All top performing companies have a healthy, year-round business rhythm. However, some companies have let their best practices slide during the pandemic. Maybe in March and April you had to make tomorrow your top priority. But that was then. Now, it’s clear that the pandemic environment is going to be our new normal well into 2021. Companies that keep putting off essential planning might not make it that long.
To help CEOs reestablish their business rhythm, I led a panel discussion with some of CEO Coaching International’s top coaches. We surveyed the current state of business in the pandemic and unpacked best practices that will help you end a hard year on a high note.
Joining me on this panel were:
- Don Schiavone, Managing Director of CEO Coaching International. Before joining us at CEO Coaching, Don led Grasshopper to a $172 million sale to Citrix.
- Sheldon Harris, a highly successful entrepreneur and leader who worked for many years as president of Cold Stone Creamery.
- David Sobel, a global sales expert who created a replicable and scalable model for Home Warranty of America that culminated in the sale of the business for $50,000,000.
- Dr. Jacquie Hart has held senior leadership positions at large companies including Wells Fargo Bank, HSBC, and Neuberger Berman.
1. Get back on the bandwagon.
It was inevitable that some of your best practices slipped through the cracks at the beginning of the pandemic. Ensuring the safety of your employees, putting out daily fires, and pivoting online had to take priority.
“A lot of us fell off the bandwagon when the pandemic first hit because of all the uncertainty,” says Don Schiavone. “We weren’t sure, is shutdown going to be a week, a month? We were playing defense, we were more reactive to day-to-day challenges and our rhythms became almost by the minute and by the day. Now that we’re falling into a new sense of normalcy that could last 12 or 24 months, we have to get back to the trusted rhythms that provide growth, albeit with a different context since we’re no longer in offices and doing it by Zoom.”
In fact, the CEOs who aren’t just treading water right now are, by and large, the ones who normalized their operations as quickly as possible. “Process doesn’t change, only the problems do,” says Sheldon Harris. “That includes pre and post-pandemic. The best firms that are having the best results in spite of the external circumstances are those that are following healthy communication rhythms, which includes things like the annual planning process, the quarterly alignment sessions, the weekly meetings with their senior management team. Rhythms are the cornerstone of effective execution regardless of what’s going on.”
2. Turn up the communication frequency.
“I think that the velocity of communication in times of uncertainty certainly picks up,” says Jacquie Hart. “We saw that a lot of our clients began doing daily huddles or stand-ups just so that people would have a sense of what’s happening. It’s so critical for the leader to help calm, inspire, and inform, especially during times of uncertainty because otherwise the team will end up having more fear or a greater lack of clarity.”
David Sobel also points to clarity of vision as an important communication goal right now. “Since the pandemic struck, I think most companies who are exceeding their targets right now are communicating a lot more and they’re more effective in what they do,” David says. “They’re not chasing squirrels and rabbits and shiny new objects all over the place. They’re staying laser focused right now.”
Maintaining clarity and focus among your employees can be a challenge now that so much of your workforce is displaced. CEOs are used to what Sheldon Harris calls MBWA: Management By Walking Around. You can’t pop in to your team leaders’ offices right now, or swing by the customer service desk to see who’s been calling about what.
We spent the first part of the pandemic figuring out how to meet virtually. Now, CEOs have to figure out how to use those same tools to manage virtually as well.
“One good example is our client Todd Bavol with Integrity Staffing,” says Sheldon Harris. “He’s got a pretty big organization all across the country. He’s started doing ‘Zoom-Bys’ because he can’t walk by anymore. He will literally engage with people throughout the organization at all levels. They’re very brief, maybe three to five minutes, but he’ll just connect and let them know that he’s thinking about them, that he’s with them. It’s amazing how that behavior affects the entire culture of the organization. Word ripples around, ‘Wow, the CEO called to check on me.'”
A word of caution from Don Schiavone: your employees are getting every bit as burned out on Zoom social hours as you are. He says, “What we’re now starting to see is some of those techniques that we used at the beginning of the pandemic are starting to feel forced. It was reacting to a situation that has passed and this is a new norm. Now we need to get back to what some of those reactionary tactics were reacting to and getting ahead of it with planning. It’s really critical that we drive forward with an offense and no longer react.”
That’s not to say that your employees don’t still need some level of social interaction with their teams. But remember that your workers are mostly stuck at home, juggling both personal and professional responsibilities from a room that was never meant to be their main office. Your communication can’t just feel frequent, it has to feel essential if you want to keep your employees motivated and on-point.
3. Improve your value proposition.
Just a year ago, adapting to millennial ideas about working from home and flexible hours was a major topic of conversation among CEOs. After Covid-19, flexibility is just table stakes in the battle to retain and attract top talent.
Sheldon Harris says, “Most firms are really good at understanding their value proposition for their clients, but really bad at knowing what is the value proposition for their team members. Why should somebody want to be part of your team? Well, there’s never going to be a more important time than now to have that clarity because I find that’s the blind spot that many firms are missing.”
One of our clients, NewDay USA, is experiencing incredible growth in the mortgage industry through talent acquisition. They have a treasure trove of authentic employee testimonials on social media trumpeting how dynamic the company is and how working with military veterans creates a good life for employees and customers alike.
Another client, Ryan Iwamoto, added COVID-19 testing and meal delivery for isolated seniors to his company’s in-home health care services.
And Chris Gannon’s Bolay restaurant group doubled-down on its charitable efforts, helping to feed unemployed hospitality workers and essential hospital staff. Chris’ community has repaid that generosity in a BIG way.
Successful CEOs have moved past survival mode, and they’re bringing top talent with them. Your internal messaging and external marketing have to appeal to new pain points, offer solutions, and make your team feel like you’re doing more than just “hanging in there” until we get a vaccine.
“On the emotional side, I think what many CEOs are missing is belief,” says David Sobel. “You have to believe that things are possible, lead your team, and actively reach out and build relationships. Who knows what’s happened to a prospect’s current provider. It’s needing more of a belief system inside your own brain as a CEO and within your organization.”
4. Plan your march forward.
The pandemic narrowed the scope of business from hitting BIG goals to maintaining daily operations. You did what you had to do in Q1 and Q2 to keep your business above water.
But now that Q3 is winding down, it’s time to start planning your final 13-week march to the 2020 finish line.
“Starting your planning cycle on a quarterly basis is something that works in bad times and in good times,” says Don Schiavone. “If you’re trying to change the plan too often, then you’re reacting and those reactions may or may not work. And you don’t have time to see if tests actually paid off. So really strive for a healthy 13-week march where you set goals for that quarter that are aligned and connected to your annual plan. Yes, the pandemic hit, most of our businesses changed their plans. Some up, some down. Do that in a concerted quarterly rhythm.”
“The power of the planning session too is that we create the space for ideation,” notes Jacquie Hart, “the concept of divergent and convergent thinking. Some of the best ideas come from the team. So, the opportunity to create that space in line with that True North that we’re setting or new opportunities for that 13-week march for the next quarter is a really great framework that we can help facilitate and accelerate.”
Too many CEOs still think they can’t afford to plan ahead, invest in the future, look for new opportunities, or start setting targets for a world none of us can anticipate. Unfortunately, your competition might not be so skittish.
“When the pandemic hit, there was an initial sense of, we need to just call timeout on everything right now,” says Sheldon Harris. “Hands down, the best firms are the ones that have quickly got back on that rhythm just as Don was describing. If you wait for certainty to try to set your plan, you’re never going to find that point in time. It’s more like doing the best we can to find clarity and then creating a plan that’s flexible that we can then move forward with.”
By now, you’ve probably mastered the basics of an effective virtual meeting. Quarterly and annual planning sessions add some additional challenges. Some best practices my team has adopted for the sessions we’re facilitating right now include:
- Distribute prework. At the minimum, send questionnaires to all participants asking them to list what went right this quarter, what went wrong, and what we can improve on going forward.
- Go easy on the PowerPoint. Zoom fatigue is real. If you spend too much time showing your participants slides, they’re going to zoom over to another browser window. Unless of course you …
- Ask participants to use video. Everyone has a webcam now. Anyone who turns theirs off needs to have a very good reason.
- Be interactive. Call on participants to answer questions and give feedback. Use quizzes, polls, and small group discussions of prework questions to keep everyone involved.
- Take breaks. Six hours is the natural limit for a major virtual planning session, including a lunch break and several smaller breaks spaced out during the allotted time.
- Stay focused on Q4. This isn’t your TEDx talk. Let everyone know where the company stands right now. Recognize employees who have gone above and beyond during the virtual pivot. State no more than 5 key objectives and lay out the measurable, actionable steps each department needs to take to hit those targets before the end of the year.
“Today is the day,” says Sheldon Harris. “Most new CEOs are not doing the things we’re talking about here. They’re waiting for the right time to do it. They’re waiting for the right time to create a plan. They’re waiting for a right time to communicate with clarity with their people, to get their team bought into one of these quarterly rhythms, to do their annual planning. If you’ve been falling off or you weren’t strong on these rhythms before, today is the day to get back to it.”
Covid-19 has disrupted your business this year and raised a lot of questions about the future of business. But it’s also created some clarity when it comes to what’s separating struggling companies from the ones that will continue to excel. The successful CEOs we coach are committing to the planning and communication rhythms that will position them for success right now, and in the future.
These leaders aren’t waiting. They’re leading. And that’s why they’re going to make BIG happen for years to come.
About Mark Moses
Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make Big Happen. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 600 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 40 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 59% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.