What’s your play? COVID-19 and the gift of time

April 13, 2020
BlogPatrick O'Leary

Imagine your team is in the NCAA Final Four, you’re down by 1 point with 3 seconds to go.  What’s your play?  Now imagine the referees noticed the clock kept running during the TV timeout and put 30 seconds back on the clock.  Now, what’s your play?  

Rarely do teams or businesses get the gift of extra time to run a better play.  The most valuable asset for any business is time — you can’t buy more and when it’s gone you can’t get it back.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a special moment in time — employees have more of it.  As business slows, the companies that reinvest this gift of time will thrive and outperform their competitors.  Those that don’t will fall further behind.  

I run an enterprise software startup supporting the media and advertising ecosystem, and I’ve worked at large companies, too.  No one is immune to needing extra time.  My advice to everyone at any sized company is to focus on what’s in your control and fix your foundation by prioritizing these five areas:

  1. Fix workflows. Get rid of the workarounds that became workflows, identify manual bottlenecks, side spreadsheets, etc. It’s a great time to revisit all the policies that slow down business like approvals and exceptions that “have always been that way”.  Start by doing an “as-is” analysis walking through a new deal from lead to cash.  There are always opportunities to simplify, reduce costs and go faster.
  2. Clean your data. Every company has so much dirty data, most of it’s useless for decisions.  The best data sits in spreadsheets that only a few possess.  This is holding back companies resulting in sub-optimal and slow decision making.  Do an audit: Is there a single system of record for each dataset, is there a standard taxonomy and governance, how dirty (duplicates, missing fields) is it?  Build a plan to fix it.
  3. Implement best practices. Every vendor is publishing content and webinars on what the best practices are and who’s doing it.  Do your homework and compare it to your audits to determine what’s best in class and what you can reasonably implement.  Sometimes what your peers are doing well is what it takes to build the internal case for change.
  4. Drive adoption. Everyone knows the areas of “if we just got this group to use that tool or implement this, everything would be better”.  Do some quick remote fieldwork: Find out why certain groups aren’t doing what’s expected, and keep asking why until you get to the root cause.  Even better, find some that are and ask why they’re working.  Develop training, fix systems and processes, and get leadership on board.
  5. Go now. Don’t wait.  Real change comes from the bottom.  Those that identify fixes and new opportunities that make measurable improvements are the ones who will get promoted.  Many companies are born in recessions, as are many new leaders at existing companies.  

Never waste a good crisis.  You’re in the NCAA Final Four and just got 30 seconds on the clock, make your next move count.