Business values post Covid-19

Business values post Covid-19

This article was first published in Business Times on 14 August 2020

Business values post Covid-19
by John Bittleston, Founder Mentor, Terrific Mentors International

As cheap money starts to look expensive it is time to consider what the speeding pace of capitalism was doing to us pre-Covid-19 and assess the implications for our post-Covid values. Our financial masters were pumping up the stock markets and pouring cash into a system at a rate that encouraged gambling beyond what sensible commercial practice should have allowed. Business is a gamble, anyway. The virus proved that, if there was any doubt about it. There were plenty of forecasts of a looming pandemic. None of them were about the date, which is what mattered. Business gamble + debt gamble + cash gamble + pandemic gamble were rather more than the market could cope with. When prices are pushed up so much, beware. Governments, too, have limits on their creditworthiness.

Unsustainable spending
Assessing risk is part of the daily responsibility of a business manager. The imbalances between spending and saving were high before the pandemic. Mindless acquisition had driven up debt to levels unacceptable even in a flourishing economy. Many of them became unsustainable when the world went into lockdown. In the case of the current pandemic the only possible assessment was a preparedness of caution quite unfashionable as 2019 was drawing to a close. Even the most conservative of managers must now be asking why they didn’t salt away greater reserves. Low interest rates may encourage borrowing but they shouldn’t be the signal for reckless investment of the sort encouraged by trigger-happy start-ups, desirable as new business is. The antagonistic pressures between CEO and CFO were demanding for both in the run up to Covid-19.

In particular, emerging and developing economies have found themselves exceptionally vulnerable to unanticipated capital outflows. It has therefore been very much to their credit that they have mostly kept the virus under better control than their bigger and more mature neighbours – so far. A significant aspect of that has been discipline. Predictably in those economies where welfare has featured big in their politics, the readiness to self-support has been limited. But, equally predictably, economies suffer most from the pandemic where there are large numbers of poor people. They will certainly do so if further waves of the disease strike before preventive medicine is available.

Future pandemics or climate change disaster?
Widespread forecasts of further pandemics to come may or may not be true. It behoves the world community to equip itself with the resources to handle them quickly and efficiently before the impact of this pandemic is forgotten, something that may happen fast if and when life returns to an acceptable version of normal. Fortifications are going to be uppermost in minds anyway since climate damage will return to the headlines very shortly. It is occurring much faster than even the most pessimistic predicted. The consequences of it are still showing only at the tip. The rising seas will be a bigger factor than anyone has anticipated so far.

The availability of relatively cheap energy will be what saves the planet. Major investment in solar energy will be an essential discipline if we are to cope with the increasing world population and the ability of medicine to extend lives even longer, with more expensive and energy-demanding support. Energy is the key to survival. Given enough, much of the manual labour in the world can be transferred to robots. That will leave a potentially high unemployment figure. Humans, even those who don’t like drudgery, will still demand jobs. They will need to be satisfied.

Acceptable Business Behaviour
Since wealth and power will increasingly move to the technology giants it is essential that they observe business behaviour that the majority of people will put up with. Intrusion into personal lives is already being questioned and politicians are not making the right moves to correct the spy in every corner. London is second only to Moscow in its density of street cameras and UK police are now in the courts sorting out how much face recognition technology will be acceptable. If the technology companies are smart, they will impose their own limits on personal life intrusion.

Data analytics is just becoming key to better purchasing decisions and to monitoring business decisions – and, in many cases, making them. Information about products and services will increase dramatically, allowing the personal buyer to make better choices, too. Good product and service providers will see that this information is easily and understandably available. The media will have an increasing role in interpreting what is going to be considerable quantities of data – too much for the average person to absorb. They will want the headline information quickly accessible when they have to make buying decisions.

Jobs of the Future
Since many jobs will become gig or contract there will have to be a realistic union structure for those not in full time work but who are making contributions to the economic prosperity of the world. These will have to see that the perks and rewards other than money of a fulltime job are equally available to the part-time worker on a realistic and affordable basis. A global view of this will be desirable and will, in time, come about. Meanwhile good liaison between unions in different parts of the world is vital if an opportunity to put people on a more even footing is not to be lost. Failure to do so now will result in further, more violent, social unrest.

For those not able to get jobs because they are not available, society must recognise that the creative potential in most people is greatly under-developed. You do not have to be Einstein to draw, to write, to act. Personal creativity is more rewarding than repetitive manual work. It is also more pleasant than body-damaging heaving. A new culture in which personal creativity produces personalised artefacts that an individual can treasure should be encouraged to develop. And the education systems should be directed to make understanding of personal creativity a more desirable objective than it is at present.

Building a better world
Education is the key to all the business behaviour we will need for the future. Our brilliant array of educationists is surely capable of combining the science on which planet survival depends with the sensing appreciation of life which is slowly but irrevocably slipping away from us. Life is for enjoying. To the extent that profits can provide survival, safety, security, comfort and health they are to be welcomed. When the effort for profit drives out the beauty of life, the feelings that we as humans have as our greatest gift is potentially lost. We must make more effort to avoid this.

Business people today appreciate the global community we are building whether we like it or not. They are international. In their hands is the future of human living as well as of human life. They must see the huge responsibility that places on them.

When they do, they will build a better world.