Reaction as Corporate Leaders to the Coronavirus Pandemic

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As individuals, we have all gone through a bevy of emotional stages over the past three months ranging from denial to Armageddon and everything in between. As corporate leaders, many of us have likely gone through the following three stages (so far).

March – Let’s just hunker down and wait this thing out.

April – This isn’t going away anytime soon!

May – Now what?

Successful businesses never rely upon hope as the basis for success. Working under the premise of “wait and hope things improve” is a recipe for failure. Every day of inaction is another day that your customers are spending trying to determine their next step. That step may include shifting their business to one of your competitors who have spent weeks offering solutions, or even a company you’ve never heard of with a “new mousetrap” that suddenly doesn’t seem as much a risk as it may have a few months ago.

Back to the question of “Now what?”

Since none of us have likely experienced a global pandemic of this order before, we will need to approach our problems creatively. It is fair to say we simply do not have tools that would help in this circumstance.  The well-used phrase “think outside the box” urges us to think creatively, unimpeded by orthodox or conventional constraints.

The “box” contains the limitations of what we know might be done based upon our past experiences and knowledge. The box restricts what is possible. If we start with the premise that something is possible even though we don’t know how it could be done, then we have expanded the size of our box simply by assuming more is possible. Perhaps we don’t need to think outside the box, we just need to make the box bigger!

The coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands of small businesses to expand the size of their box in a number of innovative ways. Several examples include:

  • Micro distilleries switching over to produce hand sanitizer;
  • A small toy store offering a FaceTime browsing option, taking kids on a tour of their store so they can pick out a new toy;
  • Countless fitness studios setting up group workouts online;
  • Restaurants selling cook-at-home meal kits; and
  • A California animal farm started Goat2Meeting where you can pay to have a goat, llama, or other farm animal make an appearance in your zoom call to liven things up.

While small companies have the ability to pivot much quicker than their larger counterparts, many larger companies have done things you would not have expected of them a few months ago:

  • Ford, in conjunction with 3M and the UAW, is making respirators, face masks, and reusable gowns;
  • Hanes is producing cloth face masks and hospital gowns;
  • Gap has also converted its factories to make masks, gowns, and scrubs; and
  • Pernod Ricard, the producer of Absolut Vodka and Jameson Irish Whiskey, is producing hand sanitizer at all of its US distilleries.

While it may not have taken a lot of creative thinking for these companies to make the shifts in their businesses, they all saw a need and acted.

For the rest of us (who can’t make the obvious mask and hand sanitizer), we are tasked with identifying several scenarios as to how our respective industries might look in the coming months and develop plans for how our company can take advantage of opportunities that will undoubtedly be there. This gets us back to the proverbial box.

Success leaders have established an environment of “anything is possible” simply by the way they ask their team questions. If I can paraphrase a scene from the movie The Martian: “Don’t tell me that it can’t be done. Just tell me what you need in order to get it done.”

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