Leaning in During a Global Crisis: Steps Organizations Can Take


In his 1986 letter to shareholders, Warren Buffet wrote, “Occasional outbreaks of those two super-contagious diseases, fear and greed, will forever occur in the investment community…The timing of these epidemics will be unpredictable…Therefore, we never try to anticipate the arrival or departure of either disease.” He then penned one of his most famous lines, “Our goal is more modest: We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.”

Buffet was talking about diseases of mindset, but his advice has a wide application for businesses navigating their way through challenging economic environments. Greed is a universally pejorative term in the context of a global crisis, so it’s important to understand that the spirit of the advice is not that businesses should take advantage of vulnerable markets, but rather that they should temper responses based on general economic anxiety and continue to look for and make opportunities. In more updated terms: We need to lean in where others are leaning out.

The ‘how’ of leaning in is a little different for companies facing the prospect of a remote workforce, shutdown, or reduced activity in their sector. Increasing investment in core business activity is an easy goal but not always an attainable one. However, there are still steps that every organization can take.


Marketing is one of the first expenses cut in uncertain times, but studies have shown that on average, organizations that maintain their visibility and customer interaction during downturns realize greater gains in market share. Audiences rarely disappear, but marketers may find that they have gone online or reduced their exposure to more traditional channels. Redirecting, instead of cutting, ad spend and assets can help increase marketing efficiency while maintaining or increasing share of voice and exposure. It also provides an opportunity to test messaging, find new customers, and perform research.


In times of high activity, organizations tend to focus on their own businesses, preferring to directly address as much of the market as possible to control competition. As one sector slows, however, another may need additional services that aren’t accessible without investment in equipment, expertise, or technology. In the absence of time or liquidity to address those needs, a willingness to work with complementary product and service providers can fill the gap to win opportunities that would not have otherwise been available.


A big part of leaning in is helping others do the same. Crisis creates opportunities to bring disparate organizations together and is one of the most reliable sources of health in the small business community. Leveraging our connections to create new ones between companies helps everyone succeed.

Following these steps can help add resiliency to organizations in the face of uncertain business conditions. Now more than ever, leaning in and utilizing the assets, networks, and resources already in place is critical, even when it’s difficult to see the opportunity.

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