As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged at the beginning of this year, I knew we needed to research, analyze and form a clear perspective in order to focus our efforts in the most effective way. I set forth and socialized an anticipated timeline for our business, reflecting broader economic projections about consumer behavior. We listened to our clients’ needs and concerns, we listened to our customers’ needs and concerns, and we never wavered in commitment to our staff. And, somehow, it all worked.
Of course we’re all experiencing the downturn and facing new challenges that seem to change from one day to the next. Despite the circumstances, the Charitybuzz business has not only stayed afloat, but has been realizing results that are comparable to pre-COVID times. We’re uniquely positioned being an online business with well-developed customer relationships — so we started with a solid foundation. But a significant part of our success right now is due to the framework for our business that we created and communicated consistently throughout the company, starting in March and continuing for months to come.
Some people’s initial reaction to the idea of a framework during a pandemic is: “there’s absolutely no way any of us can predict consumer behavior or economic trends for the foreseeable future. What’s the point of sharing projections that will likely change?” And that’s true. We very well may be incorrect in certain expectations, plans or numbers. The value from setting forth a framework is not being able to navigate perfectly with no adjustments along the way. The value is really strategic and forward progress, team cohesion, and confidence in leadership.
Align to accomplish
To get anything done efficiently, teams need to keep moving, and keep moving in the same direction. Our projected timeline is intentionally flexible and updated often. Flexibility is necessary for a situation like this, which makes clear, consistent staff communication necessary as well. When the whole company is aligned about expectations and goals, people are empowered to do their jobs — and beyond.
From the very beginning of the working-from-home phase, I was seeing an exceptional level of ownership, creativity, boldness and dedication from my team. So many people were stepping up, from all departments and levels. The freedom from micromanagement is empowering for everyone involved, and sends a reassuring signal about the future of the team.
You can’t make progress if you’re not moving. In times of crisis, sometimes the obstacles and options become too overwhelming, and even the most experienced leaders get stuck at a standstill. The adage: “don’t let perfection become the enemy of good,” can be applied to management setting strategic direction as well. I believe strongly that having a vision and taking action within that direction is more beneficial than waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect marketplace, the perfect step-by-step instructions handed to you from above… If you’re in a leadership position, it is your responsibility to chart the course and make the tough judgment calls.
In our case, focusing on movement ensured we didn’t miss a beat. The quick action really helped appease any worries management had or individual team members had about productivity while working from home.
By charging ahead and trying new things — whether facing a crisis or not — you’re bound to make some progress in the right direction. For us, for example, the swift addition of our virtual experiences vertical of charity auctions launched in direct response to COVID, but we expect it to remain indefinitely and provide a new way for nonprofits to raise unrestricted funds. If we would have waited for the peak of the pandemic and economic uncertainty to pass so we could go back to “business as usual,” we never would have built out this new component of our auction platform.
Lean into leadership
If there’s ever a time to boldly assert yourself as a leader, it is now. Our teams look to us to set the tone and pave the path forward. Successfully leading during a crisis does not mean predicting the future perfectly, doing everything yourself or only highlighting the positives; successful leadership means rising to the occasion earnestly and humbly. Respect and long-term loyalty are earned from making a thoughtful effort, putting the best interests of the business and the team first.
Being able to turn to a “North Star,” communicated unambiguously by leadership, helps defend against the creeping anxiety and nervousness caused by the pandemic. When leaders step up and do the work to provide a framework for moving forward, we are reassuring our teams that we have a plan. With so many other factors up in the air during this time, keeping people focused can help us all cope better.
As a leader right now, you don’t have to be perfect at everything — I’m certainly not — but your strengths will shine through and make an impact on your team. Challenging times help define who we are as people and as leaders. Lean into your intuition, and move boldly to set the standard for how you’d like others to operate.
We’ve found that a clearly communicated framework can help move our business in a positive direction, from more efficient and creative solutions, to long-term retention and morale. No one has the silver bullet for small business success, especially right now, but I can guarantee whatever that formula is starts with a vision for the future.