It’s a fact of commercial life that there is an economic cycle. We have periods of growth followed by stagnation leading to decline. That decline generally sparks creativity and innovation, which then drives the next upturn to growth, generally to above the previous level. So it continues.
Every so often, something happens that causes the gradual rise and fall to accelerate; Events like 9/11, the 2008 banking crisis and now COVID19 have such a dramatic impact that the gradual decline becomes a vertical drop off the edge of a cliff and the world goes into shock!
As business owners and managers, we are not immune from the shock, and our primeval fight, flight or freeze response kicks in just like everyone else’s. But it is incumbent upon us as leaders to lead.
The immediate requirement is for us to deal with the crisis itself so we can ensure our businesses can continue to function, and we can continue to support our staff and customers while they too are coming to terms with the new conditions.
The COVID19 pandemic has presented us with challenges unlike any before!
Essential workers have faced problems over transport, supply of critical equipment such as PPE, social distancing and very obvious mental health considerations, such as anxiety, stress, depression and bereavement issues.
Many of us are considered non-essential, but whilst we may not be allowed to physically go to work, we still have a requirement to carry on our businesses. We have suppliers, customers, staff – simply stopping and waiting for this to blow over is not an option. We have to find a route along which to steer our businesses to ensure their longevity.
It is business, but it is far from business as usual. Everything changes and the challenges are immense. Business leaders have to call upon all of their skills, experience and resilience to pivot their businesses and steer a path through the situation.
So, what is needed? For most, the focus is in 3 key areas; Technology, operations and people.
Thankfully we are in the era of smartphones, laptops, tablets, apps, SaaS (software as a service) and broadband. Business is tough today but imagine the devastation had we been in lock down even 15 years ago!
Most people now have the technology that enables them to work from home and providing it for those who needed it is not the horrendous expense that it once was. Skype, Zoom, Teams and the like have enabled effective communication, apps like Google Apps, Office365, Xero and CRM systems have allowed most functionality to continue, and in many cases, productivity is improving as a result of less wasted travel time and shorter more focused online meetings.
Some practices have had to change, offline training and workshops for example moving to online equivalents. Yes, something is lost in the transition, but as always, necessity is the mother of invention and creativity continues to deliver better solutions.
Operationally, disruption has been huge. Demand has gone through the roof for some products and services and virtually disappeared for others. Supply chains and logistical operations have been affected at every stage, and financially companies are faced with bad debt, late payment, lack of liquidity, trade insurance challenges and so on. At the same time as dealing with these, ongoing operations such as statutory accounts, looking after human resources, health and safety and so on have to be maintained.
The biggest challenge is with human resources. People. Most leaders will acknowledge that people are a business’s strongest asset. But, whilst they may have skills that were perfect for the business just a couple of months ago, now the business needs them to do different things or to work in a different way. Those people may be unskilled or unexperienced in working in the way that is required today. They may be needed to perform different roles or to learn new skills and culturally, everything has changed for them. This is particularly for the younger members of the team who have never worked through a dramatic downturn, let alone one that means they have to work from home, largely self-managing. They will need far more support from their managers, greater clarity, more monitoring, more support. Uncertainty, emotional fatigue, stress and anxiety will affect most if not all. But, with good leadership, this situation will provide the example that results in a generation of future leaders prepared like no other.
- Your number one priority is to deal with the crisis before trying to transform your business
- Make sure you have the right technology
- Consider your operations – address disruption and don’t lose sight of ongoing statutory responsibilities such as financial reporting, health and safety and HR issues.
- Think about your people – communication is key. Make sure the right people are doing the right tasks and be supportive. You may need to adapt your management style and spend more time dealing with people’s uncertainties, changed responsibilities and new working practices