This is the phrase of the month. We’re shifting from “May we open up?” to “May. We Open Up.” I wanted to share some thoughts about what that might mean in a few different contexts.
1. Open up to your team. If you are going to resume operations or are starting to bring people back, you have to be open with your team. Those who I have seen doing well with their teams have been transparent with their people
What is the state of the business? What has happened to business volume? Are you bringing back staff who have been laid off? How secure are our jobs? What happens if there is another round of stay at home orders?
Open up about the vision and the purpose of the business. In the last 2 months, most people have been focused on themselves, and their safety and economic fortunes. It’s easy for them to return with that mindset. Reconnecting them (and yourself) to the “why” can shift the focus to others. I’ve had a number of clients in the past few weeks begin reflecting deeply on their why’s. In some cases, it’s resulted in redefinitions that have revealed new business opportunities. So, make sure back to business isn’t only about business. Let them know how you intend to dent the universe
Open up about what will be different. Things have to be different. How will you manage social distancing within a workplace where people see each other every day? Certain jurisdictions require new policies to be put in place and shared. Make sure you have them, even if not required and share them. Enforce them. Recognize that people forget, so put markers 6 feet around coffee machines, and sinks and photocopiers or cubicles. Make sure your people know this isn’t just about making money but it’s about looking after one other
2. Open up to new possibilities. I’ve observed 3 strong and distinct inclinations among entrepreneurs in response to these times. The first has been to hunker down. For some, it’s been a necessity. They’ve had to shut and cut. For others, it’s been steady as she goes. The virus just didn’t do much to disrupt their business and they have just carried on as usual.
The third group has been fired up. Even though some of them faced massive downturns in their businesses (and some saw upturns), they looked for the opportunities in all the chaos. What can move digitally? What processes can be streamlined? How do these changes in our world affect relationships? Some businesses assumed subcontractors or collaborative partners had to be local. Clearly, geography is no longer a constraint.. What new forms of working or collaboration structures might be available?
As I mentioned above, some have been able to pivot their offerings and their messages by re-imagining their purpose and vision. Think about the three kinds of pivot: pivot of offerings, pivot of delivery methodology or systems and pivot of messaging.
3. Open up to your customers. Some people are going to rush out to the local patio as soon as they can. Others are going to be more cautious. You’re your customers understand what you’re doing to keep them safe. Help them understand what more you can do for them than you could before. I have a number of clients who have modified what and how they deliver to their customers.
Make sure those customers know about it. Communicate with them. For some, the message is: “This experience had us revisit what we do and how we do it for our customers. We are very excited that we are now better positioned to help you than we’ve ever been before. Here’s how…”
Open up about how much you appreciate them. Let them know that, while the transition was difficult and even painful, you remained committed to surviving and continuing to serve loyal customers like them. Share with them your purpose and vision and share how the experience has only reinforced for you how important it is that your business have the impacts you envision.
4. Open up to the future…good and bad. There are going to be winners and losers out of this. There will be positive developments and challenges. Consider them and embrace them. Remember the Stockdale Paradox: Those who survive combine an acceptance of the objective brutal reality they face with an unwavering faith that they will prevail. So, don’t pretend the changes aren’t real. I have no crystal ball, but here are some things that might develop:
Remote working endures. You’ll want to consider if remote working works for your business. For some it doesn’t. For some, it’s been more productive. Some have realized they can save on leased space without decreasing revenues. Many employees have found they are just as productive at home without enduring a 1 hour commute. Others won’t feel safe riding public transit or working in a crowded workspace. And others still have kids at home they can’t leave alone. It’s unclear whether you can require these folks to come in. Seek both legal and practical input.
We may attach value to what we value. This is a deeper topic deserving more reflection. But I wonder if we will decouple value from power. Right now, what do you value more: A hedge fund manager on one hand or those who pick up waste, deliver food or who work at the pharmacy? We’ve taken the necessaries so for granted, that we’ve undervalued them economically. Now that we’ve been reminded how important they are, will we attach a different value to them?
Rinse and Repeat. This is important and is a bit of a downer. Most of those in the know suggest we are likely to see, at least, a second wave if not a sequence of waves of the virus, until we get testing and contact tracing at scale. That means you should plan your strategy, you staffing, your marketing and your cash flow with the expectation of another wave. If it doesn’t happen, you’ll be in great shape. If it does happen, you’ll be prepared.
Public Policy 1: This first wave caught everyone off balance. Governments have come in to help in a big way. However, they are telling us it may happen again. Any opposition party will undoubtedly rail about out of control deficits at election time, especially if the virus is a distant image in the rear view mirror. Therefor, it is possible/probable that supports will not be as generous next time. Governments may well say “We warned you. It’s on you now if you’re not prepared.
Public Policy 2: There will be large deficits. They will have to be paid for. That means there is a decent chance of tax increases. I’m not one if favour of avoiding taxes. We’ve all benefited from government support, even if we haven’t been direct recipients. So, we shouldn’t be resentful about having to help pay for that once times are good. However, there are some ways of capturing value of your company to date and preserving assets for the next generation in your family using freezes and other forms of restructuring. I’m not an expert in such areas, but now or soon may be a good time to talk to your accountant or business/tax lawyer about this.
The Known Unknown. The one thing we can be sure of is that people will innovate. That is the entrepreneurial spirit and, indeed, the nature of us humans. Don’t be looking for a return to normal. Don’t even look to define an immediate new normal. Look for the new abnormals. Behind the curtain of disruption will stand developments, technologies, business models, lifestyles. Hidden behind there lay amazing opportunities. If you pay attention, that curtain may just open up.
Remember: If you haven’t taken advantage of it yet, take a look at my free course: Cash Control in the COVID Economy to get your cash flow management under control. https://warrencoughlin.com/cashcontrol