In the midst of a crisis, a great idea is to get back to basics, states Tim Spicer.

If the complexities of 2020 have taught me anything, it’s how easy it can be to lose focus in the midst of a crisis.

In 2020, business leaders around the world were forced to make seemingly impossible decisions on a daily basis. These difficult decisions often involved the future of career employees or the future of the company. So how do managers stay focused during challenging seasons? How do business leaders lead with clarity and direction when the future is so uncertain? I believe your business can thrive instead of simply survive if you refocus on the basic principles of business.

I had a moment of clarity in 2020 when I finally got my head out of pandemicthinking management. I spent some time studying a variety of leaders from different industries. My moment of clarity came from Vince Lombardi, the famed NFL coach of the Green Bay Packers. After a heartbreaking loss in the fourth quarter of the 1960 NFL Championship, Lombardi became a symbol of single-minded leadership as he reoriented his coaching priorities for the following season. Instead of teaching his team a new technique, or rethinking how to better play football, Lombardi decided to refocus on basic principles.

On the first day of training camp for the 1961 season, Lombardi famously held up a football and said to his players, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” He was coaching professional athletes who had just nearly won the NFL Championship a few months prior, yet in order to progress, Lombardi felt that he needed to go back to the basics. To make a long story short, the Green Bay Packers went on to win the 1961 season’s NFL Championship, and the team was redeemed for its devastating loss the year prior.

After studying Lombardi’s single-minded leadership style, I began focusing on four “business basics” to give my business the clarity it needed. I believe these four fundamental principles are key to small business survival during challenging seasons.

The first fundamental step to getting back to the basics is to focus on the business leaders. Ensure that business leaders are healthy by monitoring stress levels, encouraging healthy lifestyles and offering mental health support. In times of overwhelming stress and uncertainty, physical and mental health can be negatively impacted. Organizations that are best equipped for meeting challenges head on are those that have leaders who are able to manage stress effectively. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, ensuring a strong work/life balance, setting limits on work demands and protecting personal relationships are key. If individuals notice significant disruptions in sleep, eating, thinking patterns or relationships, consultation with a mental health professional should be considered.

The next step is to look back over your fundamental business procedures with fresh eyes. Are the processes and procedures as streamlined as possible? We often continue to do things the same way simply because it’s easiest, but there is often room for improvement. Are there any improvements that can be made to help your staff work more effectively? This is a great step to involve others beyond the normal leadership team. Fresh eyes looking from the outside in may be needed to see unneeded complexities that management has become blind to. Simplifying processes and procedures can save valuable time, energy and resources.

One of the most important business fundamentals is communication. Are the current communication channels as effective as possible? Ensure there is open and consistent communication traveling both ways between management and the front lines. More often than not, communication only flows downhill. Actively listening to employees may reveal missed opportunities. I once read that Google has a weekly meeting where all employees, including new hires, have a 30-minute question-and-answer session with leadership. Google executives used this opportunity to get full buy-in from new employees, to air out any concerns and to hear new creative ideas. Fully opening the communication channels may reveal new ways to fix old problems and help the business operate at higher levels of efficiency.

The final, most basic, most common-sense, but far too often overlooked step, is to center your focus on the customer. Being customer-focused should be the foundation of every executive decision in the business. We all know this, but it’s easier said than done. “Customer obsession” is a common phrase in business and entrepreneur magazines right now for a reason. Many companies are even creating new positions dedicated solely to customer happiness.

The truth is, in a world that is quickly evolving to rely more on online business, local businesses must be focused directly on their customers to succeed. Businesses owe it to their customers to make them the focal point of everything they do. If we focus on our customer happiness with precision, seemingly difficult decisions begin to have clarity. The goal of the business should be to make the lives of its customers better, happier and more complete. The challenge for any leadership team is to continue thinking from the customer’s point of view. So, be obsessed with the customer.

These four basic business fundamentals aren’t rocket science. They are, however, the key to businesses surviving during challenging seasons. As we have faced shutdowns, staff quarantines, layoffs and changes in business operations, we have continuously been forced to make difficult decisions. Thinking through these business principles has helped us clarify our goals, reimagine our future and explore new possibilities.

We wish you the best in 2021 and hope it brings health, wise business operations, strong communication and clear customer-focused decisions.

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