Covid-19: The Days After

“Downturns can be a great time to grow”

Covid-19: The Days After

Make the Right Decisions Now and Thrive After The Crisis

By Michel Ouellette JMD, ll.l., ll.m.

Senior executives and small business owners are now rightly worried about what the coronavirus crisis and subsequent downturn mean. While the concern is understandable, leaders must remember that downturns can be a great time to grow.

The challenge, therefore, is not just to get through this crisis but to survive it in such a way that you can reset in order to thrive. How well you will do depends on decisions you have to take now.

"Make Sure You Will Have Enough Cash On Hand

To Stay In Business"

The first obvious thing you want to do is to make sure you will have enough cash on hand to stay in business. Next, you have to make decisions about your people. This is here that things really get strategic. Once you are sure you can actually stay afloat, the decisions you have to make fall into four systemic and strategic categories:

1. Repurposing

Now that you are sure you can actually stay afloat, your first step should be to identify which parts, if any, of your business that are paused that you could quickly repurpose.

Thinking about what products and services the country or your community might need and what it is you can do to help one or the other get through the crisis. Repurposing can also take the form of borrowing and lending your people. Can your employees be sent to work temporarily for another company?

Ask yourself if you should be on the sending or receiving end of employee borrowing, and if so, with whom?

2. Engagement

Part of getting through the survival phase of the crisis is bringing your employees along with you and ensuring there is clear, consistent communication and frequent check-ins on their morale. How this is managed depends on the state your business is in right now.

My best advice, if you are a small business, is to designate one person to “own” the employee pulse during the next three to six months. For larger companies, I recommend nominating one person for each business unit. Whatever your situation, look for someone that people feel can empathize with them and who has credibility.

As CEO or business owner, check in daily or twice weekly with your “pulse owner(s)” to get a sense of how the employees are doing. Address any issues escalated to you. Make sure that people know exactly how you have acted on them. Above everything else, avoid communicating in wishy-washy generalities.

Bland generalities about change and uncertainty only scares people and erodes your credibility to lead through the crisis.

3. Learning

Now is not the time to flatten the learning curve.

"Learning Is What Will Set Apart

Those That Will Thrive After The Crisis"

The winners will be those that steepen the learning curve during the survival phase of the pandemic. Learning is what will set apart those that will thrive after the crisis.

For workers not engaged in business-critical operations and not furloughed, you should encourage cross-department learning. The sales team, your salespeople should still be communicating with customers and selling, but as they are no longer traveling, they should also have a few more hours a week than usual. Can they spend this time with customer service people to better understand your ideal customer profiles or help build a customer program?

Make a list of learning needs departments have been requesting and use this time to address them. As you do this, push people to go beyond the basics by asking them to think how each aspect of your company’s value chain will be challenged now and going forward.

Not doing this signals that you assume everything will switch back to normal when we will be all returning to work, which no one believes.

4. Letting people go

"If You Have To Let People Go, Just Do it!. As a CEO or Business Owner, It Is Your Duty To Do So"

With pressure growing as lockdowns and other severe preventive measures get extended, you will likely have to do this in the coming months.

Layoffs are hard and emotionally trying, but facing up to them is part of your job as a leader and/or business owner. Protecting your balance sheet and staying in business must be your main goal and overriding concern. If doing so entails making layoffs, just do it. It is your duty to do so. If you fail to do it, you put your business or your company’s financial viability at risk and everybody working for you could be without a job.

If you do need to make layoffs, do them at once and early. You need to be in a position to reassure your remaining employees that the cut was the only one you foresee now. Working for a company with multiple rounds of layoffs is demoralizing and painful and will only bleed the employees you want to keep.

You cannot always protect jobs, but you can protect people, who are, after all, often your most strategic asset.

Review the governmental current coronavirus response mechanisms available. Many offer significant payments of employee wages if no layoffs happen. Re-review your repurposing or borrowing options. If this is not enough, your first options should be contract workers or agencies, employees nearing retirement, or those who may be readier to take an early exit.

Furlough if necessary, with the best benefits you can provide, and provide exceptional references that can take into the next opportunity.


This is a time people will long remember, and reputations will be won and lost.

When your leadership will be considered, you will be remembered just as much for how you made decisions, communicated your decisions, and acted on the options you had available at the time of these decisions.

Be honest, be open, have the courage to reset your business and you will not just survive. You will thrive.

Michel Ouellette JMD, ll.l., ll.m.

Systemic Strategic Planning | Crisis & Reputation Management


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