“What am I doing right now? I am going to spend the next four hours sharpening my axe.”
I’m a travel geek through and through. With the exception of one year as a teacher, my entire adult life has been spent working in the travel industry. The current global pandemic concerning COVID-19 is one of three major challenges in my career, the other two being the terrorist attacks in 2001 and the economic crash of 2007.
First off, this is a terrible time for people and businesses right now. I’m based in Seattle, one of the initial areas to be affected in the US. But my most important learning from 2001 and 2007? Try not to despair, it will get better.
President Abraham Lincoln’s quote: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” is now very apt. We have six hours to prepare for the eventual rebound in business activity and we’re certainly using this time to start sharpening our respective axes.
Whilst the axe you grind will invariably be different to mine, I wanted to share some tips on what can be done in the next four figurative hours:
1. Data, data, data
If data is the new oil, then think of this time as filtering your oil.
Whether it’s your CRM data, or your spend analysis data, or even your customer data, now is a good time to make sure that data is giving you high-quality outputs. This exercise can be a huge time burden, but in order to move from making decisions based on gut instinct to data-driven, the cleaner your data, the better your decisions.
So start updating records. If you can, spend an hour every day assessing the accuracy and accessibility of your data. The pay-off will be massive in the long run.
2. Map out your workflows
This is actually really important and rarely done. Most internal processes are clearly mapped when they are put in place: clean, simple and elegant. But then they slowly grow into unrecognisable beasts. Now could be the time to write down how things should get done in your company.
For example, how should a salesperson place an order? How is that order documented? Or for the subjects that I know extremely well, who should approve travel? Is approval required before every booking? Who approves individual expense claims? Is it the same person who approved the travel? How does an employee get reimbursed?
Taking the time to map out how things are done today will help you with the next couple of steps.
3. Encourage innovation
By now I’m sure you’ve seen the many social posts about how William Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Sir Isaac Newton invented Calculus while in quarantine. Now could be that chance for your people to come up with the next best thing in your industry.
You may have heard of Google’s 20% cent rule. Every employee is allowed to use 20% of their time working on their own Google-related passions. Gmail, Google News and Google Maps are just a few of the not so insignificant outputs from this.
So whilst many are still busy or placed on job retention schemes, there will also be many without the scheduling demands they are used to. Use this extra bandwidth, if you have it, coupled with a limitless imagination and a little risk to consider how you could better serve your customers and employees.
Not all ideas will be masterpieces but some will. And the benefits to your organisation might be to the level of King Lear or Calculus. We have a few ideas brewing here at SalesTrip…
4. Get lean
This will automatically happen to some degree but with clean data, improved processes and now your creative juices flowing, you’ll be able to start to identify areas for improvement across your business. In the travel industry, there are countless examples of airlines, hotels and others, who during similar periods of severe economic disruption, enhanced their products, servicing or processes. In all of the examples that I know of, they were much better positioned when business started to thrive again – and in some notable examples, they dominated.
Ultimately, we’re in a temporary situation. The game will resume in 6 hours. So be prepared, start sharpening your axe. You’re going to have to cut down that tree sooner rather than later, so make sure you’re ready to be successful once the game starts again. For both your customers and your people.
This article was first published on LinkedIn on 30th April 2020.