Have you ever heard of “unforeseen risk” in business before? Well, we’re experiencing one right now, and we’re experiencing it together. No one started out 2020 with a plan for a pandemic response in their strategy. At least I didn’t. And if you did, I need to borrow the crystal ball you’re using. Like everyone else I planned for growth. I knew it would require hard work and some favourable winds. But I was ready, at least I thought I was. And then, corona hit.
Like everyone in the beginning, I started out denying the magnitude of what it could be. I figured, it would be contained, there’s no need to panic. I told myself that nothing had changed. But I still kept a look out. The speed at which things have completely changed is unprecedented. Now everyone is talking about flattening the curve. Somewhere between me telling myself that everything was fine and realising that everything has changed I had a wake up call. I realised that if I continued diligently with the plan I started out the year with I was going to crash. By the way, my plan was beautiful. I know you haven’t seen it, so you have to take my word for it. Anyway, that realisation was an epiphany. The reality is, everything has changed, and we cannot continue with business as usual. There is nothing usual happening here. This is “Business unusual”.
Then serendipity struck. I saw an article by “Ben Horowitz” about peace time and war time CEOs. This was a build on a few pages from his book, “The hard thing about hard things”.
One of the first thing you need to do as a leader of a company is to know the time you are in. And you need to be observant for when it has changed.
The strategy for when everything is fine and growth comes easy (well sort of) is different from when you’re thinking survival and wondering if you should burn your business model to the ground and start again. Ben argues that there’s not enough literature or body of work to prepare people to be war time CEOs.
In observing what’s happening in the world a few things jump out for me as a business leader:
- Behaviours are being modified: People are asked to adopt different lifestyles from what they are accustomed to. They are asked to stay home, touch no one, distance themselves from people, clean more (they should already be doing this one by the way), wash their hands more often. People are also shopping differently. Working differently and interacting differently. Do you have any idea what the impact of this would be? What if the modification is not temporary for some people? What if lifestyle changes and it affects desire and buying habits?
- The interconnectedness of the world: What happens in one part of the world, affects you in your corner. If a small virus can travel so fast, access is easier than you imagined. You and your business is not as local as you think. You can affect people on the other part of the world. The increased connection made possible by the internet and tools like social media that allows people interact make everything seem so close. But even beyond that, the decisions and things done by companies, government and individuals in one part of the world can affect you. So you need to pay attention. Right now fuel price is falling. This would probably affect you.
- One man’s pandemic is another man’s prize: While some companies are struggling, others are being overwhelmed by increased demand. Some commercial airlines are in survival mode, while some luxury airlines with private jets charter service are growing. I know you’re wondering why. Apparently, with the borders closing people needed to travel quickly and bypass some restrictions, so they chartered private jets. Teleconferencing companies are also winning in all this, and so are other companies that enable remote working.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “my business hasn’t changed much”. That’s the thing with change. The weather usually gets dark and windy before a storm. You can argue that it’s not raining yet, but its harbinger is here. Sometimes there is a lag between cause and effect. But, hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe your business is pandemic proof. But in the event that it isn’t, this is the time to get ready. Actually, a few weeks ago was the time to get ready. But since you don’t have a time machine, now is the next best time. Here’s how I’m planning this:
- Accept that its business unusual from now on.
- Research. Study. Gain insights. You need useful information to make informed decisions.
- Review your plan. Does it still look relevant. Don’t forget there are opportunities that could exist in all this for your business. It’s not necessarily bad news. But if you’re not deliberate you leave it on the table. After-all, BYD a company backed by Warren Buffet just started making face mask a month ago and are making 5 million masks a day to meet demand.
- Be deliberate about seeing the opportunity in this. I know I said this in 3 above, but it’s so important I had to repeat it. There are opportunities in all this. It depends on how you see it and position for it.
- Never take your eyes off the people you’re serving. This has to come from a place of empathy. We are all experiencing this pandemic together. How can you make their lives better? This is the time to get close to them and assist them the best you can. This is for your client. But, it also extends to your team and other stakeholders. They have fears and anxieties too. You have to recognise that.
- Become someone else. I’m just kidding. But really, you may have to tap into areas of your person that you didn’t even know how to harness. One of the things that Ben Horowitz said about war time CEOs is that they have to make tough calls. They are acting in a time of great uncertainty so they operate differently. There’s a survival instinct that is needed to weather the storm and you need yours firing on all cylinders.
So, did this serve as a wake up call for you? I hope it did.
Thank you for reading.