Let’s roll up those sleeves and ask yourself, how will you reflect on this moment in time?

All right, folks, let’s talk COVID-19. It all started in February, with a little virus that was just like the flu…or so we thought. Our Breda office was getting ready to party for Carnival, but then the cancellations came rolling in like a tidal wave. North Brabant took a beating. Turns out, young people could get sick too. And just like that, three years of economic progress vanished in 7 days.

We’re talking 80,000+ applications for the n.o.w.-regulation. Millions of people worldwide cut off from family, friends, and work. This virus doesn’t discriminate, but it sure knows how to make an entrance.

This crisis takes me back to similar situations I’ve faced before…

Alright folks, buckle up. Let me take you back to 9/11. I had just moved to Utrecht and was on my internship when I witnessed the second tower collapse. The world as we knew it was forever altered. I remember thinking, “This changes everything.” And it did, but not in the way I could have ever imagined.

Picture it: 2008. My first company was thriving, and I was ready to scale up. But then the financial institutions took a tumble. Suddenly, the recession became my reality. I had nothing to lose and everything to learn. It was a tough but valuable lesson.

In times of crisis, the hardest thing to do is to calibrate our own reactions. Am I going overboard by stockpiling two bags of rice or am I being too cavalier by setting foot in a grocery store? Should we at Merkle all work from home or do we let some client meetings slide? These are the tough questions we face, but one thing’s for sure – we need to act fast and smart.

Let’s talk about the biggest challenge we face in times of crisis – our ability to make the right call. It’s a fine line between overreacting and underestimating the gravity of the situation. And let’s face it, we’re all flying blind here. We lack the data, information, and insights to predict the future with certainty. So, do we go all-in this quarter and exhaust our resources or do we hold back, risking irreversible damage later on? It’s a tough call, but one that we must make nonetheless.

Quickly devise strategic plans

This is the moment where we all have to make razor-sharp choices. Youngsters who gather on the playing fields, brands that go completely dark on communication, restaurants that pivot to delivery-only models. I, too, am making sharp choices. But this time, it’s with a bit more trepidation, a bit more calculation than the last crisis. Maybe it’s because I’m now 40+ with children and elderly parents to consider.

Strategic thinking is crucial, especially in times of crisis. We need to calmly assess the situation, make quick decisions, and take action. Doing nothing is not an option. Fear is the enemy of action. Fear of making mistakes leads to getting bogged down in details and striving for perfection, ultimately leading to paralysis. So let’s face our fears head-on and move forward with strategic action.

The perspective of defense.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to chat with a defense expert. The military is adept at navigating conflicting expectations, including their own interests, and constantly balance what’s best for defense with the needs of their partners. By doing so, they not only swiftly tackle crises but also promote civil-military cooperation. These insights are a beacon of hope.

I myself use three basic rules for crisis management.

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During a crisis, corporate rules go out the window. It requires a different type of leadership: one that is faster, more empathetic, and more direct. But a crisis also presents an opportunity for change. It’s time to set a new goal on the horizon. Keep encouraging, listening, and sharing your perspective.

The year was 2014 and a Virgin Galactic test flight had tragically crashed, resulting in one pilot being injured and the other losing their life. This was a major setback for both the Virgin Group and the entire commercial space tourism industry. But what did Virgin do in response? They immediately began communicating their concerns to all those involved and shared detailed information about the incident with the public. Sir Richard Branson himself flew straight to the crash site and provided countless updates and personal comments via social media. This is a prime example of crisis management done right.

Virgin and Sir Richard Branson never lost sight of their original mission. They stayed true to their strategy. Their message remained consistent: “Space travel is hard – but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together.”

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The end of the distant friend (for now).

This isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to crises. However, this is the first time where my individual actions have a significant and direct impact on all of us. Hence, let me advise you: act swiftly, but also reflect on how you will look back on this time. Will you base your decisions on facts? Do you empathize with the uncertainty of others? What insights have you gathered? Have you remained steadfast to your scenarios? Have you instilled hope in others?

Social distancing has created a huge fence between people. Fortunately, we have enough technological resources to work together over distance. Now it’s up to you and me to change our behavior from a distant friend to that of a good neighbor in the coming months. Together we will work through the crisis.

 A je to

 en K.B.O. (Keep Buggering On)

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Joffrey Hoijer 

 PS. (a je to is een Tsjechische uitspraak vrij vertaald in het Nederlands in: ‘dat is dat’, of ‘voor elkaar’)

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