Coronavirus Business Interruption survival will need agility not pride

Agility is essential for business survivalArguably, all successful businesses need to exercise agility in a fast-changing world, but never more so than now in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

While there is nothing wrong with having pride in your business, pride is also associated with sticking doggedly to a plan that is not working due to a change of circumstances. Just because you have always done things one way doesn’t mean that way is always right in normal circumstances, let alone in abnormal ones like the current situation. In a crisis everything you do should be challenged and often fundamental change is necessary if a business is to survive.

Business agility is therefore a key attribute for dealing with adverse circumstances, to be creative and adapt to the changing environment. This in particular applies to three main areas: staff, customers and processes.

Social distancing has meant that for some businesses their staff have had to work remotely while others are needed in the office to maintain systems. This has involved setting up new policies to protect staff who need to come into work, while at the same time making it possible for others to work from home and keep in touch. Equipment for remote workers, remote access to central servers, online security, new ways of working together and new forms of communicating have all had to be learnt very quickly. Better this than some companies who simply closed their doors when the big bad wolf began prowling.

There are terrific examples of firms that have adapted by changing their business completely such as restaurants that have switched to offering ready-meals for either collection or delivery, enabling them to keep going after they were forced to close their doors as part of measures to contain the spread of the virus.

Others, among them distilleries, have switched their production lines to manufacture such products as hand sanitisers and engineering firms that now make ventilator equipment for hospitals.

Some clothing manufacturers have switched to producing hospital protective clothing of various types.

A wholesale bakery client has had to replace its traditional hotel and restaurant market and now supplies market stalls, independent retailers and farm shops with its turnover nearly back at pre Coronavirus levels, all in six weeks and very different from their initial assumption that they should cease baking.

Another client, a plant and equipment rental company, now supplies the new Nightingale hospitals when it too had assumed it should close down.

A local pub now sells garden bedding plants from its front gate and has shown far more initiative than the local garden centres that have all closed down.

With consumer behaviour having radically changed as a result of the self-isolation rules, many retailers have massively increased their online presence, although it has to be said that when people are worried about their futures and their finances there will inevitably be a reduction in the purchase of non-essentials even online.

Perhaps the most agile and innovative have been the smaller SMEs, particularly tech support companies and gyms, who have taken their services online, producing regular teaching and remote IT problem solving services to help people. Many have offered a combination of part-free and part paid-for services, which are likely to be remembered by those they have helped once life has returned to normal, however different that “normal” may turn out to be.

As economies move out of the containment phase and some restrictions are loosened or removed altogether, your business will need to remain agile. There is some good advice from Accenture here.

It will not be a case of returning to the status quo-ante and it is too soon to be able to assess how customer and client behaviour will have changed in the medium term, so it may be that your business will have to develop a permanently agile mind-set in order to survive and remain resilient in the face of changes in both consumer behaviour and structural change in industries and the economy.

This may mean changing your business model and plan and paying much more attention to markets and demand.

A prerequisite to surviving a crisis is the ability to overcome the natural feelings that can overtake rational thinking. Emotions such as fear and anxiety relating to the unknown, the unanticipated event, a loss of control and unpredictable outcome are all natural but they need to be suppressed to allow rational behaviour and creativity to emerge as the way of finding solutions and new initiatives for dealing with the new circumstances.

It doesn’t matter that many initiatives won’t work so long as pride doesn’t get in the way and you acknowledge you were wrong and try something different. Paralysis and inaction are the real enemy.

For details and my free guide covering all the government Coronavirus Interruption Support initiatives check out the Online Turnaround Guru website.

While it is fine to have some pride in how you may have steered your business through the early stages of this crisis and survived, it is worth remembering the old saying “pride comes before a fall” so it is worth remembering the lessons we gain from experience. And, while we don’t know what we don’t know, we can always keep looking for answers and keep asking questions.

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