Businesses, like people, seek shelter in a storm. In times of crisis it’s only natural to pull back on new initiatives, take protective measures, and become more inwardly focused. But what should companies do when the storm begins to pass? What steps should be taken to re-engage with customers, reconnect with suppliers, and re-energize employees? Emerging from a crisis presents a unique opportunity for businesses to reposition themselves, to take advantage of new opportunities, and to market themselves in a fresh way. For small and medium sized businesses, the way a company is seen by others depends entirely on how business owners see things themselves. Vision, like sunlight, begins at the top and filters down to make things clear to customers, employees and other stakeholders alike. The question of how to come back after the storm really depends on how ownership sees the future. The answer is found in how that vision is put into practice.
So, here’s a thought on finding that overarching purpose: start with something big. Really big. Big ideas have a way of shining into a lot of corners, illuminating an overall strategy. True story: years ago, in Jakarta, Indonesia, there was a business named Bob’s Shoe Warehouse. Every Saturday Bob would run a full-page advertisement in the Jakarta Post newspaper, an expensive proposition in a city of 11 million people. The ads were outrageous, full of color, featuring a plethora of “specials” on everything from bedroom slippers to high performance track shoes, all crowned with a huge banner headline featuring the store name and address. Seeing this ad, you’d be forgiven for thinking the store was some huge enterprise, a forerunner to the big box stores more prevalent today. Yet if you took the time to visit, the reality was very different. Bob’s Shoe Warehouse wasn’t a warehouse at all, but a tiny hole in the wall kiosk down a back alley in the old part of town, barely visible among the surrounding storefronts. When asked why he went to such expense every week to promote an otherwise modest establishment, Bob’s response said it all. “Cast a big shadow and grow into it.” If Bob saw his humble concession as something special, then it would help his customers to do the same. His vision was just that, aspirational. And inspirational.
As businesses resume normal operations, think about ways you can reposition your company for success in the sunnier days ahead. It starts with how you see your business, and even how you see yourself. Casting a big shadow, and growing into it is a good place to start. Somewhere in Jakarta, Bob will be smiling.
F. Bruce Sim