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Playing Defense to Survive the New Normal

Businesses surviving the new normal

We’re all still trying to figure out what the “new normal” is—especially when it comes to keeping people safe. But I also believe we need to get the economy rolling again.

I realize it isn't always a popular position to take these days. It seems like people are dividing into two camps: one that is pro-safety and the other pro-business.

I absolutely believe that we need to do everything to be protective of people. But I also know what kind of damage we’re doing to people’s lives the longer we keep the economy shut down.

It is devastating to see more than 32 million out of work. I was blown away to learn that for every percentage point the unemployment rate ticks up, suicide rates also go up 0.78%.

People’s mental health is at risk—especially when their unemployment runs out at the end of July. And that says nothing about the state and local budget deficits that are piling up as sales tax receipts continue to fall off a cliff—which could mean we’re looking at serious cutbacks in services like police and fire that keep us safe.

It has me left asking, "What’s the long-term cost of that?" 

It’s a hole we have to slowly climb up out of, especially if the virus is going to stick around for a while.

That’s why I wonder: can we find a sweet spot between opening things up and still keeping people safe? I believe it will start with each of us doing common-sense things to protect ourselves just like we do every day.

It’s like stretching before you go running or putting a helmet on your kid’s head before they ride their bike around the neighborhood. I remember attending a college graduation ceremony where the speaker signed off his talk by giving all of the graduates one piece of advice: he told them to wear sunscreen to avoid getting skin cancer.

In other words, play defense.

A favorite quote of mine is attributed to Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary college football coach, who reportedly said:

“Offense might sell tickets, but defense wins championships.”

In this new normal we’re living in, we all need to learn to play defense, whether we’re going out to eat or getting our hair cut. It comes down to taking some personal responsibility.

If you see a situation that doesn’t look safe—or where people aren’t practicing social distancing—stay away.

Wash your hands; a lot. Don’t touch your face. Wipe down surfaces that may have been infected. Wear a mask, whether you feel sick or not. Assume you are asymptomatic and act accordingly. Take responsibility for your actions.    

Just because something is open doesn’t mean you have to necessarily jump into it.

I talked to a friend of mine the other day, an entrepreneur par excellence. He’s been in business his whole life and currently owns a couple of restaurants.

Even though our state says he can open up for business he told me, “I’m going to wait for someone else to go first and watch what happens”. He knew that businesses who opened first would likely draw protesters or maybe even threats. My friend made the decision to stay on the sidelines until things felt safer to him. He’s playing defense.

We are entering an experiment as we reopen the country. Some people will succeed, and others will make mistakes. We need to learn from those mistakes and correct the deviations. Some people will have the courage to set new standards. Things won’t be the same as they were.

We will see service businesses like restaurants adopt new practices similar to what hospitals do in terms of disinfecting surfaces with the proper chemicals and using ultra-violet light to sanitize.

We need to play defense not just in terms of the virus, but also in how we can prepare our businesses for the upturn.

I visited one of our factories the other day. They are the perfect metaphor for what I think so many companies are struggling with these days. They were rocking and rolling before the virus hit.

Sales were through the roof and they were blowing out their bonus programs. They had also made some significant investments in R&D to develop new product lines. They were doing everything right.

Then, BAM, their market got hit by the virus. Now, their customers are cutting back on their orders. They’re scared because they don’t know when things will come back.

It means this factory, like most of our divisions, is now looking at a rough second quarter coming up. It’s going to be brutal.

But they’re learning to play defense. They’re coming up with innovative approaches like holding virtual dealer universities to educate their customers about the products they have in the pipeline.

The team has done what it can to cut costs and absorb overhead as much as possible. They’re also adapting by embracing shared work programs and cutting back on hours—all with the goal of stretching their resources out as far as possible until demand returns.

While the shortages are hurting us, we don’t want to lose any of our people we have worked so hard over the past few years to add to our teams.

This company is set up incredibly well for the future. They just have to keep playing defense until volumes pick up again—which it eventually will.

The question then becomes: who will be ready to take advantage of things when they do?


With business and the economy in chaos, there’s one thing we know for sure: YOU HAVE TO MAKE BOLD MOVES TO CREATE YOUR NEW NORMAL. Don't let circumstance dictate where your company will be tomorrow...YOU decide. Where will you be in 90-days, 1-year, even 5-years down the road?

Take control of your situation
Harness the collective wisdom of your people
Create focus, alignment, and accountability around your financials
Execute with a sense of urgency
Get ready for the upturnNew call-to-action


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Topics: Open-Book Management, Transparency, Contingency Planning

Authors of our latest book, Change the Game: Saving the American Dream By Closing the Gap Between the Haves and the Have-Nots. Jack Stack is president and CEO of SRC Holdings Corporation. Stack, a graduate of Elmhurst College, came to SRC in 1979 as the plant manager of International Harvester (IH). In 1983, Stack and the SRC employees bought the company from IH and have turned it into what Inc. magazine has proclaimed “one of America’s most competitive small companies.” He is the author of the books, The Great Game of Business, A Stake in the Outcome, and Change the Game. Jack has been called the “smartest strategist in America” by Inc. Magazine and one of the “top 10 minds in small business” by Fortune Magazine. Darren Dahl is an experienced ghostwriter and business journalist, having written for publications like the New York Times, Inc., and Forbes, Darren has also ghostwritten multiple books, several of which have landed on multiple bestseller lists.

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About The Great Game of Business

Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.