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Don’t Waste a Crisis, Revisited 

A Lubes’n’Greases reader recently wrote to me that he appreciated my January 2018 column entitled “Don’t Waste That Crisis” and that it was highly pertinent in today’s turbulent environment. I have excerpted a few key points from that article and expanded upon them in light of current events.

The key point of the column was that a business can reap some value from a crisis—even one as painful as this pandemic—in the following ways:

  • A crisis can act as an organizational rallying cry and bring laser-like unity of purpose.
  • A crisis can allow or even facilitate the examination of new ideas and the tearing down of outdated or unhelpful paradigms.
  • A crisis can lead to radical re-prioritization of resources.

What organizational rallying cry might you choose from the pandemic? No doubt this may be very specific to your company, but one that may be common to all is to be better prepared for a future pandemic or other business disruption. I suggest you reflect on your company’s performance in the following areas:

  • How well did you do with regard to communications to employees during the crisis? Were communications consistent and regular as the situation developed? Did people heed the communications?
  • You likely had (and may still have) a portion of your employees working from home during the pandemic. Did these employees have the necessary equipment to perform their jobs? Did you properly address cybersecurity issues?
  • Were you able to set up and conduct productive and secure online meetings?
  • Were you able to keep track of employees to the extent necessary?
  • Were your human resources, medical and IT resources given the tools necessary to support the multitude of issues being thrown at them during the pandemic?
  • How well did your company do in its communications with customers and suppliers, the community, your board of directors, shareholders and owners?

In some of these areas, you may want to do a survey to collect feedback on your company’s performance and specific areas for improvement.

You may wish to implement improved business continuity plans for a wider range of potential situations rather than simply put in place a plan for the inevitable next pandemic. For example, you may wish to consider specific business disruption scenarios such as plant shutdowns, work-from-home situations, supplier and customer disruptions, etc. Then, address the implications and potential actions with a broad, cross-functional team. 

This more general approach to scenario planning may be more useful than planning for a specific disruption such as a hurricane or a pandemic. Building flexibility into your business—for example, more plant turndown capability as well as plant surge capacity—could be valuable in these turbulent times. My expectation is that even if this particular pandemic eventually ends due to a successful vaccine, the shake-out of 2020 events may take several years to be completely assessed.

What organizational rallying cry might you choose from the pandemic?

What breakout ideas have emerged for your company during the pandemic? One area that seems to have emerged for many companies is the degree to which they rely on physical stores in order to do business. We have seen restaurants adapt to online ordering and customer pickup or delivery; supermarkets have adapted to social distancing and various online ordering and delivery models; and retail has shifted at a rapid pace to Amazon, Etsy and other online retailers with payment through PayPal and other financial technology options. 

What about your company? Have you managed to shift sales online or direct-to-consumer? This is an optimum time to consider your various sales channels and evaluate how you intend to utilize them going forward. Consider how your competition performed during this time and whether the comparison supports your company’s brand promise.

What opportunity do you see for a radical, or at least material, re-prioritization of resources post-pandemic? Consider as a starting point the activities and projects that you had to stop in order to focus attention on the ongoing crisis. What activities didn’t you miss, or what’s more, discovered how time-consuming they really were? Here are some areas you might want to think about:

  • Do you have some expansion projects that you were planning? In light of potential significant shifts in commuting behavior, global travel and other aspects of consumer demand, can you delay such expansions?
  • Are there opportunities to increase automation in your plants or processes in order to improve safety or reduce costs?
  • Are there projects that you may need to re-evaluate economically or cancel in this low energy price and low interest rate environment? Conversely, perhaps there are projects for which the economics may improve.
  • Can you incorporate working from home and reduced travel and entertainment spending into your longer-term budgeting and planning? Can you consolidate staff into smaller office space?

A final area for your management team to consider during and after this crisis is that of morale. People have been through a great deal of stress coping with the pandemic on both a personal and a business level. Loyalty to colleagues and good will can be built upon a foundation of kindness and appreciation during difficult times. 

Consider how your company can show thanks to your employees for keeping your business running and your customers satisfied during this time of stress. If you have had to furlough or lay off employees, consider whether your communications and financial arrangements were sufficiently well-handled.  

It is especially hard to support company culture and feelings of collegiality when meetings cannot be held face to face and the size of gatherings is limited. You may want to consider the use of video messages or more frequent written communications or newsletters from management to bolster a sense of belonging and show appreciation. Give special consideration to how you may want to approach onboarding of new employees in this environment.

My very best wishes go to the community of Lubes’n’Greases readers. Let’s do our best to learn and grow from this crisis! 

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. Contact her at or (908) 400-5210.

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