EVEN IN THE BEST OF TIMES, it’s difficult to balance operational excellence today with vision and strategy for tomorrow. But when your market suffers a historic disruption like we’re experiencing now, it’s easy to lose track of the continual changes you need to make to your business model and simply “hunker down” to survive with your current model.
While the economic downturn that has resulted from the coronavirus pandemic may be the worst business challenge you have faced, it isn’t the first, nor will it be the last. Lessons learned in past downturns make it clear that the best path to surviving a market crash are the same as those for building a business that thrives in the long term—just dramatically accelerated.
Learn to apply these lessons now and you will not only survive the current downturn but build a business that can thrive for years to come.
Lesson 1: Markets change, competitors advance, and disruption happens. The only reasonable conclusion is there is no such thing as a business strategy that lasts forever. What’s different today is the speed of change and the depth of the downturn. But the lesson remains the same: You must always be preparing to adapt by looking forward to where your market may be headed and then building a plan to arrive there, rather than just improving upon today’s business. If you lose touch with the shifting context of your market, you risk obsolescence.
Lesson 2: Operational excellence creates stability and profit, but it also creates comfort and friction. While best practices are designed to ensure adherence to the “right” way to do things, they also prevent experimentation or adaptation. And when your market changes rapidly and dramatically, the last thing you can afford is to keep doing what you’ve always done. Ironically, your ability to run the business well today may be the very reason you resist changing it. But change is mandatory. Change your business model. Change your processes. Change your people and skills and strategies. Make the right changes for your market.
Lesson 3: Markets won’t wait for you to figure it out. While you certainly know examples of careful, long-term planning processes that led to successful businesses, the truth is that most businesses succeed because they adapt to the changes in the market—quickly. When markets change, past successes may provide money and position, but they certainly don’t guarantee future success. Even the most successful businesses must learn new tricks, align with new customer demands, and out-execute new competitors. The market is moving now, and you will either move or be left behind.