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Having previously discussed ways to support teams and communities beyond money, it should come as no surprise that we believe leaders who are interested in increasing the value of their organizations should also be looking beyond dollar signs, particularly in these unique times. Much like employment, money and finances make up only a small portion of the value that an employee brings to their company or that a company brings to their customers. While a lull in business-as-usual may be very stressful, COVID presents an opportunity to seek new ways to add value to an enterprise by offering space for introspection we are unlikely to see again in our lifetimes. Regardless of whether we would have chosen this context for inspiration, it is foolhardy to pass up the chance to strengthen the value our businesses bring to the marketplace and to our “people”.
With many employees normally engaged in office-based tasks suddenly working from home, and small business revenues running at significantly lower levels, many organizations have faced difficult choices to ensure that bills are paid each week. But for those who are able to continue making payroll, either through voluntary salary reductions, Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans, or more extreme measures, there is a chance to redirect traditional employee activities and ask employees to step up in new ways. With an almost overwhelming wealth of online education options, employees can use this time to learn a new skill that could round out their teams’ capabilities or even offer some redundancy to a critical function. Some professionals are also using this time to step out of their traditional roles, tackling activities such as organizing personal and shared drives. Working in a neat digital environment can be a force multiplier with long term benefits. From training to remote cleaning, employers should encourage and appreciate these novel ways of contributing even when traditional activities are dormant.
This notion of finding ways for employees to build value during a slowdown may be particularly relevant for businesses that are fortunate enough to receive funding through the PPP but are concerned that the timing will not match the demands of their business. Because the program requires that 75% of the funds be used for payroll within the first eight weeks of receipt, some businesses will have to rehire employees before their business is operational again, or lose the loan forgiveness option. This is a perfect scenario for these employers to encourage employee development, enhance their training programs, and develop other services they can offer to their customers, which will ultimately set the business up for an accelerated re-entry when restrictions are lifted. Leaders who feel torn between wanting to offer a paycheck and concern about the longevity of their ability to do so can at least take solace in the knowledge that their employees can continue to build the business, if in non-traditional ways, as long as the PPP funds hold out.
Relationships, beyond being a fundamental mechanism for conducting business, also represent a form of business value. While employees can use this time to build new skills, leaders have an opportunity to build new relationships or strengthen existing ones, thereby increasing the inherent value of their organization. Sometimes this relationship building is through direct connections. Financial institutions are offering free advice to anyone who might be struggling with PPP, EIDL, and other SBA programs, regardless of preexisting relationships. Business consultants and executive coaches are donating their time and expertise to help clients and strangers alike make the best decisions possible in the midst of uncertainty. Other times, however, relationship building is indirect. Manufacturers re-purposing equipment to make PPE, or donating food and other supplies to front line workers, are connecting with both those they help and the audience that learns of their actions through news reports and advertising campaigns. As the world settles into a new normal, post-COVID, the generosity of these organizations will keep them front of mind when customers are seeking paid services once more.
As a business coach, co-author Lisa asks her clients to consider: “What business are you currently in? What business could you be in? What business should you be in?”. In normal coaching sessions, these questions challenge business owners to stretch their thinking outside of their comfort zone, but in the COVID crisis, they have taken on a new level of relevance as business owners struggle to keep their companies afloat. One HVAC company has begun to pivot from providing exclusively in-home services to remote diagnostics and even guided repairs. Rather than being focused only on hands-on solutions, this company is providing a hybrid of education and diagnostics to set the stage for any in-person work that is still necessary. Beyond avoiding social contact, customers receive additional knowledge and confidence in the solutions while the company cuts down on the cost of travel for face to face service.
Regardless of industry, product, or service, there are dozens of ways for any company to measure and build value. Recognizing and encouraging employees who are finding new ways to support the organization can strengthen the internal relationships of a company beyond the additional skills and contributions of the work being done. Using this time to connect, both directly and indirectly, with a broad audience, regardless of the near term potential for a formal business relationship, lays the groundwork for years to come. Pivoting and reinventing opens entirely new vistas, perhaps even multiplying business potential rather than adding. Money may be necessary for a business to survive but we have an opportunity to build value for our businesses far beyond our bank accounts. Ask anyone who makes their own living by determining the value of businesses up for sale – the relationships are often worth far more than the cash! Will your business be more valuable when the pandemic ends?