COVID-19 has brought global commerce to a standstill and risks collapsing the corporate infrastructure of even the most powerful economies in Asia, Europe and North America. National and state governments will be disbursing trillions of dollars of financial assistance in the coming months with the goal of kickstarting the engines of business as the pandemic abates.
But governmental efforts will only succeed if businesses are able to effectively navigate the bureaucracies, politics and timelines governing this financial assistance, and quickly put it to work. Executives can’t be passive recipients of the state’s largesse through this unprecedented period. They need to act and shape what happens, and play a central role in the speed and scope of our recovery.
There are six core actions companies need to take to help themselves, and everyone else, get through this emergency. We know the first step is to staunch the bleeding. Indeed, most of the governments’ immediate actions around the world are designed to keep companies alive, by abating and delaying taxes, providing no-cost and low-cost lending, and directing support to out-of-work or furloughed workers.
But to recover, executives need to keep focused on the medium- and long-run, as well. You have to survive today to get to tomorrow. Here are some ideas we’ve developed about how to successfully navigate through the perils facing almost every company and organization in these times, and how to thrive in the future.
1.) Inventory Assets and Challenges: Companies need to consider how best to preserve their strategic assets during this time of social distancing. They’re not just financial, but include the goodwill imbued in all your successful commercial and social relationships with customers, suppliers and employees. Executives should establish crisis teams to make sure these important relationships are identified, maintained and nurtured. These teams should also inventory every challenge the company faces, and designate staff to lead responses to these legal, financial, and labor threats.
2.) Prioritize Government Relations:, Executives need to prioritize government relations at this time. This means looking at them through both a local and global lens, and over the near- and medium-term. You will need to know, and when possible anticipate, the steps governments are taking and try to shape them to your company’s advantage. You’ll also need to think broadly on this front, as assistance is coming from myriad sources: local and national sources in the U.S. and from governments in overseas locations were you might operating.
3.) Step Up Strategic Communications: Companies, rather than going to ground, need to communicate aggressively to all of their key stakeholders during this pandemic. The recovery of your company depends on it. This will often mean tailoring, and reinforcing, messaging to your different constituencies – workers, shareholders, the media, the government. The more people you represent, and the more connected you are to the public, the more likely governments will be there to help you.
4.) Envision Day One: Businesses are going to reopen, whether it’s in one month or six. But what exactly will that re-start look like? Executives and owners need to be thinking now about how their operations must change because of COVID-19 and communicate this to their staff. Will more business be on-line? Will employees increasingly work from home? Will some commerce simply not survive? The pandemic is threatening normal businesses practices, but it’s also providing an opening for innovation and change. Companies need to be preparing their employees and customers for this new day.
5.) Prepare A Safety Net: COVID-19 is proving to be the biggest threat to global prosperity and economic health in a generation. Millions have lost their jobs, and millions more will likely do so. As a result, companies and their executives will be remembered for how they served their employees and communities at this time. The depth of the crisis is forcing many of them to downsize, if not close. But the companies that will survive, or reemerge, will be the ones who did the most to help their workforce and societies get through this difficult period.
6.) Seek Continuity: Executives need to seek continuity in their businesses and work culture, even as they fight COVID-19. During times of change, the ability of companies to rely on core ideas and systems can help them survive and prosper. They should also remain committed to advancing their organization’s and society’s broader goals, such as a clean environment, worker safety and equal economic opportunity.
Margery Kraus is founder and executive chairman of APCO Worldwide, a global advisory and advocacy communications consultancy headquartered in Washington, D.C. She specializes in public affairs, communication, and business consulting for major multinationals. Ms. Kraus founded APCO in 1984 and transformed it from a company with one small Washington office to a multinational consulting firm in major cities throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.