Add Structure to Your CoronaCrisis Recovery Planning

Understanding and Overcoming Your Impediments to Success as the World Reopens for Business               

4/9/2020 – – Dealing with the crushing coronavirus crisis has left us little opportunity to think about the future — a time when things can get “back to normal.” It’s safe to say that for every company, organization, institution, community, family and individual the answer to the question “what’s next?” will be different. Everyone will experience their own recovery timeline and a new normal, shaped in large measure by forces out of their control.

Let’s assume that even as municipal restraints on commerce are eased, social distancing will be with us for the foreseeable future and an effective coronavirus vaccine is not right around the corner. Given such a dynamic, unprecedented environment, what’s the best way to approach the all-important recovery planning process?

Recognizing that specific industries will face unique challenges, I’d like to offer some universally useful advice from an entrepreneur and an emperor: Alfred Taubman and Marcus Aurelius. For the record, I worked for more than 30 years with Mr. Taubman, a pioneering retailer and real estate developer, but never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Aurelius, who ruled the Roman Empire from 161 to 180. During my crisis counseling career, however, I’ve offered the wisdom of both for my clients to follow on their paths to crisis recovery.

Overcoming Threshold Resistance

Alfred Taubman’s memoir is appropriately titled “Threshold Resistance – The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer.”  Understanding and overcoming “threshold resistance”—  the physical and psychological factors that keep a customer from coming into a store — was at the center of Mr. Taubman’s successful life and career. That discipline, in addition to making him an outstanding planner of shopping space, guided his broader business decisions.

Before his historic acquisition of the international art auction house Sotheby’s in 1983, he analyzed the forces and fears keeping consumers of luxury items and experiences from entering the company’s auction rooms. He concluded correctly that the elements of threshold resistance holding back the auction segment of the art industry could be overcome. The operational, customer service and marketing innovations he introduced as a result of this analysis revolutionized the art market.  

Consider focusing your recovery planning process on threshold resistance. Bring the smartest people in your organization together and challenge them to identify the impediments to your recovery in the environment ahead. Define what’s going to keep your customers and employees from being a part of your success. Then brainstorm the best ways to break through those obstacles.

Your remedies will guide your recovery.     

Turning Impediments into Inspiration

Marcus Aurelius, considered one of the most thoughtful leaders of his time, embraced the philosophical tenets of stoicism. Being a stoic, he took a very practical approach to life. He sucked it up when challenges appeared. We know a lot about his beliefs because he kept a personal journal that was published after his death as his “Meditations.” Here’s the entry I turn to for crisis recovery guidance:

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

His words may sound like inspirational lines from The Karate Kid, but Aurelius was onto something when it comes to overcoming daunting obstacles. Instead of seeing the problems you face simply as roadblocks, use them as guideposts on your road to recovery.

Restaurateurs are justifiably concerned that it will be a long time before customers feel safe in the confined spaces of their establishments. The fear of contamination from table surfaces and menus, the loud folks at the next table, and the waiter hovering too close are impediments that must be addressed. So make overcoming those fears a primary focus of your planning for reopening.  

Maybe you decide to prominently post a sign at your entrance explaining that sanitized table cloths and napkins are placed on tables for each seating by staff members wearing gloves (or clad your tabletops with copper, a very inhospitable surface for microbes) . . . paper menus are printed each day and discarded for recycling after a single use (I’ve always been grossed out by sticky menu covers, no matter how elegant) . . . all tables are at least six feet apart or are separated by dividers (you can use the next few weeks to install them where needed) . . . and all waiters, who will wear safety masks and follow strict hygiene protocols, will have their temperatures tested each day as they report for work (this will comfort employees as well as customers).

If adjusted table arrangements seriously reduce a restaurant’s seating capacity, a creative proprietor could add outdoor dining (municipalities should be far more accommodating) and encourage extended lunch periods (11:00 early-bird specials and creative 1:30 late-lunch menus may win back head count). The lesson is clear: Rather than allowing heightened safety concerns to stand in the way, let them “become the way” to a successful reopening of a much better restaurant than the one shut down at the start of the coronavirus lockdown. 

Hopefully, you’ve already started to plan for your recovery. Whatever your “new normal” may be, you can add structure to the planning process by following the time-tested problem-solving wisdom of Alfred Taubman and Marcus Aurelius.             

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