When COVID-19 is over … then what?

by Jeff Caponigro, APR, PRSA Fellow

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed worst-case scenarios beyond comprehension for individuals, business, non-profit organizations, schools and universities, government units and the sports and entertainment industry.

We have seen the tidal wave of emotions surge from shock to denial to disbelief to frustration to fear. As we have tried to stay safe and well, we now seek the beacon of light and optimism as we look forward to the “new normal.”

From a crisis-management standpoint, what happens when COVID-19 is over?

It is surely more complex but really no different than after any other crisis situation that requires an answer to a fundamentally important four-word question: “What have we learned?”

In my book, THE CRISIS COUNSELOR: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing a Business Crisis, I describe a seven-step process to effectively manage a crisis situation. The first step is to “identify the vulnerabilities.” Just as we recognize a new normal is on the horizon, we also see how a pandemic has now been added to our vulnerabilities like others in recent years – terrorism, opioid abuse, cybersecurity and a new threshold of discrimination and harassment.

Other than Bill Gates and a few Hollywood movies, no one would have imagined a global pandemic that would have so swiftly and severely led to the deaths of 120,000+ people around the world and abruptly slammed the brakes on economic prosperity and financial security. COVID-19 has shown us that business and commerce are far more fragile and vulnerable than ever imagined – where once thriving and prosperous businesses and industries can be crippled in the matter of days and weeks.

I mentioned in THE CRISIS COUNSELOR that nearly every crisis is preceded by a warning sign – and history has shown that COVID-19 was no different. The signs from previous pandemics warned us: The Bubonic Plague (1346-53), the Third Cholera Pandemic (1852-60), Flu Pandemic (1889-90), Sixth Cholera Pandemic (1910-11), Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918-20), Flu Pandemic (1968) and HIV-AIDs Pandemic (at its peak, 2005-12). We may not have realized that COVID-19 would be so far-reaching or what kind of virus it would be, but it wasn’t inconceivable that such a pandemic could occur again in the world and United States.

But what about Small Business?

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the inherent fragility of small businesses with vulnerabilities that included the granddaddy of them all – the fact they could be forced to stop production and serving customers at a moment’s notice. The blackout of 2003 that pulled the plug of technology and communication to many Northeast and Midwest states, now looks in hindsight like a mere inconvenience compared with the guillotine-like devastation Small Business has endured with COVID-19. What can be learned? Start with adding the “new vulnerabilities” to the “new normal.”

Small Business now knows it has a workforce with which it must communicate, inform, empathize, assist and encourage. It can face fast-changing and complex regulations and compliance issues to manage. And, it may need to rely more than ever on outside advisors and companies in the areas of HR, I.T., accounting and law, so it can stay focused on its core business. Small Business also has learned now how easy it is to be overwhelmed in a crisis and how there are often more questions than answers but that you still need to control the messaging – failing to do so is at its own peril, leaving the narrative for others to express.

As we see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, let us take a look forward by learning about what is (or soon will be) behind us. Where is my business most vulnerable to a crisis? For what do I wish we were better prepared? In hindsight now, what do I wish we would have done better or different? In what areas could we have used the help and which functions should we partner with someone for the future? What do I most want our employees, customers and other stakeholders to know about our business and how I feel about them?

What else have we learned? COVID-19 reinforced to us that nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our families, friends, employees and business colleagues. We also learned the five tenets of communication: honesty, information, empathy/compassion, opportunities for input and questions, and a call to action (i.e., what we can do going forward).

From a crisis standpoint, COVID-19 is an ultimate test, but it won’t be the only test. I wrote in my book that “all businesses have one thing in common – all have vulnerabilities, and all can and will experience crises.” The strong survive in business and the strongest are prepared to move decisively and confidently in a crisis by being prepared heading into the crisis.

For those small businesses that survive COVID-19, a rebirth and renaissance can occur that will turn them into a more effective and robust business by examining and re-examining their vulnerabilities, how to prevent them from turning into a crisis, and what can be done to prepare now for the next time the legs are cut out from under the business.

Let’s make sure that we answer, “What have we learned?” with not simply a historical perspective of the past, but the sense of empowerment and action going forward.

For Small Business, the experience gained has provided a new meaning behind the mantra, “We can. We will. We must.”

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Jeff Caponigro, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Executive Vice President-Corporate Communications and Marketing for Trion Solutions (www.relyontrion.com) and the author of THE CRISIS COUNSELOR: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing a Business Crisis, published in English, Chinese, Norwegian, Polish and German.

The Top 5 Reasons to Partner with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)

It’s no secret that business is changing. Changes in technology, a shifting economic outlook and a rapidly-evolving regulatory environment all call upon today’s businesses to be flexible, responsive and always ready to adapt to new realities. For an increasing number of businesses, working with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), is becoming an indispensable way of making sure that their companies are ready for any eventuality – and well positioned to take advantage of any opportunity.

Here are a few reasons why a PEO can be your company’s best friend:

  1. A PEO can let your business focus on what it does best.

HR functions aren’t a profit center for your company. So why should they be the recipient of a large measure of its time, attention, and resources? Repetitive, daily HR tasks consume resources your company could use in advancing its core-business functions and driving revenue growth. A PEO lets your company maintain its focus on tasks that matter­—strategy, product development, sales and marketing, and other endeavors that contribute to profitability and institutional strength.

  1. A PEO can help you strategically build your workforce and grow your business.

The bottom-line objective of HR is to engage and motivate your workforce. Employees with access to professional HR services and expanded benefit offerings are more effective, efficient and loyal.  An experienced PEO partner helps you attract and retain top talent, and that can be a powerful competitive advantage. Research shows that companies who partner with a PEO grow at an average of 7-9% faster than their counterparts who handle the burden of HR on their own.

  1. A PEO can help you safeguard your business.

Risk management is one of the most difficult, and most inevitable, issues a business can face. Working with a PEO means they don’t have to face it alone. A PEO partner will share risks and responsibilities, relieving the client from some considerable employer risks and complex reporting requirements (such as payroll tax reporting). A PEO enables Workers’ Compensation risks to be amortized across a large labor pool, minimizing the adverse effects of any single claim. And a well-run PEO will also guide your company through increasingly complex employer compliance requirements and, as a responsible party, will be an advocate for your company in resolving HR issues.

  1. A PEO can help you contain costs.

By leveraging large employee pools when purchasing products in large quantities, PEOs can pass savings onto their clients. Benefit offerings and Worker’s Compensation insurance, for example, are two products where PEOs are well positioned to provide companies with significant—and sometimes critical—savings.  The size of the PEOs employee pool and its bulk buying power also enable access to a broader range of benefit offerings, and help companies maximize their benefits investment while holding costs in check.

  1. A PEO can help you attract and retain top talent.

In an era of nearly full employment, competition for top-performing talent is fierce in nearly every industry—and that raises employee expectations when it comes to HR and benefits offerings. A top PEO always stays ahead of these trends, calibrates services and benefits offerings to meet evolving expectations, and enables client companies to deliver the HR experience that premium talent demands. And a PEO helps “level the playing field” between small- to mid-sized companies and major corporations by providing a similar suite of benefits that enables them to attract and retain top talent.

In the coming weeks, we will explore each of these five key PEO advantages in greater detail, illustrating the considerable benefits to be achieved through a well-considered partnership with a reputable PEO. As one of the top Professional Employer Organizations in the nation, Trion Solutions is committed to creating and highlighting advantages for our client partners, and we have seen firsthand the big difference a PEO can make in the fortunes of growing businesses.

To learn how Trion fits your business, contact us today.

Employers: Don’t wait for the coronavirus to arrive

By Jeff Caponigro, Executive Vice President, Trion Solutions Inc. and author, THE CRISIS COUNSELOR: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing a Business Crisis.

The hallmark of business leadership is anticipating needs and opportunities and taking the right action at the right time.

This is especially true in identifying vulnerabilities, working to prevent them from becoming problems and managing them so they don’t turn into crises for the business.

Smart companies realize the fast pace of business and the razor-thin edge of beating the competition is fraught with landmines and quicksand. We all know that today’s vulnerabilities run the gamut from I.T. data breaches to workplace harassment and discrimination – and dozens of other vulnerabilities that can trip up even the best businesses.

With most already having their proverbial hands full of vulnerabilities, hovering like hungry vultures, now comes the threat of a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic crippling individual businesses after already cutting the legs off the stock market indexes.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the coronavirus eventually will become more than a serious threat in the United States, and it has initiated a public information and education to provide caution and guidance. For businesses, the vulnerabilities abound.

The health and safety of the workforce is — or should be — the No. 1 priority of all businesses, and many valuable and productive employees could be affected. But what about other vulnerabilities?

The highly contagious nature of the virus could threaten mission-critical operations. Employees who work physically close to others may be most susceptible and need to be separated, if possible. Entire departments and operation centers may be forced to closed temporarily and affect the ability to serve customers. Even if employees remain virus free, many may need to remain home to care for an ill family member – keeping them away from the job and increasing the possibility of acquiring the virus themselves.

So, what should a business do?

First, review your policies related to sick leave. Encourage sick employees to stay home and set aside old-school beliefs that dedicated, hard-working employees should come in to work, despite an illness, whenever possible. Realize that some employees may need to stay home to take care of family members and make your policy clear about that. As the CDC suggests, consider not requiring a physician’s “note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare-provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and unable to provide such documentation in a timely way.”

Second, as the CDC recommends, separate employees who appear sick at work and send them home. Explore flexible worksites (i.e., from home) and work hours (i.e., staggering times to reduce the time employees are working near others).

Third, post written encouragement perhaps in the form of a poster to employees in high-traffic areas, such as lunchrooms and near coffee/vending machines, about “cough-and-sneeze etiquette” and hand hygiene. The CDC offers sound advice here –provide tissues and no-touch disposable receptacle, and plenty of soap and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. And, routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs.

As in any solid crisis-management plan, focus on advance preparation to help address the vulnerability, work to reduce the potential damage from the situation and be ready to take immediate and definitive action. In essence, know what will be done, at what time and by whom. By far, the single biggest factor in surviving a crisis is the level of preparation going into it.

If you own or manage a business, your workforce is not only counting on you to make smart decisions but also watching to see if you truly have the best interest of your employees in mind. Start taking definitive action on this today.

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Jeff Caponigro, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Executive Vice President-Corporate Communications and Marketing for Trion Solutions, Inc., the President and CEO and author of THE CRISIS COUNSELOR: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing a Business Crisis, which is published in English, Chinese, Norwegian, Polish and German. Trion Solutions, based in Troy, Mich., manages HR administration, payroll and taxes, benefits administration and regulatory compliance for more than 600 U.S. companies. Caponigro PR is based in Southfield, Mich.