Converting COVID-19 crisis to opportunity: Need for breakaway planning in business

Across the board, the impact of COVID-19 was shutdown and lockdown of the economies in India and South Asia, the United States, and around the world

Frank F. Islam Jan 12, 2021

Across the board, the impact of COVID-19 was shutdown and lockdown of the economies in India and South Asia, the United States, and around the world. Those shutdown and lockdowns caused millions of businesses to close, employees to be laid off, economic collapse, and enormous pain and suffering in all nations.

The impact has varied considerably by industry segment. Research from the US on small business shows:

*The industry segments hurt the most and which remain hurting are accommodation and food services, arts, entertainment and recreation, health care, personal services, and education.   

*The industry segments which were hurt initially but seem to be coming back now include: retail and wholesale trade, transportation, and manufacturing. 

*Those industry segment which appears to have been hurt the least by the pandemic include information technology, professional services, utilities, finance and insurance, and construction.

COVID has created many challenges both great and small. They are: The struggle for survival, maintaining relations with customers and clients, and nd, modifying the business model.

Without question, the biggest challenge for many businesses was the struggle for survival. Keeping the doors open, if that was possible for your business, or if it was not securing the necessary resources to keep the business afloat until it was possible to reopen.

Sadly, many businesses in India, the US, and around the world did not meet this challenge.  Millions of once-viable businesses are no longer with us. 

One of the keys to survival was meeting the challenge of maintaining relations with key customers and employees. The pandemic made it essential for businesses to reach out to those customers and employees and to reassure them that the business valued them and would do whatever it took to keep the relationship in place.  

For many businesses, this necessitated communicating electronically rather than in person.  Some businesses were already adept at this. Others modified their business model and ramped up quickly to enter the online world.

Modifying the business model is the third challenge I want to emphasize.  For some businesses, it meant moving to a virtual communication mode. For others, it required delivering goods or services to a customer’s home.  For others, it meant reducing hours of operation, the level of staffing or the very nature of the goods or services provided themselves.

Re-inventing business

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. The pandemic required businesses to be inventive by finding and implementing new ways of doing things in incredibly short time periods and under enormously stressful circumstances.  

Enough for the challenges or what I would call the dark side of the pandemic.  Let me flip the light switch and look at the bright side.  What are the opportunities that have been created by COVID-19?

There are three industry segments that have had the greatest advantage because of the opportunities presented by the pandemic. They are: technology - especially big technology; streaming services; and, delivery services. 

As the pandemic forced people to stay home and go online rather then to go out, it rapidly accelerated the growth and profits of the big five technology companies: Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.  They now account for approximately 22 percent of the S & P 500 – never before have five companies been so dominant on Wall Street.  

The pandemic also caused movie theaters and entertainment venues to close and drove the growth of people watching online streaming of videos rather than just watching traditional cable TV at-home.  Big businesses such as NBC Universal and Warner Media launched new services.  

Performers and others established their own sites to do streaming as well.  And, of course, there was the explosive growth of the zoom video communication services which became a primary source of communications contact for millions of people and businesses around the world.

Finally, the pandemic made home-delivery a high-growth industry for delivering everything from groceries to meals to medical supplies.  There were big players in this segment such as Uber and Doordash.  It was also a segment for a lot of small players in urban areas as they carved out neighborhoods and communities for their delivery.

Those are the big three opportunity areas.  Let me now focus on five opportunity areas that the pandemic has made especially promising for small businesses. They are telemedicine; educational technology; supply chain management; physical fitness; and e-business.

New opportunities 

In telemedicine, there is a need for customer service, health report maintenance, and medical assistance solutions.  In educational technology, there is a need for an online curriculum, learning management software, and virtual classroom apps.  In supply chain management there is a need for needs assessment, supply tracking, and delivery management solutions.  In physical fitness, there is a need for instructional videos, equipment redesign for use at home, and health improvement progress monitoring tools.  In e-commerce, there is a need for new apps and virtual solutions across a wide variety of industries including finance, insurance, retail, media, and marketing.

Those are just the tip of the business opportunities iceberg that has been created by COVID-19.  The list goes on and on.

Entrepreneurial leadership and civic engagement are always important. Given the current condition of India’s economy and the additional harm that has been created by COVID-19, the importance of leadership and engagement is orders of magnitude greater.

India’s economy shrank 7.5 percent in the three months that ended in September. This moved India into its most severe recession since at least 1996.

I will outline a singular opportunity that exists for everyone in their businesses.  This opportunity exists regardless of one’s industry segment. It is to do what I call “breakaway planning.”

Breakaway planning 

Breakaway planning has two dimensions. The first is planning to put your company or a new business start-up in the forefront of its industry segment.  The second is to do this by enabling the local economy to break away from the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The present crisis presents both an opportunity and a threat. 

Breakaway planning ensures that COVID-19 is converted into an opportunity.  It allows you to take what could be a once in a lifetime chance to review, revise, and revamp the business model of your company because of the destabilizing conditions created by the pandemic.

The essential elements of breakaway planning are the classic components of traditional strategic planning.  They are conducting an environmental scan and doing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis.    

In the environmental scan, you thoroughly and critically examine your firm’s customer environment, competitor environment, physical environment, legal environment, political environment, social environment, technological environment, and economic environment to determine what has changed because of the coronavirus.  In the SWOT analysis, you assess your firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to determine how they have changed because of the coronavirus. 

Based on the results of those assessments, you decide whether your business delivery approach and core business functions should be altered.  And, you determine whether there are business lines be dropped or new business lines are developed to ensure that your business thrives over the next three to five years.  The final part of this planning is to determine how your businesses can contribute to the recovery and rebounding of the economies and communities in which you do business. 

Breakaway planning takes your business beyond the survival planning that you had to do at the onset of COVID-19. It is planning to position your business for success as COVID-19 winds down and post COVID.

Breakaway planning is the right tool for entrepreneurial leaders. 

Because of the devastating impact of COVID-19, there is a need to redouble one's efforts to ensure that as you take your business forward you implement initiatives and take actions to move others who are less fortunate forward as well.

Mahatma Gandhi famously instructed us “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Dr. Martin Luther King who was a disciple of Gandhi said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” One must confront the challenges and create the opportunities to convert the COVID-19 pandemic from a crisis to a building block for a better and braver world. 

(The writer is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views are personal)