At the moment it seems that each week is bringing more new and disturbing information, and each time it results in a new wave of panic. For business leaders, the shock impact of coronavirus has resulted in either an immediate impact on cash flow, an inevitable one, or the possibility of one. The reaction is completely understandable; with so many leaders throwing any proverbial weight overboard as quickly as possible, slashing outgoings and invariably making large numbers of people redundant overnight, either directly or indirectly. While none of this is necessarily wrong, a good Non-Executive Director will tell you to stop and take a moment before you act, to really think about what is the right course of action.
Actions speak louder than words
The phrase ‘we’re in this together’, has been thrown around a lot during this time. Indeed we are seeing phenomenal examples of communities pulling together, generosity and compassion. However, as business leaders, we have a practical responsibility to apply that mindset to the inner workings of our organisations as well. Importantly, it doesn’t have to be at odds with the short and long term prospects of the company either.
More than anything since perhaps the Second World War, coronavirus is showing us quite how interconnected our global community is. Each individual has a role to play – one person not adhering to the social distancing rules can affect the lives of thousands. The same applies to our financial stability. We are all dominoes lined up, and if one goes down, we are all likely to be affected, if not fall over ourselves.
We’re all part of the chain
When we talk about ‘being in this together’, we really do need to think about what that means when we’re looking at structuring our businesses in order to manage the crisis and find a way through to recovery. If we make a member of our team redundant, and they have to lay off their childcare provider, and their childcare then can’t afford to pay her rent, where does that leave us?
Never forget that we are all part of that chain, wherever we stand in it. If we think we’re at the top, we’re still vulnerable to our customers – one of whom might be that child care provider who no longer has money to spend. However, as business leaders it does give us a greater level of influence on circumstances, even if we don’t feel like it at the moment.
What’s the phrase? With great power comes great responsibility? As leaders we have a responsibility to manage our own fears and think strategically rather than reactively. It is a mindset that we are seeing phenomenal examples of along with great compassion as well as ingenuity.
Last week alone, Zara owner Inditex said it was looking into converting part of its textile manufacturing capacity in Spain to produce hospital gowns, thereby keeping people in work as well as being proactive and supportive to the cause. Of course, there’s an argument to say that it’s much easier for a large organisation like Intidex to redirect its resources in this way, but the scale is not the important thing – we can all do our bit.
Thinking strategically rather than reactively
We are all connected, and it looks as though we all have to take a hit somewhere along the line. In some organisations they have managed to keep things afloat for now by cutting salaries rather than laying people off altogether, while government measures have also helped to stem the flow.
The question we can ask ourselves as leaders, is what can we do to take action without making any one individual bear the full brunt of it? While there are a number of general actions that can be advised, the details of those answers will of course be specific and nuanced for your business or organisation.
Business leaders are not alone
The good news is that we are not expected to manage our own anxieties and come up with the solutions all by ourselves. Neither are the decisions we make now expected to be unalterable as the situation unfolds.
This is where Non-Executive Director support is invaluable. Their experience makes them stoical and empathetic to the role we have to play, while their outside perspective gives them a less emotional and more practical viewpoint from which to lay out the options for how to move forward in the short, medium and long term.
So if you’re a business leader and you’re panicking. Stop. Breathe. Think before you act, both in terms of your customers and your team. Ask someone who has a different skillset to you for help. In doing so you might not only help your business to find a positive route forward, but you might also make a real difference to hundreds of other people in the chain.
After all, we’re in this together, right?