Managing COVID-19 Downturn: Making Decisions Crisis-Style

March 25, 2020

By: Elena Petukhova, VP, Strategy                                                                          [Header image credit: Canva]


At turbulent times, fast and accurate decision-making is more important than ever.

We witness every aspect of a familiar business environment changing rapidly: financial markets are down, consumer behavior and needs fluctuate, and supply chains become less reliable.

Today, we see this playing out in real-time as the world grapples with responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Timely adjustment to the new conditions is a matter of survival for many businesses across industries as the wrong decisions and slow reaction can cost dearly.

The best way to do this is to learn from those who have faced crises head-on and emerged as winners.

The Great Recession of 2008 clearly indicated the following key principles of building an effective, crisis-proof decision-making system.

Keep your ear to the ground to stay in the know.

The speed of getting the latest information is critical, particularly for national companies with a wide net of regional field offices. Your regional managers and front-line employees are the most trusted source of news about local conditions. Regularly engaging with them is what helps build a full and realistic picture of what’s going on.

WHAT TO DO NOW: Prioritize communications with branches, regional, and local offices and identify the types of information you need to get from them frequently.

Delegate to win locally.

As the study by Harvard Business School, Collège de France, Stanford, and MIT notes, decentralized companies are better prepared for turbulent market conditions because, “the value of local information increases.”

Your regional offices are not only your best source of local information, they are your trusted partners who need to take the lead growing your business and mitigating the crisis. Their knowledge of the community positions them as unique experts who can execute regionalized initiatives with great precision and efficacy. Delegating responsibility to them while providing corporate-level support conveys your confidence in their ability to contribute to business success and keeps morale high.

WHAT TO DO NOW: Conduct region-focused brainstorms, encourage front-line employees to submit ideas, and allocate funds to support local initiatives.

Invest in critical consumer data.

Understanding your consumers and how their lives are changing leads to greater decision-making and forecasting accuracy. Short-term, staying on top of what’s going on in people’s lives and minds informs daily communications and ensures message relevancy as well as appropriateness of tone. Longer-term, it will be the basis for coming-out-of-crisis strategy.

The types of data every brand needs today include at least three levels:

  1. Product/company-related information, such as purchase intent, perceptions, and awareness.
  2. Industry/segment-wide data capturing consumer intentions and behaviors related to the business category.
  3. Big-picture view that goes beyond consumer relationships with your brand or product and provides you with contextual insights on what people are going through on a daily basis. Product/company-related information, such as purchase intent, perceptions, and awareness.

WHAT TO DO NOW: Audit existing data sources and invest in additional ones if needed. Make sure that social listening is part of your toolbox –– growing consumer online activity makes it an indispensable tool for sentiment, behavior, and top-of-mind conversations tracking.

The effectiveness of your decisions today will likely define the future of your business during the worst times of economic uncertainty as well as coming out of it.

After all, your people –– consumers, shareholders, and employees alike –– will remember the brands who did it right.