Joanna is CEO of Quartz Properties, a residential real estate development firm working to make the home buying process simple and enjoyable.
Change is hard. Even the smallest shifts in routine can lead to altered consumer behavior. As significant swaths of the country face the triple threat of a global pandemic, increasing economic insecurity and unprecedented job losses, almost everything is in flux.
But here’s the thing about change: If prepared for and managed correctly, it can lead to positive outcomes — not only on the other side of a crisis but during it. While the Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented in the specifics of how it has manifested itself, as a business leader, it’s important to remember that the successful strategies for managing through this crisis are remarkably similar to the tactics used in prior crisis events.
Absorb as much as you can from colleagues, consumers, competitors and industry experts. Take time to truly understand what drives the decisions of your customer base. See how their habits are influenced by current events and external stressors. Become deeply familiar with the communications of your competitors, looking for wins as closely as you look for holes. Then ask how you and your organization can fill the gap.
Transparent and frequent communication is at the heart of any business, and it’s even more important during a crisis. I know it’s hard to put yourself out there when you’re not sure what to say, but I have learned that in the absence of real information, employees, customers and the market will fill in the blanks themselves. It’s important to control your narrative and stay ahead of the news. Simply put, never go dark. Share what you’ve learned, admit mistakes when necessary and lay out your plans for moving forward. Lean on consistency, whether that’s email, social media or something else that’s worked for you in the past. Bolster that with originality. Depending on your needs, is it time for a town hall, a video message or something else that will help you stand out from the crowd? Whatever mode you engage, do so authentically. Remind consumers why you are different, point to why you do what you do and offer insights whenever you can.
Listening and communicating are the foundation for successfully implementing change and making adjustments to your business. Ideally, you’ve been taking notes on the ways your audience and market have flexed over time — and you’ve been considering what shifts need to take place. In doing so, remember that disruption doesn’t happen overnight, and the reaction to it can also be incremental.
At my real estate development company, I’ve seen this pandemic spur a shift in home preferences. On the surface, a trend toward single-family homes with outdoor living space fit what my company does well. However, that didn’t mean that my team was set to ride out the storm — or that we couldn’t do better. We quickly realized home buyers now have a preference for home offices — oftentimes more than one. With parents and kids working and schooling from home, new homes require options for flexible and private workspace. We had to adjust.
Change is an integral part of the human experience and, by extension, of any business. If this is your first time managing through a crisis professionally, know that the process — while often uncomfortable — is creating tools and road maps that will help not only in the present but also in the future. You’ll be even better positioned next time — and history tells us there will be a next time. Get ready to readjust again and again. Your organization will be better for it.