4 Steps to Strengthen Your Business During Economic Turbulence

2020 has been a year filled with unpredictability, economic turbulence and constant problem-solving. In our modern economy, we’ve never faced a pandemic like COVID-19 that shut down the vast majority of the economy — and hopefully, we never will again. But first, we need to find a path through this ongoing challenge. None of us can predict with any certainty what’s in store for the remainder of 2020, but business leaders can take steps to improve the second half of the year.

There are ways employers can infuse their strategy to strengthen their business through rapid shifts in the economy. Employers can start by looking back at the first half of the year. When mandated stay-at-home orders forced businesses to quickly shift operations, how prepared were you? Could your workforce move virtually? Did you furlough or lay-off employees? Thinking back, what could you have done differently? 

Now, thinking ahead, what do you need to do to stabilize your company and set it up for growth?

Here are four steps you can take to build a strong plan that will lead your organization through this year and beyond.

Audit your talent to identify gaps. 

Now’s the time to look at your current staff and weigh how you can be most efficient.

“When you are doing more with less you need to have the best teams in place to ensure your business runs smoothly and comes out of the downturn on top. Evaluating what skill sets you have in place now and questioning what skill gaps you have where work is not getting accomplished effectively will be in key in this planning,” says Michelle Decker, managing partner for M&B Search Group.

Here are three key questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is there more work than people?
  2. Am I set up for when the market is in an upswing?
  3. Can I react quickly enough to meet the demands and needs of my customers?

As you conduct a skills gap analysis, be sure to weigh if you can develop key skills in your current staff. Giving your employees with the most potential the chance to develop into leaders can improve satisfaction and retention. If the skill gap can’t be achieved through training and development of current staff, you’ll need to make a plan to bring in new talent to help your organization remain competitive.

Consider multiple hiring strategies.

If developing an employee isn’t an option, employers essentially have two other broad strategies: hire a new employee or hire a contractor. If hiring an employee is your plan, here’s some good news: recent layoffs mean there is top talent currently seeking employment. 

 “The war for talent was at its height from 2018 through 2019. We have seen some top performers being impacted over the last six months with downsizing, so it is an easier time to have more choices in hiring,” says Decker.

If you’re not ready to commit to a new employee, but have excess work to be completed, finding a contractor is a great option. 

“There’s a consistent need to hire top performers, no matter how the market is reacting.  Even in a downturn, there are always industries that benefit from the situation and are in growth mode,” says Beth Aebersold, managing partner of M&B Search Group. “Utilizing contract associates is always a good way to test the waters and see if you can sustain your desired output. Plus, it saves your internal associates from burnout and feeling overstressed, which can lead to turnover.”

Create a retention plan.

While the prospect of losing a job during tough economic times often keeps employees from leaving, it’s the best time to determine how to retain your employees once the economy begins to improve.

You can impact satisfaction by helping your employees feel a sense of stability at work, especially when the world seems a bit chaotic. Improve your internal communications (both written and verbal) and commit to discussing your strategic plans and any shifts in priorities. Help employees understand how they contribute to the success of the company. 

Next, evaluate the real needs of your employees, especially with COVID-19 changing virtually every aspect of life. 

“Flexibility is going to be the keyword for all employers over the next couple of years. Some employees will work well remotely and potentially have better production, whereas others will struggle with this new norm,” says Decker. “Many employees need flexibility for family situations — like closures of daycares and schools — that they never needed in the past. Being understanding and accommodating  will help you retain talent.”

If your team will continue working remotely for some time, collaborate with your employees to find tools to make virtual work more productive and engaging. Monthly focus groups with interdepartmental employees can help you brainstorm and uncover opportunities to make your workforce feel invested in and successful. In addition to helping your employees, you may discover that these focus groups lead to innovative and creative ways to tackle new or existing business problems. 

“I recently joined an online training call about ensuring that companies offer the tools associates need to feel successful in this environment,” says Aebersold. “Companies need to focus on creating an environment of care and concern. Associates need to feel like they are a top priority in the eyes of their employers.  Culture is key – create connectedness, lead by listening with compassion, be present, lean into your values as a company.”  

Rates of anxiety and depression are on the rise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now’s the time to ensure that your benefits – and compensation – provide your employees with resources to help them take care of themselves and their families, both physically and mentally. The last thing you want is someone to leave your company solely because they need better benefits to care for their families. 

Identify new ways to engage employees.

Keeping your employees engaged requires much more intention now. Gone are the days when you can stop by a desk from an impromptu check-in or connect over an in-person lunch. But the reality is that checking in and connecting are more important than ever.

“Regular one-on-one meetings with your team members play an important role in helping employees feel in the loop,” says Decker. “ What once was a quick conversation by walking down the hall or over lunch now must be more planned. Take the time to ask your team how they are doing with their work and how you can help with balancing work with home responsibilities.”

Aebersold adds: “Make sure the team understands your expectations, what has changed during this time, what is a “nice-to-have” vs. a “must-be-done.” Over communicate and show appreciation, knowing that many people are likely dealing with a lot right now – kids running around, maybe a spouse has been laid-off or furloughed, older parents to keep safe, etc. Lead by example – show them your vulnerable side, too. However, business needs to thrive in this uncertain time and employees need to be accountable for their work, so manage with grace, flexibility and connectedness, and the results will follow.”  

Lastly, find a way to infuse some personal connection and fun into the workplace. Whether it’s virtual bingo or trivia, or morning coffee chats, bring together your team to share some time to simply connect with one another. After all, connectivity is one of the most important elements to making a team thrive, no matter the circumstances. 

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