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  • Writer's picturePeter Wesley

3 Phases of business in COVID19

COVID-19 New Normal?


How do we do.......? Not sure this is my first Pandemic

A few short weeks ago this was all a bit new. I hadn’t seen a Pandemic before, I couldn't have told you the difference between an Epidemic and a Pandemic, they were things happening in other countries. I thought crowd control was done with water cannons and I haven't paid attention to an exponential graph since high school. 


We’ve all been busy making sense of what is going on and what it means for us. There have been some big adjustments for all of us as individuals, family members, as part of the community and as business leaders. 


Many of us have worked through many different business cycles. We’ve all seen the booms and the busts. Businesses contract and expand, move locations, take on new markets, pivot, de-centralise, centralise, invest, divest. In business as in life, change is a constant. This was another change thrust upon us and we are quickly working out the new rules and we are operating our businesses differently. What has been interesting for this change is that every single business is going through their first Pandemic together. 


I have seen so much sharing of information, resources, collaboration, innovation and support. This has been inspiring and reassures me that together, governments, charities, businesses, families and communities we will all work through this. I shared my thoughts and experience during the first stage of COVID, The Transition. By sharing ideas and experiences I have got back tenfold in help and support from my friends and peers. Thank you to all those legends who have helped me, answered my stupid questions and given me hope. So time to share again - here is what I’m currently working on as we enter Phase 2 - The New Normal. 


Phase 1: The Transition - hello COVID-19

Next Pandemic that comes along I’ll be well placed to get in shape early and it won’t be my first Rodeo. We adapted quickly and our industry adapted quickly. We now have solid Health and Safety protocols in place to protect our workers. Supplies of PPE and hygiene products are starting to improve and Safe Work Methods are being refined and improved. The first Mircosoft Teams meeting was clunky and painful but everyone is adapting and working out where their camera is and how to unmute themselves. Our staff, our customers and our suppliers are all getting used to this new way of doing business. Everyone has been respectful and collaborative which has helped each of us adapt. I am lucky that the industry I work in is disrupted but not decimated. My heart goes out to those in Hospitality, Travel, Tourism, Retail etc that have been so severely impacted.

We’ve made it through  Phase 1 - ‘The Transition’ and we’re now operating a COVID capable business - what’s next?


Phase 2: The New Normal - BAU for COVID-19

The irony in describing what we are doing to manage and prepare the business during a time of crisis is that everything we are doing is business basics. There is nowhere to hide in business at the moment, you will not survive the New Normal nor the next Post COIVD stage if you are not doing business basics better than ever before. I have no doubt many businesses will sadly hit the wall in these times. This current new normal is such a brutal reminder to all business managers of the truths of business. Cash is King, Profit is Sanity, Revenue is Vanity.

This is where I am focusing on with my management team, in this order:

  1. People

  2. Cash

  3. Profit

  4. Sales

People

They’re scared, worried, confused and they are also going through their very first Pandemic. We’re checking in with them, talking to our managers and encouraging them to talk to their teams. It’s not a new skill, leadership, but any lack of it is highlighted in this current situation. Our managers need some immediate help in order to adapt. The principles of managing a distributed or remote workforce are the same as managing a team in the office but the tactics are different. 

Some of those tactics that help are:

  • Daily huddles / Stand Up - short check-in with the whole team at the start and end of the day: What are you working on? Do you need any help? How was your day? Are you stuck with anything?

  • Weekly Team Meetings: Videos ON - we all look like…..we all look like us. Face the camera - look at the screen with the camera. Same agenda as your normal management meeting.

  • Social Video Hangouts. Friday afternoon drink. Coffee via zoom etc

  • Walk and talk - take that one on one meeting on your phone as you both walk outside

  • Think - what would I normally do and do it via phone or video

  • “Iso-cial” committee - new revamped social committee working to the new normal, let the staff be creative (Thanks to Paul Armstrong)

  • Survey - very easy to whip up a google form or Survey Monkey and check in with your staff. They will feel heard and you can get an understanding of what is on their mind.

Cash

Of course I hear you say, don’t you always? Well yes, but…. There is always room for improvement. The basics apply but more important than ever.

  • Knowing our breakeven - how low can you go. When do we have to make decisions about stand-downs etc. 

  • Forecasting - looking forward so we can predict what’s happening in the next few months. Having lead indicators is important and having business unit managers focused ahead and not just on today.

  • Clearing our WIP. A job isn’t finished until the money is in the bank. We’re looking at our WIP and working hard to bring it down.

  • Cash flow forecast - I’ve raved about Float before but whatever tools you use make sure you have a good cash flow forecast and you’re watching it like a hawk.

Profit

We all watch profit all time don’t we. Yes, BUT…..most businesses are down in revenue in the “New Normal”. If you can increase your Gross Margin it means your breakeven can be lower. If you breakeven is lower you can hold your staff for longer and come out stronger. In my industry, Gross Margin is affected by the efficiency of labour and management of resources. The people on-site, in the field and the project managers making the jobs happen all have a direct impact on Gross Profit. There has never been a more critical time to focus these people on maintaining and improving margins. A very simple message that seems to get through - The better our GP the longer we keep everyone employed. 

Sales 

We have to keep selling. We have to keep working to retrieve revenue we may have lost. We have to keep selling to give our business the oxygen it needs to live. No doubt the sales cycle has slowed down in some of our traditional areas but here’s where the thinking caps have to go on as we work out where the new opportunities lie. We’re looking at what areas our customers need help with today and how their priorities have changed. Some sales cycles will actually improve for some businesses as certain goods and services are in high demand. As we have the expected slow down in revenue we will have people available to over-service our clients and focus on the key relationships we need to foster and develop. Sales needs to become a whole of business function. 


Phase 3. Post COVID - The Recovery

In terms of our society navigating this pandemic we are nowhere near done. One thing I am sure of is that as was with the recovery from the GFC and the Tech Wreck, the recovery in business will not come with a big fan fair and celebration or loud bang. It will just kind of happen slowly and possibly not noticed. If we take this slap in the face with a cold fish that is COVID-19 and we get our businesses ready for the new normal we will come into the recovery in a strong position. If we can retain and nurture our people, keep our cash, focus on profit and sell like crazy we will have a great business. I wonder why weren’t we all doing this better pre-pandemic. 

I hope we see some of the generosity, innovation, and collaboration remain in our industry and in our communities. When we’re all in it together we seem to work better together. Keep looking after your people and yourselves and before too long we’ll be in Phase 4 - whatever that is.

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