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As we explored last week, strong leaders are making every effort to provide financial and moral support to their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. While this “down and in” focus is important, the strain this pandemic is placing on businesses struggling to survive is also requiring leaders to look up and out. Leaders are now redefining how we think about the “people” of a business. The health and well-being of supply chains and established networks is becoming as critical to business success as the internal operations and employees. COVID is creating a chance, or maybe a need, to ask what you can do to support a broader community than the one that normally shelters under your company’s umbrella.
For most companies, ensuring that their supply chain remains intact despite the global scale of interruptions has become a top priority. When both retailers and suppliers are experiencing financial strain, there is an opportunity to work together to share some of the burden. Numerous businesses report working with their supply partners to make short term modifications to their financial agreements, such as the clothing retailer who agreed on new terms with their suppliers to pay for products when purchased by consumers. These types of modifications that allow for each member in the chain to bear the burden they are capable of supporting will ultimately support the viability of the entire supply chain.
Just as supporting employees goes beyond financial obligations, supply chain support goes beyond contractual agreements and payments. Sometimes, bi-directional support is evidenced simply through respecting the decisions made by partners without penalties. For example, the case of a fish distributor who plans to continue purchasing fish from a captain who feels unable to fish safely until the pandemic is more controlled. Rather than viewing the pause in supply as a breach of contract, the distributor’s compassion for the fisherman’s integrity will strengthen the long term relationship between the two.
Socially, communities are forming stronger bonds than ever before by using digital connections to come together while sheltering apart, and this global emergency has fostered similar opportunities in the business world. In California, a group of consultants meets weekly to brainstorm the possibilities they can create together for their clients. Business consultants are hosting mastermind sessions for leaders to brainstorm ideas to help each other and CEO forums provide safe spaces for top executives to develop new ideas. Across the country, leaders are meeting with competitors and clients alike, brainstorming ideas to keep the ecosystem viable in preparation for a return to normalcy.
Perhaps most in keeping with the unprecedented nature of this pandemic is the support and consideration being demonstrated amongst competitors. Small businesses may have previously relied on competitors for advertising campaigns to keep the need for services in customers’ minds but these ties are now expanding. Businesses that remain operational in essential industries when their competition made a different decision are helping the customers of their closed competitors as an interim solution rather than a growth play. This might be as subtle as an outsourced IT team talking about “servicing”, rather than “acquiring”, customers of rival organizations who are down for the count or as straightforward as dentists directing patients to another local office that has remained open. You might need to look for it, but we are surrounded by examples of industries and companies uniting rather than dividing to face the continuous stream of evolving, pandemic-induced challenges.
There is no question that these are difficult times and simply to survive will be a triumph for many. But for those with the bandwidth and the vision, there is a very real opportunity to emerge from this pandemic with a stronger “external infrastructure” than ever before. Nurturing your external relationships, from suppliers to competitors and everything in between, forges bonds and creates a community that will last far longer than the shelter in place. Colleagues and businesses will think admiringly of those who stepped up during the trials and the benefits will be long lasting. Now may be the time to ask yourself who, exactly, are the “people” of your business and what can you be doing for all of them right now?