By Brandon Meredith

Crises, be they a global health emergency that shuts down economies, a natural disaster or something affecting just a single business, can catch Utah small-business owners off-guard at any moment. In the face of uncertainty, employees and customers alike seek strong leadership. Looking at insights from experts and customers, as well as perspective of business owners, can provide a guide to standing up to these challenges and inspire communities both within and outside of a business. 

1. Communication is key. The uncertainty amid COVID-19 has created more of a need than ever for transparency, as it can help provide reassurance and position you as a leader. This makes open communication a strong initial step toward leading both employees and customers.

   Experts at management consulting firm McKinsey recommend focusing your message on what people need most from you. For employees concerned about their jobs, this can mean starting with a facts-based approach: Share what you know, what you don’t know and the basics of your plan to address the current situation. It’s also about coupling positive news and feedback that can help create feelings of security and motivation with a clear logistical path forward.

2. Put people first. Small-business owners have the potential to lead more than just their employees; they can often be seen as leaders of their customers and community as well. This makes it critical that business owners approach leadership internally and externally with a focus on the people entrusting them to lead. Initiatives that inspire good will and are true to the spirit of your business can have major impacts to more than just the people you employ or your patrons.

3. Sourcing practical information. Concrete, relevant information can go far in informing how leaders can and should address issues. However, as the pandemic has clearly shown, access to this type of information is harder to come by.

This makes it more critical than ever to put concerted effort into seeking trusted information sources, be they news organizations, government agencies or academic institutions. Beyond these, consider sources that have become newly available amid the pandemic. A number of corporate consulting firms (McKinsey, Deloitte and Boston Consulting Group, to name a few) have opened up COVID-19-specific hubs to help guide business owners. Membership-based professional groups like Business Advantage TV or trade organizations offer resources as well. It’s also key to pay particular attention to developments that could affect your business: the status of COVID-19 in your area, new rules and regulations and changes in consumer behavior.

Leadership and how to best approach it has a number of variables, but a good place to start is considering what’s best for your employees, customers and the wider community. Looking as much as possible beyond profit and leading with empathy can pay off in the long run via loyalty and positive perception.

Brandon Meredith is the Small Business Banking Segment manager for Wells Fargo Bank in Utah.

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