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Leadership Strategies for Adapting to Market Disruption

6/15/20 9:00 AM

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Over the last few months, we have all been adapting. Adapting to new work environments, new social normals, new schedules, new anxieties, and functioning in a continual state of uncertainty. Our leadership skills have been put to the test as we pivot to address our new challenges while defining our strategies and new visions for future success. In the words of Daniel Burrus, futurist author, “post-pandemic success will be based on what we do right now, not what we do post-pandemic.”

In the Moment

When everything came to a head, there was no time to plan, only to react. Information changed by the minute, and our highest priority was to keep our families, staff, and clients healthy and safe. Amidst stay at home orders, businesses needed to quickly operationalize their staff to maintain high levels of service to their clients. Relief programs and delayed tax deadlines put the profession in a reactive mode.

Accounting professionals became first responders for their clients while demonstrating empathy, compassion, and strong communication skills. Without time to take a breath, the profession went straight from one busy season into another; this new one undefined and uncharted.

Short-Term Planning

“Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits,” Thomas Edison.

Though uncertainty remains, it is time to transition to a pre-active strategy. We can’t let perfection get in the way of progress. There are many examples of firms that have taken a step back to see the bigger picture during these busy times. They gave back to their community through webinars and nano consulting sessions. The peace of mind they created drove new client engagements, kept their staff employed and engaged, and grew their businesses.

Several industries have flourished during the pandemic, and we can anticipate they will continue to do well as the new normalcy sets in. Personal shopping, e-commerce, and technology are a few examples of industries that have created a sense of security and convenience that their customers will not want to give up.

If you evaluate your services through that same lens, could you say you have created that same level of reliance and value? As you do this, ask if your core services are evolving to address these feelings in your clients now? How has their business model changed, and how does that align with your current offerings?

Ground your decisions in data.

If you are unsure of what will bring the most value, start with market research. Set up a client advisory committee in the niches you serve to get live input on how reopening has impacted them, and where they are struggling.

Simultaneously, spend time on your organization’s return to the office strategy. The plan cannot be “we are returning to normal,” because that normal no longer exists. We have no choice but to move forward and find our next normal.

Communicate with staff as the plan develops. Be vulnerable in admitting you don’t have all the answers and are still working through the details. Begin gathering input on how they feel about returning to the office, what obstacles may be in their way, and if everyone needs to return to the office.

Continue to evaluate technology and processes to ensure maximum productivity with a distributed workforce. Prudent investments in technology will help with the stability of your practice should there be more shifts in the tide ahead. It is a crucial time to listen as a leader.

Strategic Planning

It is time to build the next normal. By strategically planning now, you are part of defining what that next normal is, versus competing to catch up.

Strategic planning may feel like another boulder sitting on your to-do list when you’re already exhausted, but don’t try to boil the ocean. Review your core mission and outline what needs to change so that the core mission continues to be successfully performed.

Start envisioning the services clients want today and in the future. In a recent webcast from IPA, Michael Platt shared we are still too focused on services our clients don’t want. Take an honest inventory of your offerings now. What is missing, what could be evolved, what should be retired, or outsourced to someone else? Have frank conversations with your clients – what do they want that you aren’t currently providing?

Leverage existing data and the results of these conversations to begin piloting new offerings. Netflix is an example of successfully iterating as you build a new idea. Their co-founder has pointed out what initially launched as Netflix does not resemble what they do today. Develop your idea and begin to test, iterate, and continually improve as you receive feedback.

Focus on the skills your staff need in the future. Barry Melancon, CEO of AICPA, mentioned in his recent address to the AICPA General Council that we cannot ignore training staff and that education needs to include people and technology skills. Technology will continue to automate the transactional work we perform. To stay competitive, our teams must be well-versed in that technology while strengthening the high-value soft skills required to fulfill the trusted advisor role.

Summer is here, and typically retreats are being planned, but this year we are still in the midst of busy season. Prioritize time off for yourself and your team and prioritize doing your strategic planning. Employ your strategic and visionary leadership skills to take advantage of the opportunities created by our new normal.  

Over the past few months, many hours have been spent navigating these disruptive impacts and leading your firms to the future state. Now is the time to define what the future of your organization looks like.

Ready to improve the readiness of your distributed workforce, and start defining your future organization?  Register for the third part of our distributed workforce, series, Technology Stack for Increased Productivity , and watch part one and part two on demand.

Mike Sabbatis

Written by Mike Sabbatis

Mike Sabbatis is XCM's CEO. He has extensive experience leading fast-paced, customer-focused organizations leveraging innovative, forward-looking technologies that disrupt the norm while sustaining long-term profitable growth. He has led and inspired global teams comprised of more than 2,500 employees, as well as divisional start-ups and joint ventures.