By Michael Roney
As a leader, it does not matter if you are dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, the changes in the status quo which occurred during the industrial revolution, the loss of your top football star to an injury, the uncertainty of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or the stock market crash of 1929. Change is a constant! Always has been. How you prepare for and react to change is the only thing which is important over time. As an example, according to thebalance.com, since the 1929 market crash, there have been roughly 20 years out of 92 in which the U.S. economy contracted for various reasons. One of those years was 2020 due to Covid-19. During the other 72 years, the economy was expanding. Companies which react to contractions successfully will help write the future during the following expansions and potentially well beyond them.
Leadership concepts for dealing with change and increasing the likelihood of success include:
- Having a clear and optimistic vision for the future.
- Identifying a profound innovation, idea, or niche where your products will “fly off the shelves”.
- Using an effective business model tailored to your products and serving your clients.
- Constantly seeking new cost-effective ways to produce and deliver products.
- Writing a blue-chip level business plan with contingency concepts included.
- Becoming a top-tier leader.
- Producing required outcomes based upon teamwork and superior execution.
- Monitoring the outside world for potential disruptions on the horizon.
- Building an organizational culture which will allow your company to grow, innovate, and adapt.
Companies which have successfully survived or restarted after the COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as those companies which will survive, grow, and expand after the next disruption, will be organizations with a vision for the future, optimism about the opportunities presented, the planned flexibility to capitalize on those opportunities, and the ability to adapt. COVID-19 is not the first major change in the business environment, nor will it be the last. Long-term business plans must provide a format to identify, evaluate, and respond to the changes which will certainly occur.
Over the past 40 years, businesses in the United States have gone through tumultuous amounts of change. During this time, we have seen significant disruptions in business norms as commerce moved from Main Street to malls and strip malls. Mom-and-pop stores have been replaced by big-box outlets like Walmart, Lowes, Target, and Kroger. We have seen local drive-ins disappear in favor of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell. Major brick-and-mortar retailers like Sears have given way to online sales mega monsters like Amazon and Alibaba. Companies which could not adapt went away!
We have also seen several areas of the economy grow during these same 40 years. For example, the cruise line industry, air cargo such as FedEx, ground-based delivery services like UPS, ocean-going oil tankers, theme parks, chain restaurants, and the health care industry have all made massive expansions. Going back a little further, the main forms of communication between people in the past were letters and newspapers. Letters evolved into telegraphs, then to telephones, to cell phones, and now smartphones and social media. Losers during this transition include the US Postal Service and many newspapers. Winners include AT&T, via their start as Ma Bell, by becoming a major player in smartphone technology. A holdover example would be Western Union Telegraph which has evolved into a money gram service. Now leading the way during the last twenty years in this revolution are the “FANG” related companies including Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google, and Microsoft. They have become worldwide leaders in social media, technology, and commerce. In the process, they have also amassed huge amounts of assets and power. These five companies have all created and benefited from significant change. They all had a vision for the future, a good idea, and provided products or services consumers wanted. All five survived the dot com bubble of 2000 and the housing bubble of 2008.
So, what is next? There are numerous areas which may provide exciting opportunities in the future. Here are just a few limited examples:
- Development of new and faster ways to identify, understand, and then respond to future pandemics before they become a significant problem to the economy including testing, treatments, and vaccines.
- Finding new ways to help companies impacted by disruptions, such as COVID-19, deal with income loss, debt, restructuring, and bankruptcy.
- New social media apps.
- The next level of innovative technology which replaces smart phones.
- Electric cars and trucks.
- Flying cars.
- Medical innovations which spawn new markets.
- The need to help bring “essential” product production back from China and other countries, such as rare earth minerals, technology, health care-related equipment and supplies, as well as medicines and their base elements.
- New opportunities related to artificial intelligence breakthroughs.
- Selling and transporting the food produced in America to other countries.
- Helping to rebuild the infrastructure of the United States.
- Reducing the costs to find, extract, refine, and transport oil.
- Finding cost-efficient and safe ways to produce electricity.
- Bringing the costs for alternative sources of energy to a competitive level without government subsidies.
- Decreasing the footprint costs of alternative energy sources such as the storage of radioactive waste materials, disposal of batteries, harm to wildlife, and destruction of habitats from wind farm blade disposal areas, wind farms, and solar panel farms.
As a leader, the first key to success is finding a niche you can buy into wholeheartedly. Then, by applying the leadership concepts outlined above, you will be prepared to deal with change when it happens and thus position your company to prosper and grow in the post disruption economic expansion.