Navigating the Waters of a Global Crisis as a Small Business Leader

After coming off the best financial quarter in the company’s history, the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly shut down airports, crashed markets and halted an otherwise thriving economy – all the while claiming tens of thousands of lives around the world.

It would have been easy to slip into panic mode; to make rash decisions because our company’s largest market segment- commercial airports – was now grounded. To look at the bottom line instead of into the eyes of my team members. But every crisis is ultimately about people, and I had to start thinking about how to protect my own.

At Argus Consulting, we are focusing on these five pillars to weather this storm:

1. Set your workforce up for success and keep a constant pulse on their wellbeing.

Our machine is our people. Our product is their expertise. Their health, safety and wellbeing are always at the top of our list. We quickly converted our team to remote work environments, and we’ve optimized productivity as they serve clients as well as ever.

Sounds great right? Well, yes and no. It’s important to recognize that what your people are likely experiencing right now is actually fight or flight. While people, including myself, may seem to be our most productive right now, we can’t operate in this physiological state for too long before burnout sets in.

So, we’re keeping a constant pulse on the organization, and empowering them to look out for each other. I think about “concussion protocol” from when my son played high school football. The person with the concussion doesn’t always realize that they’re acting “off,” but their teammates do. We’re not even at halftime of this crisis yet, so we must all continue to look out for each other.

2. Do what engineers do best.  

Engineers are natural problem solvers, and lucky for us, our company is full of them. We’re taking a very pragmatic approach to enduring this pandemic. We challenge ourselves to ask, “What’s the most important thing right now?” We tackle that problem or opportunity first and then move on to the next one. In such a volatile situation, you are at risk of analysis paralysis because new information pops up every day. You must act using the best information available to you at the time.

3. Let your vision and your values guide decision-making.

Your core values help you make decisions and have empathy. They help us work through decisions. Our first value is Integrity. To me, Integrity means two things right now: making sure our team members know we have their backs and doing the right thing on behalf of our clients.

Our vision of being the trusted leader in fuels systems engineering is our lens. Clients must know our vision hasn’t changed and that they can expect the same level of service and expertise that we’ve always delivered. And for us, that means approaching this crisis from our client’s perspective, watching out for their best interests and helping them navigate the challenges they face as they work to establish the new normal as industries and individuals.

4. Reassess and establish new goalposts, and then shout them from the balcony.

While we enjoyed a prosperous first quarter, everyone knows 2020 isn’t going to be the year we thought it would be. But that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel. We reassess, establish new goalposts and rally the troops. I’ve challenged all my direct reports to “shout our revised goals from the balcony,” because people need to know there is still a lot worth fighting for.

We are a diversified company that services various markets and client segments, and all of them have been affected in different ways by the pandemic. It’s our job to work with our clients, identify their needs and limitations and help them come out of this positioned for success.

5. Embrace change and look for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Believe it or not, there is an end to this, and we should start preparing for who we want to be when we emerge. As engineering firms, we often get caught up in “billable work,” and we may not have as much of it right now as we used to. But that doesn’t mean we can’t spend time improving processes, cross-training on roles, or building proficiencies. When the new normal arrives, we want our organization to be stronger than before and ready to seize new opportunities. 

Speaking of the new normal, your company culture might be different post-pandemic. The whole world will likely act differently. What were the aspects of your culture that prospered during the pandemic? For us, so far, it has been becoming more transparent and increasing frequency of communication to really bring us together as a team, and we intend to find ways to preserve that long-term.

Being an engineer and the CEO of a small firm, I touch all aspects of the business. At the beginning of this, I thought I had to be perfect, and I quickly became overwhelmed. So, if I have one last piece of advice for other small firm leaders, it’s this: Let go of perfection. Instead, embrace your own humanity and be honest. Your people need that from you right now. People are the center of all crises. If we all take care of our own, we will get through this together.

Originally published on LinkedIn.