(Editor’s note: The Central Penn Business Journal has been asking our local business experts how they have been helping clients through these difficult times. Here is Claudia Williams and Chad Harvey’s story. Have insight to share? Please reach out to Cathy Hirko, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Claudia Williams celebrated the five-year anniversary of her consulting business in March 2020, just as the coronavirus was taking hold. Over those years, her practice evolved to more strategic business and executive coaching, which led her to become a Vistage Chair. Since 2015, Chad Harvey has been working with leaders to enable their growth and the growth of their organizations. He serves as an executive coach, Vistage Chair, strategic planner and facilitator of critical conversations and sessions.
As Vistage Chairs, we facilitate peer groups of high-performing leaders in a confidential and non-competitive setting so they can process key business issues that might otherwise be holding their businesses – or themselves – back. And that’s where we met each other in late 2018.
As coaches, we pay attention to local, regional, national and global influences and trends. It’s our job to try to understand what might impact our clients and their businesses so that they may plan accordingly.
In early January 2020, our trend-spotting antennae went on high alert and we began closely following the coronavirus. We asked many questions and wondered if we were overreacting to what we were seeing. What would it mean to overreact? What would it mean to underreact? We asked ourselves and each other these questions.
As our research intensified, we believed the world could be upended. (We know, right?) And that meant we needed to do our best to raise awareness for our clients and give them an opportunity to plan for the possible impact.
At our February Vistage meetings, we asked members, “Are you prepared for a pandemic? Do you do crisis planning as a matter of course for your business? What does crisis planning look like for your business,” etc. We discussed the coronavirus. We discussed the lack of availability of certain products such as hand sanitizer and face masks as supply-chain indicators of future problem within the U.S. The point is – we talked.
We reached out to experts. We studied Europe. We analyzed the data. We made projections. It’s our job to try to see the bigger picture. It isn’t about being right. It’s about identifying puzzle pieces and attempting to fit them together to see what’s coming next so that leaders might make informed decisions in the midst of chaos. And that’s exactly what happened when Pennsylvania essentially shut down on March 13. When the schools closed, it was a key sign that business was next. And that life as we knew it was about to change.
Throughout March and early April, and through no fault of their own, business owners effectively lost control of their organizations. The very people leading companies were now being told what they could and could not do with their businesses. And on personal levels, life was changing dramatically.
As Vistage Chairs, we met with our groups immediately via Zoom. Our groups first met separately – consistent with the noncompetitive tradition of Vistage. We quickly combined into one large meeting, though, bringing together subject-matter experts to discuss new laws, the CARES Act, mental health, cybersecurity, strategic finance, and other top-of-mind issues. The situation was changing rapidly. In these moments, the collective success of all businesses mattered more than the individual success of any one business, and we all instinctively knew that.
Our clients began examining how to emerge from lockdown and the possible scenarios for reopening. They considered the paths forward while acknowledging the uncertainties – uncertainties that do not have to be accompanied by fear. Their mindsets were nimble and adaptable in the face of guaranteed uncertainty.
So what comes next? We face the possibility of continued and sporadic disruption, including the acceleration of existing trends, the potential obliteration of entire industries, and the creation of new blue oceans.
Europe and Asia will continue to inform our immediate future, and we should be planning now for a variety of potential scenarios. Each of us as a leader now has a choice: will we be the Ant who learns how to move quickly and prepare more effectively, or will we be the Grasshopper who continues to pine for the golden days of a summer long-gone?
That choice boils down, at least initially, to one key factor within each individual’s control: mindset.
Claudia Williams and Chad Harvey are executive coaches, Vistage Chairs, and the co-founders of Pivot Strategies LLC. For more information, visit missionpivot.com.