The two crucial questions that caught a CEO off-guard

“A few weeks ago, he called me following a Zoom conference call he had with one of the most influential VC’s in the US. Two of the initial questions he was asked referred to the effects of Covid-19 on the company’s resilience during Coronavirus and Post-Coronavirus Times (PCT). These questions caught the CEO a bit off guard…” 

How do you grow your business and stay relevant within the industry during Post-Coronavirus Times (PCT), while keeping your entire company engaged in the process?
The demand for management consultation when a shifting reality calls for a change

Management during Corona times requires adaptation to a new business reality. This can be an extreme challenge even for experienced managers, as there are a number of things to keep in mind.

Managers who are able to foresee upcoming market trends will immediately take the lead and make the necessary adjustments to maintain relevance.  The key in leading a successful transition lies mainly within an open dialog with other managers (engagement) in the company as well as employees, strategic partners, investors, board members, and other experienced professionals.

Leading the Transition 

The CEO of a startup company with an industrial product, whom I coached through this transition recently, clearly reflects on what most companies are experiencing these days.

A few weeks ago, he called me following a Zoom conference call he had with one of the most influential VC’s in the US. Two of the initial questions he was asked referred to the effects of Covid-19 on the company’s resilience during Coronavirus and Post-Coronavirus Times (PCT). These questions caught him a bit off guard, and his answers to them weren’t as clear and persuasive as they should have been. 

The questions he was asked by the VC were:
  1. Will the company’s products become more or less relevant to the market during and after the crisis, and if so, how?
  2. What will be the impact of travel limitations during Coronavirus and Post-Coronavirus Times (PCT) on the company’s plans, timeline and cash runway. How is the company prepared to handle Beta tests, and how will it provide solutions for that?

Insights

Upon processing the conversation with the VC investors, a few insights and truths clearly came to mind:

  • The startup company had never really analysed these questions in depth.
  • Answers to these questions require a thorough assessment of the company’s structure and the KPI’s of each team.
  • In order to make the appropriate adjustments, a strategic plan backed by a comprehensive, structured process is required.

budget Re-prioritizion

It is important to note that such questions are essential in measuring resilience and adaptability of almost any company enduring a crisis (especially in the long run). I always encourage CEOs to assess future steps that will ensure durability during the crisis, as well as the opportunity to thrive in it.  Although finding the budget for drastic changes can cause extreme distress to a company, it is important to have an open discussion with the management and to make a shift in priorities, enabling funds to be allocated for emergency adaptation. There are many avenues a company may choose to take to make the appropriate adjustments, which don’t necessarily require heavy spending. An open discussion throughout the company can help with re-prioritization and even bring forth resourceful ideas to help make the necessary shifts (brainstorm session or even hackathons).

Strategic Change and Adaptation

After deep reflection of the insights gathered, along with the courage to face this major paradigm shift (which included making decisions that weren’t fuelled by ego, but rather by honesty, integrity and willingness to challenge the status quo) the strategic plan became very clear to us:

  • Following much thought about assessing the company readiness for a sufficient adaptation, the CEO approached the board with the questions he was asked by the VC and the new strategic plan he came up with as a result.
  • The entire management understood the urgency and fully engaged in this process.
  • Brainstorming and cross-company evaluation on all levels, in all departments, as well as cross-countries (the company has a subsidiary in Europe), were all used to assess the adjustments needed to embrace new global reality demands. In other words, the shared objective was to make the entire company, its products and positioning, relevant to the market demands in PCT.
  • Everyone, without exception, was involved in this decision process that included change of positioning, distribution model, tech support, management and organizational changes (short and long term), hiring workers and managers locally and abroad, team reorganization, installations, training, and any necessary adjustments field teams felt the need to make for the PCT market.

Examples of cross-organizational measures the company took

The following aspects reflect parts of the plan we designed to make organizational adjustments across the company’s departments:

  • R&D: Remote Management

There are now accelerated efforts to promote product development (procedures, assessment and updates) in a remote management setting.

  • Distribution: Local Tech Representatives

Given that international travel may be restricted for longer than expected, and presumably it will take some time until restrictions get lifted (or in the event travel continues to be intermittently restricted and permitted in the long term), the company has decided to place a major emphasis on hiring local tech experts as an alternative to sending engineers abroad for customer support needs. 

  • Training: Live, Interactive Q&A

Training that was previously hosted locally and attended by all company engineers, has been replaced by video training that is more internationally accommodating. Here as well, given the product’s complexity, the company has decided to invest in a sophisticated camera system to enable live demos from R&D sites abroad, demonstrating product assembly, disassembling and repairs, in an interactive and live Q&A. Training videos have also been produced to complement the live sessions.

  • Management system: CRM

The company shifted from a management platform that accommodated local workers only, to one that was better suited for the use of teams abroad (CRM and a tech support platform).

Turning crisis into an opportunity

Understanding the undisputed significance of these questions, the ramifications and even the opportunities lying behind them, is what drove the CEO to take upon the challenge and truly prepare the company for the PCT market’s demands. By honestly acknowledging that the conversation with the VC had caught him unprepared and subsequently, diving into a transformation process, he was able to take the measures required to prepare the company for PCT (while fully engaging his teams in the process) and to reflect strong and inspiring leadership.

It’s important to add, however, that any change of strategic plans requires, initially, to identify and clarify objectives before taking any steps to drive a change. Sharpening organizational messages by identifying the issues and demands is the foundation of such a process. Team collaboration, whether in the early stages of the situation’s assessment or later in the implementation process, will help tremendously decrease the inherent resistance that arises in most change processes.

Finally, maintaining relevance to any industry requires adaptation and complicated processes among CEOs and the senior management. From my experience, those I work with who are open to identifying and foreseeing the demands and trends of the market, despite the risks involved and possibly some deviation from the budget, will better endure crises, strengthen the company’s resilience in the long run, and will eventually increase their company’s chances to succeed significantly.

Zivi kalay, executive business and Management consultant ZIVIKALAY4@GMAIL.COM 058-6622404

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