The end of the beginning – Begin with the end in mind?

What I, as a business leader, might do, and am doing, when faced with the challenge of leading a business as it exits the Spring 2020 Coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown

This page is simply me, Bob Bradley, founder and Managing Director of MD2MD, sharing some thoughts tips and tools relating to business leadership during the Coronavirus crisis 2020 that I’ve learnt from over thirty online MD2MD discussions in the last six weeks where the key challenges discussed by the business leaders in the peer group meetings have inevitably related to the Coronavirus crisis.

These discussions do seem to have been extremely valuable in helping our members address this significant challenge and I thought it might help the wider Managing Director / business leader community if I tried to capture them.

Please bear in mind though that as a result of my extensive collation, deduplication and editing process these observations end up being own thoughts, plagiarised and possibly misinterpreted from our insightful members.  So please take them as thought provokers to help you decide what will work for your business rather than guaranteed to succeed advice that will be correct in all circumstances and however implemented!

One of the interesting things I have noticed working with business leaders through this crisis is that whilst clearly every business is different, the patterns of conversation have been similar and yet quickly changing.  The focus of the first meetings was immediate things like reducing costs by planning redundancies and cutting hours, which fortunately largely migrated to the practicalities of furloughing and applying for government supported  loans.  Then the subject moved on to the practicalities of having staff furloughed and working from home and now the agenda has moved on to the future and to planning the restart.

This page is therefore more forward looking than the earlier discussions that are still available for reference here.

Enjoy, good luck and let me know what you think makes sense and what doesn’t.  And if you have a moment later please let me know what you are doing and how it works.  So we can share best practices as they emerge.

Bob Bradley Managing Director MD2MD 10th April 2020

If I was in your shoes (and assuming I’m not one of those able to gain immediately from the crisis) I would now now be feeling in more control of the crisis situation and would be parking the past and building for the future whilst driving the present.

Park the past

If I was in your shoes I would

See this as a unique opportunity to drive strategic change in a way that’s not normally possible. We won’t be going back to the way we were.

Drive the present

If I was in your shoes I would:

Work hard to maintain morale and keep staff positive and engaged

Take every opportunity to support and engage customers and their teams during the crisis and also to build relationships with new potential customers (and partners) now

Build the future

If I was in your shoes I would:

Reimagine 2021 and ask my team to consider what our world and our business will be like post crisis?

Build a solid platform from which to relaunch and accelerate quickly to achieve ‘Escape Velocity’

Tips for business leaders from business leaders

Some practical advice on implementation

The following tips  for implementing the above  strategies are my summary of those shared member to member in our online peer challenge board discussions in thirty five meetings over the period of the lockdown.

Work hard to maintain morale and keep staff positive and engaged

Find new and innovative ways to engage. Members say their staff are finding the novelty of being at home has worn off. Some are getting bored and fed up. Members are also finding attendance at informal online social chats is drifting off, although that may be because of the nice weather and the focus on exercise.

Give people a focus. Members are finding setting small challenges, goals and objectives to achieve helps keep people focused if working. Similarly furloughed staff can with care be encouraged to set themselves learning and development goals.

Be innovative in communication. One member briefs staff as an animated cartoon character. Tell stories around the facts. Invite them to contribute their stories. And when getting ready to speak to your team take a few seconds to take a deep breath and smile to yourself. Doing so will help you to come across more positively and more engaging.

Plan ahead for bad news. At least one member has sadly been faced with a member of staff dying with the virus and others have staff who have lost a family member. Consider how you will handle the situation. Be prepared and know what you’ll say and how. Consider how you will communicate restructuring and redundancies constructively. When things are difficult, leaders need to acknowledge the challenges whilst also showing the light at the end of the tunnel and providing as much certainty as possible.

Be open with staff. More than ever they know things are difficult. Most members are finding most staff are being constructive, helpful and flexible. Some are finding this is a good time to gain insights into the real motivations, drivers and personality of their staff.

Ask for support. Some members have faced challenges addressing lower workloads where work and relationships are indivisible and so cannot be resolved simply through furloughing. Getting staff involved is finding a way forward has helped.

Furlough by rotation. Some members have a system for mutual cover. For example ask Jane to handles Sue’s accounts while she is furloughed and then swap so that Sue handles Jane’s accounts while Jane is furloughed.

Don’t assume a further extension of furloughing.

Put in place a hardship fund. Members typically want to be a supportive employer but have limited funds. Some have handled this by setting aside a specific separate budget to support staff with difficult personal situations. And arranged for it to be managed by the staff themselves through a disciplined process against defined criteria to avoid it being seen as an arbitrary process at the whim of the boss.

Take every opportunity to support and engage customers and their teams during the crisis and also to build relationships with new potential customers (and partners) now

Tough times often distinguish more clearly the well run businesses with good staff, customer and supplier relationships from the less strong businesses.

Communicate regularly. Most members are working hard to ensure customers know they’re there to support them in difficult times. They are talking to customers to find out what challenges they have and looking for opportunities to help – informally as much as commercially. Being supportive and helpful now will strengthen your position while your competitors may be distracted.

Offer extra complimentary services. A number of members have offered their clients free online training seminars and workshops to enable their furloughed staff to develop themselves. A tactic that does of course engage those staff with your business capability.
One member has developed a ‘Covid-19 impact statement’ for their customers. Especially useful for corporate clients that may have asked a manager to reassess their supply chain.

Build new relationships. Many members see the crisis as an opportunity to stand out and take a lead. They are investing now. They are communicating regularly and often offering useful simple services such as online training for free to potential clients and staff. By being positive and helpful they are building relationships with potential clients and potential staff meaning they will be well placed after the crisis when prospects are able to buy or staff are confident to change employer.

Reimagine 2021 and ask my team to consider what our world and our business will be like post crisis?

The post crisis return to normal will be to a new normal. This is going to be a big reset for the economy (as well as society) and that the world will be materially different in 2021 to where it was in 2019. The crisis may jolt the UK and world economy into a different dynamic. The crisis may reshape the British (and other) economy significantly.

Revisit your key assumptions about the business environment that underpin my business strategy using tools such as PESTEL and SWOT analysis. (Ask me or google if you need those explained) Spend time with your team being innovative and creative. Talk to your customers. Talk to other business leaders – through MD2MD 😉

Ask lots of questions. Where will your industry / sector be in a year’s time? Explore how the ‘invisible hand’ of the market will operate for your industry. What will have changed? Which of your competitors, customers and suppliers will be winners and losers as a result of those changes? What will people and businesses do differently? What challenges and opportunities does that create for your business? How can you gain market share in this changed market?

Look at diversification to maintain and grow revenues. Is there an adjacent product or service that my customers would value that I could supply when they may be having difficulty getting from their existing customers. Or can I bypass my channel and supply direct to the end customer when my channel is failing to operate?

Recognise that whilst for many demand is down, supply is too. The industry power balance may have shifted. Which sectors and markets will be strong after the crisis and what does that mean for your business? Which businesses will go bust and which will be irrepairably damaged as a result? And which will emerge as the new leaders? One member is currently negotiating to buy a competitor that is failing (or their stock).

Develop a vision for how your world and business will be (different) in 2021 and explore how you can capitalise upon the opportunities of that new world. This is a unique opportunity to make step changes in what we do and how we do it.

Build a solid platform from which we can relaunch and accelerate quickly to Escape Velocity

Plan for a tough period. The economic impact of this crisis is huge. This crisis is likely to last a year or so. Whilst some loosening is likely in May we won’t be operating as we did. And in past epidemics a second peak has occurred and been worse than the first. Thinking and situations vary but most members expect to return with a 20% – 50% hit to their revenues so will need to address costs. How will your revenue have changed? Grown or shrunk? What staff will you need when? WHat office space will you need? We have one member who has cancelled a plan to take on additional office space and is instead planning how to introduce more remote working.

Use scenario planning. The world post crisis is probably more predictable than the precise timing of the transition to that world. You probably have more certainty of where your industry will be in 12-18 months than you have about what stage of the crisis we will be at in 4 weeks time. The uncertainties in short term forecasting and budgeting are very significant. Rather than constructing one precise plan, model approximately the best, the worst and the most likely scenarios. Ensure you will survive the worst scenario by keeping costs under control, whilst also having plans to gear up quickly for the best scenario. Identify the key milestones rather than preparing detailed line by line budgets.

Be ready for a quick (re)launch. Having sorted the pattern of the lockdown, many members are now focusing on the restart. Indeed some have created an explicit business restart / recovery team or project. Again situations vary, but all have to make adjustments. For example to enable social distancing in their offices. Many need a deep clean. All are thinking about when and how to get operations back to work quickly and effectively.

Plan for safe working. One member has developed a staff charter for all to sign (voluntarily) committing to their colleagues that they will follow safe practices at work and at home (because that is important too) in order to avoid endangering the health of their colleagues.

Be ready to accelerate. Whilst the recession is expected to be very sharp and very deep (the worst for 100 years) crises like this have in the past led to a V shaped recession with a rapid recovery as businesses try to rebuild cash and make up for lost time. So be ready if the economy picks up very quickly. Some members are planning redundancies and others are planning to recruit quickly while the employment market is disrupted.

Some key sectors are restarting. Numerous members suggested that key industries are now planning their restart. Both the motor industry and construction were mentioned specifically.

And finally I would:

Join the brief MD2MD peer challenge board online each week to share ideas, insights and practical experiences in this fast moving situation. Exceptional times and exceptional needs call for exceptional support so for now complimentary to qualifying business leaders!  Click here to apply.

Share and develop your sensitive thoughts and business leadership advice in private with that same group on the private local MD2MD WhatsApp. Only open to members.

Share and develop our generally useful and not sensitive business leadership thoughts and advice in private with that same group on the national MD2MD WhatsApp group.  Open to anyone running a business or business unit of 10s or 100s of staff. Click here to join.

If you’re a business leader like those in MD2MD with similar challenges, Bob and the MD2MD team will, in the present circumstances, do their best to help with any tricky challenges you face. Not only is it good to talk with an independent experienced person, but MD2MD can often share solutions, ideas and contacts from MD2MD members and outside. Email us here or call 01865 600 800.

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