Posted: June 4, 2020
Many of us feel like we’ve weathered a storm and we’re in the process of rebuilding. And while we may be able to see some blue sky now, it’s likely there’s another – even bigger – storm coming when it comes to the challenges facing our economy and unemployment in New Zealand.
So, what do we need now? To rebuild what we have and brace against what’s coming? What do we need to do to prepare for the second storm?
Now, more than ever, it’s important that people come together as a team. It’s about unity – and togetherness. Everyone needs to be committed to the cause. Like watching the weather patterns, there are many indicators already – in other Western nations, and in the moves the government and Reserve Bank are making – that are signalling to us what’s coming.
There are critical things we need to do
Planning, for one. It’s likely the plan you started the year with is redundant now. And while many have now learnt that virtual meetings can work well, they’ve also found that when a workforce is distributed, it becomes very obvious if you don’t have the basics in place to chart your course.
We’ve long understood that a solid plan, with buy-in and alignment, is key to getting shit done. In times like this, that plan becomes your North Star. Without proximity – when visibility is low – it’s harder for people to see what they are fighting through and fighting for. It’s critical, for you and your people, to know what’s on the other side.
The other critical thing we need now is a shift from a focus on time, to one based around outputs and outcomes. In most cases, your people have just had a period of being more in control of how and when they work than ever before. At the same time, the lines between work and home became blurred. We can’t go back to clock-watching.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to reorient your roles around the right metrics and to measure and manage people based on those. It’s no longer about being in your seat for 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week. It’s got to be about clearly defined and visible metrics that set the sails and drive accountability.
There are also things we can throw overboard
Clock-watching and out-dated ways of operating, to start with. Constraints or bottlenecks that increased your pain over this period need to take a dive too. If you were on a boat in the middle of the ocean with this storm brewing, you’d be shedding the things that slow you down. It’s time to clean up and clear out – declutter, take stock, get the ship in order – if you haven’t done this already. Look at your cost centres, regularly – line by line – and be ruthless when it comes to determining what is essential and what’s not.
A danger that we’re already seeing is in everyone thinking that they need new, creative ideas to get through this. For some this is true. However, others need to be focusing on the core of their business – the engine room that makes money. Continue to add value to that core and cut away the extras if they are distracting.
Finally, we need the right people on the ship
We need our leaders to be calm, but not too relaxed. You might not have all the answers, but you are confident that your ship can make it through the storm. This is important. Your people need to feel as though you have things in hand. The truth might be that the ship is in a bit of a state, in which case you all need to be doing the best you can to get it to a condition where it can weather what’s coming. Or, if you’re in good shape, you’ll be thinking about how you make the most of the strong winds out the other side to carry you forward.
Either way, this is when you need your people to rally. If you’re in a privately-held business, chances are you really care about your people. Most likely, you’ve fretted for them over this time, worn the stress yourself, and done what’s best for them. Now is the time for them to equally care about you and what you’ve been helming.
So far we’ve witnessed a general sense of naivete among staff when it comes to the gravity of the economic challenges we’re facing. For them, life appears to have gone pretty much back to normal. However, while level 4 might have felt for many like paid holiday time to explore the depths of Netflix, level 3 and 2 – for all of us – is about rebuilding and readying, as we’ve already explored.
This week, unemployment in the US hit its highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Already more than 33 million people have been made redundant and unemployment rates are heading towards 20%. The predictions of only a few months ago have been well-exceeded. New Zealand’s unemployment rate is already climbing and predictions suggest this may exceed 10% – well beyond the 6.7% peak during the global financial crisis.
Either way, we’re likely to see thousands and thousands more New Zealanders losing their jobs, and the numbers may be higher than forecast. Our statistics are skewed to include only those who seek unemployment benefits; there’s likely to be many more ‘hidden unemployed’ that don’t, say in households where the one “disestablished” is not the primary breadwinner. While companies like Air New Zealand, Bauer, Auckland Council, NZME and Mediaworks are making headlines, we’re not hearing about the many smaller companies. Those with 39 people may have to let go of 5, almost 13% of their workforce.
Despite having a small corporate landscape, New Zealand’s economy is carried by 97% small and medium-sized businesses who are desperately trying to keep their people employed. The wage subsidy has done a good job of this – paying for people to still be contributing and productive, as opposed to the alternative of catching them later with a benefit. Having a job right now, and throughout this second storm, is a privilege. We need our people ready and willing to dig in and work harder than they have before in order to still have a company to keep working for in six months. This isn’t solely the responsibility of our leaders – it’s necessarily a team effort.
Now is not the time for cowards; people who aren’t on the ship. It’s not the time for staff to be asking ‘what’s in it for me?’ Instead, it’s time for everyone to stand up, muck in, and make sure that as many ships as possible make it out the other side. It’s the time for your people to be asking, ‘What can I do to help? To keep my job and to keep this business moving forward?’. Empower them – with the right metrics, visibility and accountability – and enable them to see what they need to do to contribute. Find your ‘A players’ and give them what they need to thrive, as they help the business survive.
This blog was written by Simon Mundell, Founder and Strategic Advisor at Advisory Works.