I believe it was Rahm Emanuel, former Chief of Staff to President Obama, who coined the phrase “never let a crisis go to waste.” Well, we are certainly living through a crisis right now – a global pandemic that impacts just about every aspect of our lives and livelihoods. So how do we as business organizations recover in this crisis and re-emerge stronger in a post-COVID-19 future?
I want to share with you three inter-related themes that have been coming up for me as I lead my team through these unprecedented times. The themes are Resilience, Integrity, and Creativity.
In a recent NY Times editorial, columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that the Coronavirus is Mother Nature, and Mother Nature is only chemistry, biology and physics. I would add that, just like a mountaineer trying to summit Mt. Everest under the harshest of conditions, organizations must adapt to the Mother Nature or end up as frozen relics of a long-lost era.
How is BRI evolving and becoming more resilient through these challenging conditions? Prior to COVID-19, we were exploring ways to better optimize the manufacturing of our enzyme and microbial products – the COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the risks associated with consolidated supply chains, whether sourcing face masks from China to processing pork products in the US Midwest. As a result, we decided to accelerate our supply chain integration strategy by a couple of years. And another aspect of resilience I should point out here is agility – because we are a company not burdened with high overhead costs or large fixed assets, we could be nimble and pivot our business when and where needed to adapt to the changing conditions.
Psychologist and author Henry Cloud defines integrity as the courage to meet the demands of reality. Not to stretch reality or deny it, but to have a straightforward and honest relationship with it. In my experience, the better I am at articulating my reality to others, understanding their reality, and holding space for all those demands simultaneously, the better chance I will have to build trust with others and create outcomes that mutually meet those demands. For example, when COVID-19 resulted in significant reductions in poultry production in South Asia, our customers sought to delay or defer PO’s from us. Faced with the reality of customers needing relief, and facing our own reality of honoring commitments to our suppliers, we worked out a plan that would honor delivery commitments and support customers in anticipation of their post-COVID recovery needs, while also working with them on provisions for payment terms. In the end, we maintained integrity by meeting the demands of our customers, suppliers and stakeholders in the best way possible.
To be honest, meeting the demands of reality in times such as this is not a trivial effort. It requires trust, empathy (which I talked about in a prior post) and a good dose of creativity. In a talk I presented last year to members of a local Emory alumni group, I talked about how creativity and innovation enables moving from an “either-or” mindset to a “both-and” mindset. In that talk, I proposed that innovation in feed additives such as those BRI has developed would allow poultry growers to move away from overuse of antibiotics in animal production and maintain productivity. Just as necessity is the mother of invention, I am excited about the possibility of creative and innovative solutions that will arise as companies respond to critical issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Returning to the first theme around agility and resilience, I suggest that smaller, entrepreneurial companies are better positioned to take advantage of creative and innovative approaches than larger ones. However, in order for these innovative solutions to be implemented in a post-COVID-19 world, both small and large companies will need to work together, collectively facing the demands of reality and creating a better future together. As an industry, let’s all exercise our resilience, integrity and creativity to make sure this crisis does not go to waste!