Posted: March 22, 2020
Let’s all take a deep breath and calm the f*ck down. And while we’re at it, stop listening to the media (who are prone to creating disaster stories from someone losing a game of tiddlywinks).
Yes, COVID-19 has been labelled a pandemic. Yes, this is a serious situation that is affecting people all over the world. But now is not the time to listen to the fearmongers. We need to avoid making a storm in a teacup. The travel restrictions will be temporary and the markets will eventually return to normal. This shall pass and it is not the end of the world.
In saying that, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t respond at all. While yes, this is a potentially serious situation, it pays to remember that we made it through the last pandemic – swine flu – ultimately fine, and bird flu of course before that. COVID-19 has the potential to be an inconvenience, but it’s the rhetoric that will create a recession, not the reality.
Let’s get some balance back
It’s at times like these that I appreciate more balanced perspectives – like Shamubeel Eaqub’s, who is urging us all not to panic.
Eaqub points out that a recession is not what most of the general public tend to think, or fear, that it is. Sure, business failures may rise a bit, and we’re unlikely to see as many new businesses – and the jobs that these subsequently create – starting up over this time. However, he also uses the term paralysis, which I think is potentially more apt. People become more careful, take fewer risks, and delay making decisions.
However, in business, not making decisions can be a risk in itself. In my last post, I explored the idea that success during periods of uncertainty requires the ability to make strategic decisions in real-time. I believe this wholeheartedly because in uncertain times opportunity is lying in wait.
Opportunities in uncertain times
I’m encouraged to see so many smart businesses contingency planning now. These are the ones that will come out better, stronger and having gained market share when this temporary situation has passed. Where their competitors are panicking and cutting expenses, they are being strategic to protect and grow their businesses and their people.
We’ve been working with clients on both strategic and contingency planning for more than two decades. And we long ago formulated the idea that planning is not a singular event. A couple of people on our team have been involved in war-time planning as part of the military. If ever there was a time that planning needed to be highly iterative, it’s in those sorts of situations. The game is changing constantly, as the business world is now.
These sorts of perspectives inform our approach and steadfast practices around planning. We take our clients through a robust method of planning every 90 days, because if you’re not revisiting your plan that often, it’s likely redundant. In our current rate of change, a plan can’t support a lifespan much longer than that, so we are always iterating.
The power in a plan
Obviously planning is about direction – knowing where you are going is important to being able to get there. However, it’s also about alignment. One of the most powerful deliverables of both the strategic and contingency planning we do with clients, is that everyone comes away from those sessions aligned. Not only are they all in agreement, they know what part of the plan they own and what they need to do next to execute on it. Imagine being that prepared.
The alignment that comes from planning is powerful for decision-making. And that’s particularly important for avoiding the paralysis that Eaqub predicts now. While most companies are ummming and ahhhing, unsure what to do, those businesses who plan (and revisit their plan!) regularly and frequently are ahead of everyone else in the marketplaces. They’re normalised to the rhythm of iterative plans and have built the required discipline around doing so. When things like the COVID-19 occur, they’re prepared. Sure, they may have to iterate further, but their iterations are only minor.
The most significant shifts in market share occur in moments of crisis; we saw that countless times during the GFC. Having built, scaled and sold successful businesses of them – many of us through the GFC and other challenging market times – we have seen the power of being prepared time and time again.
This gives us great hope, even now. A number of our clients doubled their market share during the GFC because they were proactive, as opposed to reactive. They proved that it’s possible to come through uncertain times even stronger if you make the right moves. In these uncertain times, those opportunities are just as real.
What do you want to do?
This blog was written by Simon Mundell, Founder and Strategic Advisor at Advisory Works.