An open letter for entrepreneurs, business owners, CEOs, Presidents, and Key Executives.

UpLIFT Issue No. 4 Theme:Vital Business Strategy Pivots and the Innovation Imperative”: Pivot, Survive, and Thrive, Part 2

In this issue discover:

Greater than 40 million US workers now on unemployed? What is the real rate of unemployment?

Where is the world in terms of the race for the Covid19 cure?

What can we learn from observing what restaurateurs are doing to pivot and profit in these challenging times?

How can one find addressable market niches and innovation opportunities for your own business strategy pivot?

What pivoting in a crisis means, and what it does not?

As I write this next edition of UpLIFT No 4, I am grateful that the green shoots of spring are coming forward. This is not to say we are through the woods yet on Covid19, just that the health situation is somewhat abating (or flattening) for a season here in the US, and the informed are focusing on preparations for a resurgence of cases during the fall 2020 flu season. One of the primary drivers of current optimism are several reports of promising clinical trials of a vaccine and therapeutics to lessen the symptoms of covid19 that may be identified conclusively by year-end signaling that the end of the pandemic is nearer; more on this later in this letter.

With bridled hopes for economic recovery, there is evidence of some economic recovery from the downturn of the first wave of Covid19 pandemic, not returning to prior heights just yet, but a higher level from the base formed in March 2020. Based on reporting from mainstream news services and visual inspection, one can witness the economy reopening. Vehicles are moving consuming fuel helping oil industry companies with price support of oil per barrel. Street and foot traffic is returning helping restaurants and services, and as more businesses are reopening, and more workers are called back work; however, not 40 million workers… not just yet. There remains a significant risk of the public overshooting market expectations, as not all workers are returning, and specific sectors are still ways off from recovery.

One of the most severely covid19 economically impacted sectors was the restaurant sector.  Foodservice and restaurants as a class have pivoted the best, with restaurant owners realizing that people are still eating and spending, and restaurateurs have found a plethora of pivot opportunities to restore revenue to their businesses. I'll cover some profitable ways that restaurants are being reimagined and their specific pivots examples later in this issue.

Sorensen-TEC-CanadaSince my last issue (No 3, 5/15/20), my own business has seen some economic green shoots with headhunting talent re-starts from companies that were adversely Covid19 impacted. I've received several new proposal requests for business services, yet the majority of new requests are for my pivot ideation and management consulting,  talent assessment, and executive coaching services. Interestingly, I have yet to receive a new executive search request since 3/15/20. However, I expect that such requests will come in the months ahead as many companies realize that they are managed by 'peacetime' CEOs in an age where the Covid19 tsunami calls for the "wartime" and "innovation-focused" teams.

On Thursday (5/28/20), I had the great pleasure of presenting to TEC-Canada in their Covid19 Webinar Series on the topic of “vital business strategy pivots and the innovation imperative; pivot, survive, and thrive.” You can follow this link and view my presentation shared with Canada’s elite small and mid-size business owners and executive coaches.  [https://youtu.be/fC6xU5ZOb1g]

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This past week also witnessed a terrible incident of injustice, police brutality, and inappropriate use of force that resulted in the untimely death of George Floyd. This kind of police brutality and misuse of force cannot be tolerated in a just society. Though Floyd was apprehended and detained at the scene for an alleged crime called in by a storekeeper, watch the video chronology of the event pulled together by the Washington Post and make your conclusion as to whether justice was applied? Whether the use of force was warranted? And what this incident and its aftermath tell us about the state of policing and race relations in America today? And does it tell us more, such as growing stress, economic hardship, mental illness, and a public on-edge having been home-restricted for the past two months? And also, what's behind the rally agitators who appear to have slipped into many of the peaceful demonstrations and turned them upside down with a violent and destructive cord.  

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Lastly, I want to thank my friend Richard Bosworth, CEO, What If Forums (UK) for his helpful criticism and improvement suggestions to my UpLIFT open letter series, where he suggested leading with opening questions and prayed for brevity. Richard, I’ve got the opening questions for you, and I’ll whittle this issue down a bit, however for me context and delivery matter, and there is a strategic purpose to my musings.

For my readers, keep the comments coming as they are helpful, and instructive.

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Economic Snapshot.  The economy seems to be experiencing somewhat of a recovery from the lows of March 2020, as optimism flows, spring is upon us, and workers are beginning to return to work. The economic upside is that May is progressively better than April. There is significant risk of public optimism (and hope) overshooting the realities of the new economy; yet we are happy there is some return to growth. 

Jobless claims 40 milUS jobless claims pass 40 million[i] and this does not include laid-off workers who have not applied or were ineligible for unemployment insurance. With 164.6 million Americans in the workforce (meaning available for work), 40.8 million represents 24.8% unemployed. This number is higher than the posted number of those applying for assistance. For the week ending, 5/23/20, Weekly New Unemployment Claims were 2,123,000.[ii] The seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate is 14.5%.  DOL reports that "The highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending May 9 were in Washington (31.2), Nevada (26.7), Florida (25.0), Hawaii (23.4), Michigan (23.1), California (20.6), New York (19.9), Rhode Island (18.8), Vermont (18.2), Connecticut (18.0), and Georgia (18.0).” The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending May 9 was 30,957,122, and this number was reduced by 2.5% the following week as some furloughed workers were called back to work. 

BLA- workers interacting with public 2019

A new data point released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on 5/28/20 was that 75.3 percent of 2019 civilian workers were in jobs that require general interaction with the public.[iii] For workers in office and administrative support occupations, 86.5 percent regularly interact with the general public. In foodservice, 85.1 percent interact with the general public. BLS reports that “Within this occupational group, 28.1 percent of restaurant cooks and 100 percent of bartenders had this requirement.” Many more businesses and workers were required to work from home and figure out how to keep revenues flowing. So the 2020 data will show more work from home when tallied. However, much of our workforce and society still operates in public-facing occupations. The need for facing public employment adds urgency to the Covid19 pivots that must take place to create safe places to work for our nation’s workforce.

BLA - Percentage of civilian workers interacting with public matrix

Bankruptcies are rising

Another economic trend is only just starting to ramp up are bankruptcies; personal and business. The number of well-known company brands that have gone bankrupt is increasing since Covid19 arrived in the US. Large names like Hertz, JC Penny, Neiman Marcus, and J Crew have already filed for bankruptcy. Some of the biggest names in the US are at risk of going bankrupt, including many from the Oil and Gas sector (140+), additional brick-and-mortar Retailers, and the parade of bankruptcies has only just begun. An article in Forbes tracks this issue.[iv]  Bankruptcy can be full or partial in the form of restructurings; either way, jobs are lost, capital is destroyed, and creditors are left wanting. Bankrupt companies do not bring back employees, and the PE and strategic firms that buy their scraps frequently look to consolidate labor positions and operations to reduce costs, meaning structurally many fewer jobs will be coming back. The imperative learnings from this section for business owners…. know your customers, and know your customers-customers in a way you may never have before, as the bankruptcy parade is likely to bite many in its route. We will deal with the rising tide bankruptcies and their impact in a later issue of UpLIFT that might be rightfully called ‘downdraft’ or ‘opportunity-on-the-cheap.’

Race for the Covid19 Cure - update

On 5/27/20, McKinsey and Company updated their Covid19 briefing on the current state of vaccine research.[v],[vi] They report 150 vaccines in the research pipeline and over 200 drug candidates. Governments relaxation of research safety protocols and emergency-use testing guidelines are allowing earlier drug trial testing. Currently 1,700 drug trials are in progress for Covid19 and related complications. Most of these studies are randomized and controlled studies. McKinsey reports that the current consensus of researchers is that enhanced treatments for Covid19 will be identified by the end of 2020, and thereafter 12-18 months will be needed to bring the vaccine to the masses. So realistically, it will be late 2021 or early 2022 before the vaccines are available for all.  In the meantime, we must continue to be vigilant to fight the spread of Covid19, and also pivot to find ways to keep the economy alive during this crisis.  There need for all companies to find, create, and sustain revenues in this crisis to support business functions and create, or in some instances, re-create meaningful employment to sustain civil society.

Feature Topic: Vital Business Strategy Pivots and the Innovation Imperative: – Pivot, Survive, and Thrive, Part 2

In this issue of UpLIFT, I continue with the focus for business owners and CEOs to find your vital business strategy pivots. For illustration purposes, I highlight what the foodservice and restaurant industries are doing to ideate, experiment, and pivot to safer ways of supplying customer demand with their foods and services. Within this issue, I also identify many other companies and industries that are successfully pivoting and finding new revenue sources. From these examples, I encourage business owners to imitate others if no other reasonable pivot presents itself first and to lean into solving the hard problem with your core specialization as this likely has the greatest speed and resiliency for businesses to bounce back in this economy.

What can we learn from the strategic pivots of the foodservice and restaurant industry in this crisis?

The Covid19 pandemic has been a health and economic crisis. The foodservice and restaurant industry is the second highest employer in the US. When restaurants and bars closed to limit the spread of Covid19, many jobs were lost, and restaurateurs. Did their customers stop eating? No. Customers merely switched where and what they were eating. Creative restauranteurs got to work on how to reimagine their business model, for without creativity, many of their businesses with close their doors permanently. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "When a man is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something."  And what the foodservice and restaurant industry have been learning is that customer demand is still there, people are still eating and drinking, and restauranteurs needed to pivot to reach this demand; and pivot they have done.

Resturanteer innovations for covid19

When restaurants were largely forced to shut their doors to inside dining options they had to pivot quickly to keep their businesses afloat. At first, the options were simple such as replace a restaurant exterior wall or window with a drive-up window. Or to make their sit-down menu more appealing for curbside pick-up and delivery. Over time, the industry has innovated mightily with additional options, as you see above.

  1. Restaurants are offering curbside and carry out menus that offer new foods, services, and supplies demanded by customers. Some restaurants are selling hand sanitizer and other hard-to-find items customers require.
  2. With limited seating inside, restaurants are moving outside, taking over sidewalks, patios, streets, and parks to add space to the dining areas. Look for more appeals for restaurateurs to close streets to vehicle traffic, to create more open space seating.
  3. Restaurants are creating safer spaces such as the use of pods, enclosures, pop-up tents, etc., creating unique eating spaces that can be cleaned and protected.
  4. Restaurants are spreading out customer demand, through time-staggered reservations and pick-up times throughout the day.
  5. Restaurants are creating higher numbers and options of meals ready to heat, increasing the variety of delicious and nutritious foods that people can warm up at home.
  6. Entrepreneurial restauranteurs are creating speedier online foodservice ordering and delivery applications. McDonald's has put together an industry-leading app experience where the app knows your recent purchases, and senses when you physically arrive near the store using GPS data, to make sure your food is hot and fresh on arrival. Others like Chic-fil-a have created full menus on their handheld apps, and have reimagined their outdoor parking lots with designated numbered spaces for customers. For me, such numbered parking lot service is better and faster than waiting in the drive-up lane. And faster service means more customer turns, and more revenue.
  7. Additional restaurateur support companies are creating applications that maximize seating given the 6-foot minimum distancing required in many jurisdictions.
  8. Look for regional and distributed pop-up restaurants and farmer's markets to come next, taking their great foods and services closer to the people and where they live in ways that meet social distancing guidelines and create new revenues.
  9. Lastly, look for additional bundling of foodservice and restaurants with promotions and offerings at local grocery stores and outlets like Costco, Sams Club, and Walmart.

What are the common traits found in all of these examples?

  • Customer focus, and the relentless quest for customer delight
  • Relentless experimentation.
  • Bundling
  • Selling more to the customer you have
  • Making it easier for the customer to find you
  • Failing fast, failing cheap, and failing forward as they figure out how to operate with new rules and customer behavior and expectations.

Restaurateurs are meeting customer needs and are reimagining what their businesses are, addressing challenges of operating in the Covid19 environment head-on. And in their creativity, restaurateurs are complying with safety regulations, and figuring out comply and thrive by addressing key operational issues head-on.  They are next attacking perceived constraints to their business models and going thru, above, below, and doing whatever it takes to help customers get what they want… meals that delight that are timely, safely delivered, and meet their budget expectations. And the innovators are seeing the success of their labors.  And when restaurants are reopened, I image that many of their improvements will remain, and they will be much stronger and more resilient.

This same re-imagination can be applied to other industries. McKinsey & Company recently provided some examples of how manufacturing environments and office environments are changing to make reasonable accommodation for Covid19 safety and social distancing practices while enabling work to continue. Each of these measures are designed to allow work to continue, and in some instances, actually accelerate workability while making places safer.  They describe their modes as: “sample journey… for manufacturing environment” and “office environment.”

Such reimaging of workplaces is necessary for all types of businesses.  You can access the full McKinsey & Company report here.

Mckinsey sample journey manufacturing

Mckinsey sample journey office

In the past issue of UpLIFT No 3, I discussed ways that business owners can ideate to identify their own vital industry pivots. Summarized below are my primary suggestions for action for those seeking to pivot now, much the same way as the food service and restaurant industries have pivoted above. 

  1. Be agile, creative, and courageous
  2. Harness the urgency of the moment
  3. Solve a hard problem
  4. Develop your Minimal Viable Product (MVP)
  5. Create your own LEAN Startup Plan
  6. Be speedy
  7. Execute better than others and leapfrog the competition

In your pondering your options for a vital strategy pivot, think about what can change your operating environment and explore what can overcome the immediate obstacles that your industry is facing.

accuRx appWhen doctors and patients at the National Health Service could not meet face to face because of Covid19 safety concerns, AccuRx created a system (in 4 days) to let them share data and meet online, evidencing once again that the obstacle… is the path to your pivot.

 

 

Career fair InternXWhen graduating college students could no longer attend public job fairs InternX created a virtual career fair; and again, the inspiration for the pivot was the obstacle… where the obstacle is the path.  They are serving the same customer demand in new ways. They've pivoted to an online format that offers a low touch, safer way of meeting up in this environment.  And this simple pivot from the physical to the virtual to create the possible, adapting to new conditions of the business environment, helped them recapture and preserve their customer relationships.

Board of InnovatioinFor more examples of how companies and industries are actively pivoting to find profits and opportunities in Covid19 impacted economies, an excellent resource for you is to read or watch what the "Board of Innovation" has prepared in terms of their 'low touch economy' deck.[vii] You can find more at their website located at:https://www.boardofinnovation.com/low-touch-economy/  Their material is good and worth the read. For an overview, you can watch this video: https://youtu.be/rM_RO54EbKE 

Intentional Steps

  • Think deeply about the customer.
  • Be creative.
  • Adapt to the new operating rules of your environment.
  • Remove friction from your customer purchasing experience.
  • Create tools to speed customer access to goods and services.
  • Seek to create new touchless or low-touch experiences that provide products and services in new ways while meeting the needs of your customer.

Leadership Quotes

  • “Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are.”
    - President Theodore Roosevelt
  • "It still holds true that man is most uniquely human when he turns obstacles into opportunities.” - Eric Hoffer
  • “Great leaders seem to gain ground in conundrums others find impossible.”
    - Pat Murray, Vistage Chair
  • “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
    – Albert Einstein
  • “Strategy without tactics is the slow road to victory.
    Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
    - Sun Tsu

Laughter as Medicine

Chiasmus is a clever play on words that places the object in the first stanza, and alters its meaning entirely in the second stanza. Dr. Mardy Goethe is a master of Chiasmus and has cataloged many of these often punny quips.  Here are a few of my humorous favorites that perhaps might become yours as well.

“My friends say I'm a kleptomaniac, but that's okay.  
Even though I know they're wrong I just take it.”

“I was in an airport in Germany and was running late. 
I asked a gentleman if he knew what time it was.  He said, "Nein. Nein."

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.
- Dorothy Parker

Some cause happiness wherever they go;
others whenever they go.

- Oscar Wilde

If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed;
if you do, you are misinformed.

- Mark Twain

And my personal favorite;
“I never metaphor I didn’t like.”

 - Mardy Goethe

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May you find the opportunity in front of you, remembering like the proverb, “The obstacle is the path.” Be agile, creative, and courageous in these times of crisis. By doing so, you will reach a little higher to become the leader your company needs at this time. Being good, doing good, and being good for something is all we can ask of our ourselves as leaders at this time. Keep your chin up and move forward. And remember, like Oscar Wilde said so wonderfully, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” 

Until next time… get to mental juices flowing and consider your potential business strategy pivots, be creative.

As always, if I can be of assistance to you in any way, please reach out to me.

Best regards,

Severin

Severin Sorensen, M.Phil.
President & CEO
ePraxis LLC
PO Box 980068
Park City, UT 84098
435-655-5111
sev@epraxis.com
www.epraxis.com

 

Endnotes

[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/28/business/unemployment-stock-market-coronavirus.html

[ii] https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/OPA/newsreleases/ui-claims/20201122.pdf

[iii] https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ors.pdf

[iv] https://www.forbes.com/sites/hanktucker/2020/05/03/coronavirus-bankruptcy-tracker-these-major-companies-are-failing-amid-the-shutdown/#139f33453425

[v] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk/our-insights/covid-19-implications-for-business

[vi] https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2020/04/08/handicapping-the-most-promising-of-267-potential-coronavirus-cures/#1ab795b27f23

[vii] https://www.boardofinnovation.com/low-touch-economy/