What’s the biggest problem right now? It’s fear. Fear has spread around the globe, just like the coronavirus itself. Fear is infecting everyone. It has infected businesses too. Why are we fearful and anxious? The simple answer is because we do not know when this will end. A month of the current stasis is serious. Half a year, and we are all into entirely new and unknown territory. So we are most fearful because we do not know when this crisis will end. We have no endpoint.
Here’s a picture for you: We have all been forced to jump out of an airplane in mid-flight. It seems to be in danger of crashing. Maybe it’s night time and we can’t see how far it is to the ground. Some people have parachutes, others don’t. We’re shouting out to each other, asking who has a parachute? Can you help? And if we do get help, will we land on the ground, or in the ocean? How far will we have to swim if that happens? Yes, it’s a scary picture, and it’s easy to spend our time worrying about it instead of figuring out what we are going to do about the situation.
When we have a plan, we are less fearful. So the first question I’m asking business leaders to assess is this: Are the current changes being forced on your business temporary, or permanent? Your answer will determine where you go. It will help tell you where the ground is, in my analogy of jumping out the aircraft. With or without a parachute.
If your answer is ‘Temporary’, then that means you can put a time on it. Base this on all the opinion and comment that is in the media, and base it most of all on your own knowledge and experience. It depends on your business and sector. For example, if you are in the food business, it’s reasonable to think that your market will return quite quickly. People will still want to eat. If you are making high-cost ‘gizmos’, perhaps it will take longer for your audience to return to you.
I don’t know the specifics of your market, but you do. So make projections, in weeks and months, about how long the crisis will affect your market and sector. You’re trying to make a best-guess about how far it is to the ground, for you and everyone else parachuting from the plane. So if you think the changes will be temporary, then that will inform everything you do going forwards. In other words, you have removed the biggest fear, because now you can see an endpoint.
And what if the changes in your market or sector will be Permanent? Looking forward by weeks and months still means there will ultimately be an endpoint. And knowing that there will be an end helps remove fear. Now you can be clearer about how to meet the challenges before you.
Temporary change means that you have to be more tactical. Permanent change means that you must be more strategic. Whatever your answer, you have now defined an endpoint, and a methodology for getting there.
Right now the changes we are all going through have been forced on us. No-one asked for the world crisis. None of us asked for our businesses to be threatened. But that’s where we are, and we have to deal with it. We must turn forced change into controlled change.
If we can leverage change, then we can survive, and even prosper. You have a product which offers solutions to people’s problems. That’s why you are in business. Your goal is to still have a product which solves problems when this crisis is over. You therefore have to begin right now to address what problems your product or service will solve in the post-crisis world. If your product or service doesn’t solve real problems, then Game over. If you can adapt and change your product or service, then Game on. Seize this opportunity offered by forced change, and turn it into leveraged, controlled change.
And be realistic about this. I am not talking about what we hope will happen, but what our own experience and modelling tell us about the future, and when we can predict an endpoint. Whole industries may not recover in our lifetime. Airlines are already experiencing catastrophic losses. That knocks-on to the travel industry and the hospitality industry. When major state airlines say that their endpoint could be going bust, they’re not joking.
A massive organization such as an international airline will most likely find it difficult to navigate to an endpoint. What other things can you do with a fleet of incredibly expensive aircraft, except fly them? Smaller, leaner businesses can however flex and change, and find new ways of doing new things. We either have to change our product or service to suit the new market conditions, or change the market that we are in. Both options can work, and even a hybrid is possible. Take for example distilleries and breweries producing hand sanitizers; or vacuum cleaner companies now making hospital ventilators. I admit that these are short term responses, but it demonstrates that if your organization is flexible enough to find methods to control the forced change, there are always going to be opportunities.
The message: Find the point of leverage, and do it now, not later.
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