How Entrepreneurs Can Cope (And Come Out Stronger) Through The COVID-19 Crisis
Decide where your skills and energy are best focused to make a lasting, positive difference, for yourself, your team, your business, and your organization overall.
This article has been built in collaboration with Young Arab Leaders, a not-for-profit organization founded by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, to develop the next generation of leaders in the Arab world through entrepreneurship, education, and employment.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen our world being turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. With temporary business closures, social distancing practices, and a renewed focus on health, we’ve all had to adapt to a new reality for 2020.
Such events can be challenging to cope with to say the least, and it’s easy to feel isolated and overwhelmed amidst so many unknowns. The best advice I heard from the most seasoned business leaders is to start by focusing on two essentials: safety and risk management.
Safety comes first. To make a difference in the future, you and your people need to safely emerge from the situation. Second, contain as many risks as you can within your scope of control, as fast as you can– and not just for the moment, but also future-proof against potential reoccurrences of the incident in the long term.
Some key lessons that shaped how I deal with the current situation were learnt while growing up in a war-torn country, where managing risks daily was a necessity. Career-defining moments, such as moves to new industries, relocating to a new market, or leading the structuring and then managing large and complex partnership deals, taught me how to better calculate risks and manage curveballs– both by myself and with the support of good friends and mentors.
Today I work for Mastercard, where decency and thoughtful risk-taking are part of the everyday culture, as we continuously navigate a fast-changing world. My team and I have increased the cadence at which we interact with each other and our partners, to ensure we continue to be in-tune with market developments despite the lockdown that is alienating us physically from each other.
The fundamental lessons of these experiences are the inspiration behind a four-step framework that I use to deal with the current situation. I call it, contextually, COPE:
C is for CONTROL Right now, volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) are running high, and morale is low across most markets and organizations. Compass needles are spinning around, and emotions are heightened. The best thing to do is to slow down, regroup, and reassert control by increasing cadence and focus.
Identify the absolute priorities that you can directly control and influence. Usually, this means re-evaluating each financial, strategic and investment driver. Decide where your skills and energy are best focused to make a lasting, positive difference, for yourself, your team, your business, and your organization overall.
O is for OWNERSHIP
Along with the above, you also need to focus on your partners and stakeholders, both internally and externally. But to do so, you have to take care of yourself first. Consider your safety and health, and own your behaviors and emotions. By all means, be concerned, but try not to be emotionally overruled by the new realities imposed upon us, whether working from home or feeling isolated.
Create a circle of trust where vulnerability is accepted and feelings, issues, and concerns can be openly discussed. Team spirit and strong working engagement are where your focus should be– make sure your team is working together, even more closely, with increased synergy, so that you are all rowing in the same focused direction with a more heightened sense of ownership.
To do so, increase team calls and virtual all-hands meetings, reach out to clients for more frequent albeit shorter touchpoints. There is no formula here; the point is to go with your gut to ensure you’re “virtually more visible” in this time of need.
P is for PARTNER
The next step is to look outside your organization, and lend a helping hand to your partners, clients, and consumers. Nobody is expecting any heroics in these trying times; however, using your skills to the best of your ability while maintaining control and conducting a careful assessment of your partnerships and their situation is paramount.
Let your partners know that you care, and that you are still there for them. Recognize the key pain points for your clients and suppliers, and decide what role you can play to proactively reach out and offer to help them be even slightly better off. Be prepared to answer difficult questions, and identify an approach that will offer value to your client imminently, while assuring mutual longer-term benefit and alignment.
In times like these, expectations are high, and trust can be broken easily. Partners and clients are looking for inventive and relevant solutions that address the difficult times. The COVID-19 outbreak has created unusually heightened VUCA, probably not seen at this scale since the flu of 1918. As such, no idea is too creative or too “out there”– if it addresses a real pain point, or an unidentified need, it’s worth diving into its potential.
An idea that may not have been relevant six months ago during a business-as-usual world could be propelled to top priority if looked through the lens of short-term impact, and the potential long-term changes that are taking place to so many business models.
E is for ENHANCE AND ELEVATE
As you think holistically and find solutions to mitigate challenges such as revenue loss, human anxiety, and recovery forecasts, also think about the products, services, processes, and value chain partners that put business models at risk when extreme events are in play. Whether these are your own or your clients’ business models, there is always an opportunity to address these weaknesses not just for today, but also for the future.
Identifying potential hazards and weaknesses to your business model, whether concentration risks, lack of diversification, missed target segments, cracks in your value chain, business continuity failures, or cybersecurity gaps, becomes essential. That interestingly also applies to our personal lives; it helps us improve ourselves, our relationships, and also achieve personal and communal long-term objectives. There is no better time to fix the future than the present.
Remaining healthy, and creating a sense of consistency, discipline, and diligence for yourself and those around you, are vital. These behaviors, along with the determination to power through will ensure you “cope” by keeping your cool, operating with respect, determination, decency, and a laser focus on handling absolute priorities. If we can all implement the above, in sequence, or better yet, in parallel, we will have a simple and structured playbook, so we can all support each other to cope, and come out stronger on the other side.
Prior to Mastercard, J.K. was a senior manager with Booz & Company (now Strategy&), based out of Dubai where he was a principal in their financial services practice and focused on the wealth management, risk and digital verticals in particular. Before joining Booz & Company in 2012, he held a number of positions at Barclays Bank including strategy and transformation. He had also previously served a number of financial services institutions in Europe such as BNP Paribas.