In my Organization Development experience, I heard of the concept of being too busy mopping the floor to turn off an overflowing faucet. While the author of the original quote is unknown, the query requires us to introspectively ask: Are you focused on the symptoms or cause of your challenges?
My personal philosophy is that a great objective without an effective process is not sustainable. This is why I analyze process and not just numbers. With the global COVID-19 pandemic, business owners had to change not just what products and services they offered, but also how they did business.
The more I talk with business owners, the more I’m finding that necessity sparked great ideas they will maintain even when the pandemic ends. I touched base with a couple business owners to hear about what changed and how what they’re doing changed; what I learned was fascinating.
First I heard from Melissa Mazzeo, owner and CEO of Merry Go Rounds, a children’s resale store in Easton, MA. And I heard from Sean Kline, President and CEO of Turbotek, a managed services provider in Manchester, NH. Mazzeo has changed products and services, consolidated locations and added two new services. Kline’s company has not changed services offered; but is functioning remotely for the majority of the time. For both, business procedures have changed. Their experiences weathering the pandemic are useful for all business owners and leaders.
John Kotter, a business professor from the Harvard Business School, developed an 8-step model for managing strategic change. This can be used both for capitalizing on new opportunities or minimizing the threats. The Kotter 8-Step Model is one method I use to analyze business processes and to develop new strategies for growth and change. I turn to it now to understand the effect of COVID-19 on business processes.
I encounter businesses in my practice that are struggling to respond to changes in the external business environment. There are others where a business leader has new ideas and needs to generate a sense of urgency to get the company on board. In March 2020 COVID-19’s ravaging impact created the urgency. Kline pivoted to business processes that were nearly 100% remote. Mazzeo had to temporarily close her two brick and mortar stores.
A vision helps stakeholders understand what the company is trying to achieve and the timeframe. With COVID-19, the vision for most was survival. Mazzeo shared, “Out of our two stores, we ended up closing one permanently. We reopened the other one July 1 and will continue our brick-and-mortar sales there; however, we see brick and mortar as being a declining portion of our overall revenues going forward. We think that the future of our business is online for many reasons, not just the pandemic -but again, that gave us a much more forceful push than we would have had otherwise.” In other words, the shift away from relying exclusively on brick-and-mortar was vastly accelerated by COVID-19.
Communication creates employee support, acceptance and buy-in. For this to be successful, take employee concerns, opinions and anxieties seriously. Kline is doing this both with employees and his customers. He stated, “We are able to perform well remotely. I would love to get back for cultural reasons, but it is not worth the risk.”
Being in dialogue with employees and customers helps business owners understand what might prevent an employee from being able to carry out the vision or from a customer being willing to make a purchase. Mazzeo paid attention to both safety and consumer desires. While customers were preventing from physically shopping, Mazzeo and staff created two personalized virtual shopping experience for customers. Her company “launched an online store, where customers could buy individual items. We also launched a virtual personal shopping service, where customers would tell us what they're looking for such as size, gender and item type and we'd pick out options for them. We would then either video chat with them or send photos, and they'd pick out the items they wanted. And third, we launched a subscription box service where customers fill out a style preferences quiz and we curate a box of outfits based on their responses.”
Wins and successes create momentum and resolve to continue. Kline’s vision of both safety and adaptability has been a boon to his company. He shares that they “are doing more remote work rather than face-to-face executive and technical meetings - leveraging video and web. Workers typically engage from home and only come to the office when necessary -e.g. equipment pick up or configuration.” Kline’s staff has adapted well to the changes and he has improved their customer pipeline by changing the sales process. Kline has also utilized PPP and EIDL to shore up the strength and stability of the company. This success will lead to future growth and expansion.
Improvement needs to be a continual process in order for it to stick. Mazzeo’s business is a great example of this as they continue to evolve in the face of the pandemic and in the realities of the retail industry. She shares, “the online store and subscription boxes are definitely here to stay. Both of these were part of our medium-term growth strategy and we were planning to implement them sometime in 2020. The pandemic simply forced us to implement them much sooner than we were planning to, and therefore to figure out the systems/processes as we went along. This was probably actually a good thing for us, because now they're up and running rather than still being in ‘idea mode’. More importantly, we were able to continue serving our customers while our doors were closed."
Changes hold when the new ideas, processes and procedures become part of the core of the organization. Both Mazzeo and Kline’s discussion of business process changes were characterized by optimism and focus as they prepare for the next stage of operations in the COVID-19 climate.
Kline maintains and updates a business continuity plan which includes communication with customers. Mazzeo’s continuity strategy has continued evolving multiple times since March 2020. Continuing to meet the needs of customers while keeping employees safe are the current dominant objectives. Both companies have achieved these objectives because they have been willing to change their processes. While these company CEOs have figured it out and have great teams executing the plans, not every company has figured out their pandemic pivot yet. They may be too busy following processes that no longer help them achieve their company objectives. Not everyone has the bandwidth to evaluate and analyze the needs while keeping the company afloat and that’s a great time to bring in an outside consultant.
Wondering if you are in that position? Ask yourself: Are you too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet?