When Businesses Think “Thrive” Versus “Survive” in the Midst of Crisis

In today’s environment, many organizations are simply focused on survival: “How do we keep our doors open for the next six months?” And, rightly so.  According to a CNBC report, more than 30% of small businesses are at risk of closing if the status quo persists for more than two months.

But, while most organizations are thinking, “how do we survive and come out of this?” it may pay off to also start thinking “how do we thrive once we come out of this?”

Surviving by Thinking Thriving

Investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald lost two-thirds of its employees in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. Whole divisions were devastated. Out of 960 employees in New York, 658 were killed — no employee in Cantor’s offices at the time survived.

That devastating event could have cost the company everything, shutting down the business for good. But what happened on September 11th, and the company’s reaction to that day transformed the company forever.

CEO Howard Lutnick vowed to distribute 25 percent of the company’s profits over the next five years to help the 658 families affected by the attack and ended up giving more than $180 million to those families. Lutnick himself received the highest honor granted by the U.S. Navy to nonmilitary personnel, the Department of the Navy’s Distinguished Public Service Award.

The company had to think not only on how to survive physically and financially, but how to thrive if they were to honor their financial commitments to their employees and clients.

“We all had to commit to doing something different,” Lutnick said. “It changed our outlook about what was important about business.”

Few are thinking ‘thrive’… but need to be

It has been interesting as we have worked with organizations over the past 45 days to help them best use their employee resources to paddle through troubled waters. We find most conversations immediately beginning with “we just need to survive the next few months, then we can focus on (fill in the blank).”  In times of crisis, the natural reaction is to focus on survival. But successful organizations aren’t solely focused on “how we survive.” They also focus on “how we thrive,” despite going through turbulent times. Organizations that are able to not only survive but have plans in place to thrive coming out of the crisis, are often catapulted well past competition that merely have plans in place to survive.

A Thrive Plan

In times of crisis, an organization should develop two parallel plans—a Survive Plan and a Thrive Plan. Most organizations are well into their survive plans, but few have thoughts about the second.

A Thrive Plan has three primary components:

  1. It takes advantage of underutilized resources to prepare for the future. These resources could be people who are not as busy yet are still needed through the crisis and beyond. Resources might also include underutilized equipment, assembly lines, know-how, unique skills, relationships, or processes. The list may be endless but will be unique to your organization.
  2. It involves employees, not just the senior team. Often times, with the C-suite laser-focused on survival, it takes a different perspective to identify innovative solutions. As employees are closest to the work, they are often in a position to identify solutions to problems that may not be seen by the top of the organization. Critical during this time is taking the pulse of employees in order to understand what they see (and how they feel).
  3. It asks questions before it proposes solutions. Here are some questions to consider:
    • What glaring holes in our organization has this crisis exposed?
    • What resources can we channel elsewhere in order to address the current situation (survive) or prepare for the future (thrive)?
    • Which products or services have we been unable to fully develop in the past, but might now have some time and resources to address during this slower time?
    • How can we give our customers something that will help them through this time? What may help solidify this important relationship in the future?
    • What is our organization uniquely positioned to offer that no other can (and how could that be useful after the crisis)?

Today, Cantor Fitzgeralds and its affiliates operate in more than 60 offices in 20 countries and have more than 8,500 employees. But that kind of success doesn’t happen through merely surviving. And although one of the most important things a company can do is to survive, thinking “thrive” is what distinguishes between those that merely make it through and those that leave better and stronger.

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