The explosive exit scenario.

Gearing up for dramatic growth

Listening to the latest prognoses from the UK Government on the potential for us to exit from lockdown, I’m reminded again of the phrase I first coined last March. At the time, we were in the initial crisis-management stage, heading towards what everyone knew was coming but not exactly when: stage two and some form of lockdown.

The institutional view back then was that we’d see a short, sharp lockdown, followed by a rapid return to normal – “a classic V-shaped recession” as the CBI opined. In contrast, I said we would enter an elongated phase of “anxious reopening”. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

“…when [lockdown] ends, thousands of people will still be infectious, the NHS will still be running close to the ragged edge, physical distancing will still be “a thing”, the media will still be sensationalising and people will still be scared: of a second wave, of what happens in the flu season if a vaccine hasn’t been approved, of whether they’ll be able to get jobs, restart their businesses and so on.

“The uncertainties we’ve experienced in the past few weeks, the fluidity of the situation, the waiting for announcements, the constant need to react and respond – all of those things will be with us far longer than we’d like to think.”

This was no mystical foresight, I simply inferred the most likely outcome based on the single, stated goal of Government at the time: to protect the NHS from breaking under the demand surge. The implication was clear: once the initial peak had been flattened just enough, we would rapidly unlock to minimise damage to the economy. And that would have its own consequences.

In summary therefore, I recommended three things for leaders to focus on: scenario planning, agility, and innovation.

These three things should still be at the forefront of every business leader’s mind. But one of the rapidly emerging scenarios is that we are now, actually, finally, on a solid exit pathway.

Some lessons do appear to have been learned; vaccines have been developed and are being deployed with extraordinary pace; and many of the behavioural and systemic changes forced upon people to reduce transmission, have now become simply normal.

It remains one scenario among several, but a rapid, potentially explosive resurgence in demand, should be on the planning board for the coming months, along with its implicit challenge: how do we focus, galvanise and re-energise our people to ride the bow-wave of recovery faster, more creatively, and more securely, than our competition?

Now is the time to look at how you can quickly shift through the gears again; how you can stake out a big ambition, define a single clear goal; and focus, align and empower your best people to secure far more than your share of the rebound.

These are the timeless ingredients of high performance: a single big challenge rooted in the central mission of the business; wide boundaries of empowerment that give freedom and autonomy for those working on the challenge; and most of all, a culture and structures that foster and inspire trust and intense collaboration across the organisation.

Those are the three essential ingredients in the fuel that will power your business through the next phase of the economic cycle. So, if you don’t have big stocks of them on hand, now is definitely the time to invest.