So Your Business Isn’t Working

In the present circumstances obviously that might be due to COVID lockdown and no opportunity to produce/sell. On the other hand it might also be due to other systemic factors. The question is – how are you going to deal with it from here on?

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many businesses and organisations to look very hard at what they were doing before it all came to a head. Then the urgency of having to manage cash-flow and look after employees while there’s no end in sight to the turmoil just adds to the complications. Not working may describe exactly what it appears is the only thing your employees are able to do.

However the fact remains that if your business isn’t working then you actually have to DO something about it. Merely hanging on and hoping for a rapid return to normality is a recipe for disaster.

Enough Platitudes – Now What?

All the above may be self-evident but I want to look at the three components in a little more detail.

First, assuming the situation is not of your own making (COVID lockdown or some equally devastating external influence) the first inclination should be to take a deep breath and step back. We’ve seen just the opposite from some big employers – whether that’s an hotel chain in the Scottish highlands sacking staff and making them leave their accommodation with no notice or airlines parking up aircraft and asking crew to take 3 months unpaid leave. To be fair, those employers with massive capital overheads had to do something when the ticket sales stopped. On the other hand a knee-jerk response is rarely the right answer. The cause is obvious – the solution is very definitely NOT.

Second, this might have happened as a result of something more routine. Your business is simply not delivering what it was supposed or intended to. Here the immediate emphasis should be on diagnostics. You’ve still got cashflow – it just isn’t as good as it should be or your customer base is eroding due to competitor activity. Whatever the immediate perception, don’t make the mistake of assuming the answer is obvious – it might not be.

Thirdly, you have a viable business but people are not able to work because of some other factor. Here the emphasis should be on working on your business model and processes. You have a dedicated team who know you and what you do. They are potentially free for a limited time to do some real deep-cleaning of the business methods and culture. After all, they can see that if they get it right they are designing a better place to return to when the brakes are off.

Use the Opportunity to Develop

Having stepped back and taken a deep breath, the wise leaders in all of these situations will take the opportunity to learn from the dilemma. It is no use simply laying off staff and closing the doors for a few months to reopen as if nothing had happened. The world for your employees will have changed beyond recognition. Their attitudes to the management will be coloured strongly by how things have evolved over that interim period. Here is a chance to make or break some really strong, resilient teams who truly get what the business is trying to do and will give their all to make it happen.

The first thing those made idle should be expected to do in return for the immediate support of the organisation is to engage with the recovery planning. Don’t just send them home and expect to hear nothing. I’m not talking here about office workers who are simply doing the same job from the kitchen table or the spare bedroom. Rather those who cannot operate a lathe, do the hairdressing or man the retail counters. The very people who are key to operations but who presently are forced to sit anywhere but at their workstation. Use the supervisors and managers to contact their teams daily and get them to contribute to the analysis and redesign. For one thing it will give them meaning in life and it’s a well-known fact that the majority derive huge meaning from being at work in the first place. That will also contribute to mental well-being at an otherwise stressful time.

There are financial support mechanisms for businesses in trouble (for whatever reason) and although they aren’t a solution in themselves they can buy a little time. That also allows people to do their own personal disaster planning and take steps to plug the holes as best they can. It’s a very uncaring employer who, in such circumstances, doesn’t give their staff the best chance of survival. In the instance of COVID we’ve seen massive government interventions to provide support for a wide range of businesses and situations. Admittedly it’s not perfect but compared to what wasn’t on offer a few weeks previously it has been a sea change in economics. The unthinkable is now the doable. That mantra might equally apply to what you do next. The only question is how to work out what that should be?

The First Question

… should be to try and understand what the organisation ought to look like on the other side of this obstacle. Surely not just doing the same old? What are others doing? What adaptive uses of technology or working practices are emerging that you might adopt as a new normal?

Do some real analysis, don’t just punt a guess. That analysis requires people who know the business and may recognise things that can be copied from elsewhere to make it more resilient. I’ll lay heavy money that the travel sector is going to look remarkably different a year from now. Ditto for hospitality and the restaurant trade. But what about widget manufacture or personal services like beauticians? They too will be different but we have yet to understand in what ways.

To Follow That Up

Use a rigorous managed process from analysis through idea generation to solution design. It’s no good doing this on the back of the proverbial cigarette packet, that’s never going to work because you will overlook key items along the way and it will all unravel. The issue for many people though is that they don’t have one of these end to end processes embedded in the way they do things. That’s something else you ought to include in your future vision so that your business is better prepared to deal with the unexpected.

Those who are expert at disaster planning (and the UK has some top experts in that field) know that it is no good cutting out that capacity when times are good only to wish they hadn’t when COVID or something else strikes. Over the years we’ve had plenty of conversations with someone who has sat in the bunker under Whitehall advising UK Ministers on how to deal with an emergency. Interestingly, without the sharing of any Official Secrets, it has become clear that what we do in terms of developing business resilience is pretty gold standard. It’s about a philosophy and then knowing how to bring that into reality.

Need A Hand?

In situations like this it is a good idea to be able to call on objective advice. Not just the accountant or bank – those conversations won’t deliver the change you require. Instead you need guidance on how to go about this. Nobody expects you to be the expert – after all this calamity has happened and it is unlikely you ever did this before. On the other hand we’ve got decades of experience of questioning and advising to get clients onto the right track and take control. So contact us to get the conversation started on how you can learn to deal with the challenges facing you.

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