Plenty of companies, like hammock makers and inflatable pool manufacturers, are reaping windfalls from the COVID-19 stay-at-home economy. For the vast majority of enterprises, however, their 2020 financial projections are upended and in jeopardy. Even companies that remain financially healthy are defensively crouching because of market uncertainty. Moratoriums on hiring, employee layoffs/furloughs, and salary reductions are the COVID-19 norm.
Glass half-empty people see nothing but downside when strategic objectives fall by the wayside and growth plans become moot. Optimists, on the other hand, find the silver linings in any situation.
Amid the devastation and heartbreak caused by COVID-19, these are a few corporate pandemic positives:
- “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Without a budget for new employee hiring, a company must internalize these words of Stephen Stills. Instead of seeking outside expertise for new projects, a company must rely upon the skill sets of its current workers. If a new project demands knowledge that employees don’t possess, quick learning, some initial failure, and many iterations will ensue. Using ingenuity and perhaps some duct tape and paper clips, employees will MacGyver their way through the most challenging problems. Solving problems without the option of hiring makes for self-reliant, stronger companies.
- Employees see immense growth potential. Workers entering a company as generalists often become specialists as they age in a position. That is, an employee may become so good at a task that she becomes the go-to person whenever this need arises. The flip-side to becoming indispensable for a task is that learning dwindles over time and often leads ambitious employees to seek new jobs. The inability to hire or contract the expertise for a never-been-done task provides opportunities for pigeon-holed employees to take the reins, learn something new, and wow their appreciative employers. Workers who continue to learn and are valued by their bosses are loyal employees.
- Back to first principles. Projects must be shelved after layoffs or furloughs because the employees aren’t present to finish and support the work. Deciding what to forgo forces a reckoning. These new resource constraints invariably cause management to jettison the “let’s plant lots of seeds and see what sprouts” mentality of well-funded companies. Instead, proactive hard-hit companies identify the core competencies that differentiate them from the competition. Focusing on the important while excluding the ancillary enables companies to survive during lean times and thrive when business ramps up. Some badly positioned agile companies use this time to innovate like hell and remake themselves to survive the business vicissitudes of the pandemic.
Typically, every decision of a CEO is related to creating value for investors. Employees may view free Pringles and M&M’s as the excellent perks of a company that cares about them; this may be true, but the underlying wish is that these empty calories fuel happiness, lead to big ideas, and ultimately lead to increased valuation. Startups that survive and receive large cash infusions are expected to use the money for growth. It’s not unusual to hear a flush-with-cash CEO crow about plans to double or triple the team over the course of a fiscal year. Companies that experience such meteoric growth will flame out without a superb, experienced managerial team.
With an economy in tatters, many investors’ expectations have morphed from a hard-charging growth mentality to basic survivalism. Lowered investor expectations provide time for badly needed corporate breath-catching and reflection – this is the ultimate silver lining of COVID-19.