Few saw the events of 2020 coming. The idea of a pandemic or catastrophic event is not new. Hollywood has toyed with these themes and manipulated human anxieties for decades.
In business, over recent years, we have risk assessed for all sorts of eventualities, bird-flu, swine-flu, climate change, terrorism, the Millennium bug, foot-and-mouth. There is a long list.
Some risks disappear with a whimper. Planes didn’t drop out of the sky on New Year’s Day 2000, for example. Some risks are more impactful and devastating than others. COVID-19 has been off-the-scale. It has changed everything.
Here are 10 business lessons we have learned.
1. We must expect the unexpected and be as ready and prepared for it as possible. It does mean that some of those mind-numbing risk assessments actually come in useful – sometimes.
2. In many ways this whole experience will make us stronger. But it has exposed all sorts of vulnerabilities as well. We need to be prepared to nimbly let go of what has been before.
This means not sitting in denial, instead acting swiftly and appropriately to change. Current business models simply might not be relevant anymore to the business itself and the families we serve.
3. There should be lots of talking, all the time and with everyone – the management team, staff and volunteer team, parents and children. This not only helps people feel acknowledged and involved, it helps us to think through implications from all perspectives and identify useful ideas.
4. Leadership behaviours are needed. They support teams and customers consider what could and should happen, and help allay fears as much as possible, moving to solutions that people endorse and feel a part of. This has been especially useful for health and safety, PPE and new fee structures for example.
5. We need financial resilience to make it through. Financial reserves should be built up over time to represent at least three month’s operating costs. Such funds, if they existed, might be depleted now. It remains a priority to grow them again.
6. We need emotional and physical resilience too. We should invest in wellbeing, notice the effects of stress and pressure (in ourselves and others) and adopt good selfcare practices routinely for the benefit of all in the business and its customers.
7. There needs to be planning capability. This includes making sure you make the time to plan and don’t hide in the day-today distractions that inevitably occur. And be prepared to completely rethink it or change it as things develop. This can happen overnight.
8. We need skills to identify the need for change, to lead the process, and be able to make it happen effectively, bringing the team and the business along with us.
9. Letting go is a necessary skill. It might include becoming smaller in the short-term so that sustainability is protected, and the business has the capacity and capability to grow again, or to change and adapt to new opportunities.
10. Take and make difficult and timely decisions. As a leader this can feel like a lonely place. I find what helps is building a ‘difficult decision network’ made up with people you can talk such dilemmas through.
Or at least a network to support with the emotional effects of such pressure and the fallout associated with being a leader and a manager. It is never easy.