So here we are exiting the third lockdown of this terrible pandemic, and for many businesses the emphasis is on cashflow management, immediate survival, and how to ensure that they are still going to be able to open the doors again in a couple of months’ time.
These are critical / uncertain times and like riding a motorcycle we need to be looking at what’s immediately ahead of our front wheel to avoid hitting that pothole or icy manhole cover.
What’s less obvious right now is that we also need one eye on the road up ahead to ensure that we miss those future dangers and obstacles.
What do I mean by this?
The difference with this lockdown is we now have a vaccine, a way out of the uncertainty, and a different prospect for the future. This is more than welcome, its much needed for individual wellbeing and essential for the economy. This is good news, we can see a recovery and how business will thrive again once restrictions are lifted, but this is where we need to keep looking out for those obstacles.
To use a nautical metaphor, a rising tide will raise all boats, so how do you ensure that you’re ready to leave the harbour with the best crew on-board and the right equipment on deck?
Obstacle number 1 – Avoid becoming a stressed business
What so I mean by this? We are seeing many distressed businesses currently, businesses struggling to pay bills and staff, losing profits, not being paid, having to downsize, reduce staffing and make cost savings. Therefore, by definition a stressed business is one that is growing too quickly. It doesn’t have the resources, processes or systems to manage with the increased volumes, it starts to miss deliverables, it cannot scale quickly enough so customers end-up being disappointed, staff become overwhelmed and start making mistakes, getting burnt out, needing time off for health reasons of simply leaving due to the pressures. As temporary short-term challenges these can be addressed, but it doesn’t take long for a stressed business to become a distressed business and ultimately the creator of its own demise, if not ready for the growth.
Obstacle number 2 – Becoming too focused on the financials
Of course these are important, and for sure businesses will have costs to recover, debts to repay, but if this becomes the number one priority, how far will you get left behind from a lack of investment? The danger here is revenue and profit become the priorities of the business, not the delivery of value. Now is the time to revisit your value proposition. Is it still relevant? Does everyone on your organisation understand it? Can you still deliver it or has the impact of the past 12 months made it obsolete? I heard a great quote the other day and its very relevant here.
Businesses need money in the same way a car needs fuel. But the reason the car exists is not to find more fuel! Why does your business exist and how does it serve its customers?
Obstacle number 3 – Ensure you have the right talent
Let’s be honest it’s an employer’s market right now. This pandemic has meant that many have faced redundancy, unemployment is at levels not witnessed in decades. With such an abundance and wealth of talent, who will be highly motivated, how well placed is your business to either take advantage of this opportunity, or to upskill and develop your existing talent to defend against it?
Forward thinking businesses will be recruiting for key positions and roles now, ready for the recovery, not trying to compete in the melee of it, and it will be these businesses that leave the harbour first. If you aren’t in a position to recruit, how well have you developed and fostered loyalty from your current employees? When did they last have a 1:2:1 with you? Have they had an annual review, have you listened to their concerns, dreams, fears and aspirations? Will they be tempted to jump ship and how will you react if they do?
Obstacle number 4 – Understanding the long-term impact of the past 12 months
Have you taken this opportunity to review existing processes and to refine them or adjust them? For example how has the buying behaviour of your customers had to change during the lockdowns? It’s naive to assume this will just revert back to type post lockdown, so do you have the right sales channels still? Do your routes to market need to evolve, is the messaging still fit for purpose? With many people being forced online, how strong is your online presence? Do you need to review your own supply chain and how strong is your position in your customers? These are questions that need addressing now rather than in 2 months’ time.
Obstacle number 5 – How has the competitive landscape changed?
You may be fortunate and find yourself benefiting as traditional competitors have failed to survive, but if not how have they adapted and changed their offering? With many businesses having had to pivot and enhance their offering what impact has this had and will it continue to have for you, the marketplace, your customers, your prospects? Have there been new entrants into the market, for example online, or independent consultants having been made redundant?
There is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future, and a recovery will happen, that’s a certainty. Many, many businesses will be better off as the economy heals and we see a return to normal trading conditions.
For a small proportion of forward thinking, prepared businesses this will be their stepping stone to a significant period of growth and market share gain.
For a greater proportion this will see a return to pre-COVID business levels and then a plateauing of small annual growth year on year (maybe in line with the market growth, maybe not).
For another group they will see growth and recovery, but they will then disappear as they will be victims of either of these possibilities:
~ Acquisition by another company
~ Losing share to competition
~ Becoming too stressed and failing
~ Becoming irrelevant through failure to adapt and change
Where do you want to be in 12 months’ time and how ready are you to recover?