The tumultuous nature of the past year—if not longer—has given credence to the idea that change is the only constant. If nothing else, the COVID-19 pandemic and social movements in 2020 provided a crash course for business leaders on how to make fast, high-value decisions on a dime. Business leaders were backed into corners and forced to make tough decisions about priorities and trade-offs, general welfare, and profits.
The pandemic taught us all new skills, and many business leaders emerged from the crisis even stronger. Here are the skills leaders can use following the pandemic to grow as leaders and scale their businesses.
1. Always return to your ‘why.’
Change does one thing reliably: It forces the important things to rise to the top. When the future is unknown, the things that are known become even more important. So business leaders learned they had to identify, recommit, and stay true to their ultimate values for their company.
Your employees want to trust that your vision for the future is grounded in shared values—and that they can believe in those values as well. Shared values are the best motivators, after all, and especially in times of uncertainty and stress.
But even beyond the workforce, consumers have only grown more skeptical when it comes to businesses’ ethics and missions. Consumers are increasingly prioritizing a company’s values when making purchasing decisions, a trend that only accelerated after the heightened economic and social unrest during the pandemic.
Therefore, it’s vital to constantly examine your values and how your decisions, processes, and communications uphold or detract from those values. If you as a leader remain stalwart in your goals and the values that support those goals, it will be much easier for others to envision and stick to the path moving forward.
2. Give back to the community.
In the pandemic, we all saw examples of people looking out for one another and doing what they could to ease others’ troubles. Businesses pivoted to provide lunches to children who were attending virtual school, acted with agility to accommodate customers’ unique needs, and threw their weight (and financial support) behind social movements such as Black Lives Matter.
Business leaders will need to keep up with this trend in the future, so seek out ways to partner with local organizations and nonprofits so you can give back to your community.
Greg DeLine, CEO of DeLine Holdings, frequently looks for opportunities to partner with nonprofits and give back to his community. In an article for Addicted 2 Success, DeLine wrote:
“By partnering with a nonprofit and sharing your skills and knowledge, you can make the nonprofit, well, profit. And you won’t just give, either. After all, the importance of philanthropy is its reciprocal nature. You’ll share yourself and your success as a startup entrepreneur, but you’ll also learn from the nonprofit’s ‘Aha!’ moments. Together, you can talk about the lessons you’ve learned and wind up applying those lessons to both the nonprofit and your business.”
Giving back to the community will be important in the future “new normal,” and it will only increase your empathy and connection to the community. Chances are, partnering with nonprofits will help you reaffirm or rediscover your “why” from No. 1.
3. Listen to and create a diverse and inclusive work environment.
Although the business world has been feeling the pressure to build more diverse and inclusive work environments in the past couple of decades, the pandemic and social unrest in 2020 magnified the importance of these efforts. During the pandemic, we saw the ramifications fall harder on women and people of color. How is your company navigating these unintended effects?
Daymond John spoke on this topic during CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” He said: “True entrepreneurs, what they do is, they find a problem in the market. They identify the problem, they listen, they do their homework, and then they figure it out. And this is what you have to do. It starts with the systemic racism. Before you can get to help your company, you need to understand some things to make these adjustments.”
The business landscape will only get more complicated in the coming years with increasingly disruptive technology and events. And ethical and moral considerations aside, there’s also a business case to be made for growing diversity, equity, and inclusion in your company. Diverse teams bring diverse perspectives and more creative problem-solving efforts, leading to higher profits (among other KPIs).
Here’s what entrepreneurs and business leaders need to keep in mind: If you believe in your company’s DEI efforts, your company will be much more likely to thrive in the face of change. Business leaders who successfully bring DEI values to their companies will need to hold themselves to the highest standards in the company, keep pushing themselves out of their comfort zones in order to keep learning, and advocate passionately for people whose voices aren’t currently being heard.
4. Ask your employees for ideas, and be willing to hear them.
Receiving ideas and feedback from your employees is important for some of the very same reasons as outlined above for DEI efforts. It takes a slew of people with diverse perspectives to build a sustainably profitable business.
In the pandemic, communities everywhere made difficult decisions about whose work was essential and nonessential. Frontline workers in many industries were deemed essential, which just goes to show how vital those employees are to the day-to-day operations of your company. That makes their perspective invaluable.
You might think that your employees know they can come to you with anything. But there’s a big difference between a passive open-door policy and an active process that consistently delivers feedback to leadership. One research study covered in the book “Courageous Cultures” shows that 49% of employees say they are not regularly asked for ideas. That’s a problem.
No matter the industry, your company will face unexpected changes in the future that will require quick thinking and creative problem-solving—just like some of the issues faced during the pandemic, including the mass exodus to remote work and creating digital and contactless processes. With that, get your entire company in the habit now of soliciting, encouraging, and listening to ideas from a variety of roles and talents.
This will take some time. It probably is a culture change, after all. But repeated, purposeful requests for ideas and solutions will go a long way toward proving to your employees that you mean what you say and value their input.
There are numerous things we want to leave behind as we embrace the new normal after the pandemic, but there are plenty of lessons we need to carry with us. For many entrepreneurs and business leaders, these lessons could make the difference between leading an inflexible company that can’t survive the next challenge and leading an agile, innovative company that embraces the unknown.