What will this crisis bring out in you?
Initially, I found the response by some of my peers in the consulting profession to the Coronavirus shutdown, to be a little perplexing. But then I realised they were simply falling into the same groups as every other business leader.
Some have seen their work evaporate within days. They’ve shouldered arms – essentially furloughed themselves - and talked on LinkedIn about their plans to volunteer for community groups or the NHS. I’ve got absolutely nothing against that, by the way – if you have the health and the time, do it.
Others have carried on delivering services where they can: shifting meetings and coaching sessions online and so forth, trying to provide the same support to the same people as before. Others, and I include myself in this group, have started to innovate, to find new ways to deliver more value to more business leaders both free and for a fee, because, right now, it’s pretty clear that many of them need it more than ever.
Purely by way of example, right now I’m hosting a plethora of free roundtables and webinars for associations and their members and weekly group calls for over 30 non-profit CEOs to share issues and learning. I’ve set up an online forum for them to share questions and ideas, and I’m running half-hour Intensive Care calls for current and prior clients for free. If you’re not in those groups but you really need to talk, just email me and we can fix up a call, gratis.
For people who want more than just a half-hour call, I’ve put together a 90-day urgent-support package of scheduled weekly calls and unlimited email contact for a fraction of my usual rate: £2,000 for three months – if you need it, just drop me a line. And for existing strategy clients, I’ve developed a process and the tools to run the entire project, with everyone working and collaborating from home, both in collective sessions and flexibly in their own time.
Some of these things will finish once the current situation is over, but others, like the forum, the remote strategy programme and some of the group calls that are already morphing into collaborative communities, will stay, and may change how I run my business in the future.
The point is that I’m seeing those same three types of response in business leaders.
Some are shutting up shop: battening down the hatches and tying up in a safe harbour until the rough seas subside.
Others are hanging in there, riding out the storm, with some, like food retailers, online businesses, health, care and postal services, having to do far more with fewer available people, yet still battling their way through it.
But others, the innovators, they’re out there right now, in the surf, making waves of their own.
Because here’s the thing. This is not a “normal” recession. This is an unprecedented level of social and behavioural change, happening at a pace we’ve not seen in our lifetimes, if ever. We may be in lockdown for months, and the release, when it comes, may well be in phases: an anxious return to a new form of normality with another winter to plan for, a big national and possibly personal debt to deal with, and probably some emotional scars to work through as well.
In that context, I doubt many businesses will be rushing to uninstall Teams or Zoom, demanding workers be at their desks for 8:30am or physically present for meetings that have run more effectively on-line for months. Few people will be cancelling their Netflix subscriptions or their online supermarket accounts. Many of the shifts happening because of the crisis, will stay with us for good.
However fast the recovery, the way we work, live and behave, as businesses and consumers, will not be the same in 2021 as it was in 2019 – in some aspects, the transformation will be profound. And those that are hunkering down, waiting for life and business to return to the way it was, could be in for a hell of a shock when it doesn’t.
In any downturn, those who can innovate through it, who can create new solutions to new and emerging needs, who are prepared to anticipate what the future may bring, and rip up and rewrite their strategies accordingly, those are the people who will hit the ground running. Theirs are the businesses that will come out of this far stronger and better-placed than they went in. How much time and thought will you be putting into new strategies and rapid innovations over the coming weeks?
Crises like these can bring out the best in all of us. The question is, what is this one going to bring out in your business?