Matthew Neff: Now is the time to prepare to restart your business

Matthew NeffNobody knows how long the economic hibernation directed by the state and federal governments due to the COVID-19 virus will last, although there are now signs that it might be the end of April. Whenever the forced hibernation ends and the government permits the U.S. economy to restart, business leaders need to be prepared. And you should be developing your restart plans now.

There is no precedent for this series of events, so I can’t pretend to be able to prognosticate how this will go.

But based on what I see, when the economy restarts, I believe it will not be like the Indy 500, where there is a pace lap for all the cars to get up to speed before the green flag falls.

I believe the restart of the U.S. economy will be more like the Kentucky Derby. The bell rings, the starting gates open, and from a standing start, the horses jump out and accelerate to the finish.

If that’s right, will your company be ready?

In venture capital, we like to talk about 90-day sprints. Build a set of objectives, and tactics, that will get a company to a better place in 90 days.

What are the value drivers that we can accomplish in the next quarter? Because if we can hit some (or all) of those targets, we will have a lot of momentum for the following quarters.

Lately, you’ve probably been consumed by adjusting to the daily surge of data, keeping your company alive and witnessing an unprecedented drop in both supply and demand.

You’ve been focused on how to keep your employees on board and working productively. How to cover payroll. How to meet your debt obligations and keep your company funded.

These issues are existential, and they have been dominating your life.

But at restart, the game changes. For probably the only time in your business career, you and your competitors are all restarting at the same time, from the same place.

What I’m proposing is a discipline of setting aside time with your team to develop the post-corona 90-day sprint.

When the bell rings, and all the horses start from a dead stop, what will your business do? Will you be in the “Run for the Roses” or still lining up to the gate?

Here are a couple of thoughts on issues to address in your sprint.

First, how can you restore your supply chain, and production capacity, to get back to the pre-pandemic levels?

What key performance indicators were you using in February; in the next 90 days, how do you work your way back to that level of performance? Who is accountable for each of those KPIs?

Where will your customers be at the opening bell?

Are their needs the same, or have they changed? Have you spoken with them to understand those needs, so you’ll be ready to support their sprint?

What is the fallout from the pandemic on your workforce?

Have you lost key players, and if so, who will or how do you replace them? How do you get their buy-in on the 90-day sprint goals? Do you need to create new incentives?

What are the expectations of your board of directors and investors/owners?

Have you communicated with them throughout the crisis? Are they up to speed on what you hope to accomplish in the first 90 days post-pandemic?

Are your lenders on board and willing to support you? What information will they need to get to that point?

As a leader, your job includes having the discipline to look around corners, and starting conversations with your team that they might not want to have right now.

People are undoubtedly tired, scared and worried about their own families and their health. And you need to acknowledge and respond to those concerns. But you also need to inspire a conversation about what comes next.

This pandemic and forced hibernation will come to an end. It might be in two weeks, and it might be in two months.

But it will end. And when it does, how do you lead your company quickly out of the gates and down the track, while others are still thinking about how hard the past few weeks have been?

Lead now. Prepare to restart.•

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Neff is of counsel to Dentons Bingham Greenebaum LLP and is senior adviser to Evolution Capital.

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