As many business owners move into a recovery and innovation phase post-COVID-19, attention is turning to how to strengthen and prepare for a changed future. Business leaders that plan to do better than merely “getting back to normal” will need to take a strategic approach to thrive in a changed landscape.

Some of the things that may have changed for businesses could include: a permanent shift to remote working for at least some team members; uncertainty and a distracted focus from staff in businesses who have reduced numbers (“am I next”); and new methods of working with your customer base to protect them from your competitors who will be desperate to win them.

While making these changes may carry an initial cost, it’s important for business leaders to look at this as an investment in their future.  Leaders will need to rally their team (and themselves!) away from negativity to focus on the innovation needed to approach opportunities with positivity and optimism.  Those that can do this successfully will build momentum and create a stronger culture.

Two unexpected projects for leaders to work on immediately are:

1. Invest time in team collaboration.  Especially important with teams working remotely.  Getting the team together to work on such topics as positioning for growth, identifying bottlenecks and process improvements, customer service innovations, market development analysis and longer term projects are great for engagement and “brightness of future”.  How to facilitate these types of discussions will be a new skill for many business leaders.  Along with this, they will also need to become more open to feedback with the accompanying follow through needed to make the outcomes of such discussions a reality.  The rewards for having an engaged and empowered team culture will come from staff and customer loyalty and a business that thrives.

2. Analyse the numbers. As mundane as this may sound, there are many answers in pulling apart the mechanics of how a business operates.  Learning what parts of the business are most profitable compared to those that tend to “leak” is an under-rated use of a business leader’s time.  Make a list of the kind of questions that should have known answers.  Questions such as “if we lost our largest client, how much would it affect profitability” or “where is 80% of the money in the business made and what percentage of labour is needed to service it?”.  Answers to these and any other questions require a level of analysis that will produce new and often surprising insights.  The ability to ask such questions along with developing information systems to supply answers will be another skill for business leaders to master.

Any great disruption carries with it opportunities and threats that require careful navigation.  This is where leadership is either evident or absent.  As the old quote goes: “a calm sea never made a skilled sailor”.