Ready for the Rebound

Ready for the Rebound

This article was first published in Business Times on 10 April 2020

Ready for the Rebound
John Bitteston, Terrific Mentors International

Everyone who is laying off workers knows that sooner or later they will be wanting to hire them – or some of them – again. The question is ‘when and how many?’ Will coronavirus blow itself out, at least enough to allow normal daily life to resume? The charts of where the virus has got to in the first 100 days – if the figures are correct – suggest that it does wane after waxing. That doesn’t, of course, take account of possible reinfections, nor their length or severity. Nor of mutations, the most dangerous of possibilities with a virus like this one.

Does the engine of an economy restart with a leap or with a struggle? Some bits of it will revive quickly, others will be slow, a few will never revive. The nature of business is ‘willing seller, willing buyer’. After a shock like coronavirus, the road back will, for many, be cautious – and that means long and slow. People simply won’t have the money to fire up the economy quickly. Besides people will have to replenish the savings they have used in the crisis. Mitigation of this will be the widely recognised need to get moving as soon as possible. But some old established ways of life will be gone forever.

Meanwhile, we are on the void deck of time. How can we use it most profitably?

Use the downtime wisely
Obviously if there are skills to be learnt, this is a good time to do so. The Singapore Government, and other Governments as well, have provided access at extremely low cost to many standard programmes. Where these involve technology they are well worth taking advantage of. Human interaction, which will be severely modified by the current crisis, is a more subtle study. Worth doing provided you can find the mentors and coaches with the skills to teach it.

At present there is a good deal of paralysis about looking to the future. That’s because we cannot yet see the end of the crisis. So we have to make assumptions about it. They include that the pandemic will, at least partly, blow itself out, or a drug will be developed and universally distributed, soon enough for business to start to work again. The key to this is that people can congregate once again reasonably safely. Once that happens the world economy will begin to recover.

Put together your recovery team
To prepare for that, carefully select a small team of between four and eight people to plan the return to work. Make sure the team represents the young as fully as possible. They are most important for the future of the business. Their brief is to list the priorities for management decisions in the return to work. They will sit as often and as long as necessary to help the management make the difficult decisions for the future of the business. They will report to the CEO as often as necessary.

Most difficult to restart will be the long supply chains because the weakest link in them will dictate the pace of recovery. Now is the time to find those weak links and see what you can do to have them ready to hit the ground running when the signal is given. Don’t threaten suppliers in this process. They are as keen to get working again as you are. Rather, see how you can help them. In its heyday Marks & Spencer sorted out many of its suppliers businesses – greatly to its own advantage.

Use the time to decide how best to reorganise the business. Don’t have matrix organisations – let everyone talk to whoever is most useful for their work and growth. Don’t base your organisation on some theoretical chart but rather on two things [a] the logical way to manage your business and [b] the strongest and most intelligent personalities you have got. Give priority to [b] whenever you can. Strong leadership is what will recover businesses as fast as anything under your control.

Get finances in order
Now is the time to sort out your financial needs, too. See what loans and grants you are eligible for from your Government at advantageous rates. If you have a Finance Director, he will do this; if not it will fall to the CEO who may need the help and support of a good accountant. Try to give yourself a decent working cash margin. The return to full speed will be bumpy with ups and downs you need to be able to cope with.

Once you can do so, get alongside your suppliers and customers. They are essential sources of both general information and forecasting when the business is going to pick up. They also know a lot about your competitors and while they will keep that confidential, they can give you some indications about the market generally. You need all the information you can get so time spent collecting it is well worth while.

Nurture employees
Above all, use this time to nurture your employees. They have probably had an even tougher time than you and it is vital that you let them know you understand and are doing all you can to limit the impact of the virus. Time spent with them both to learn their views about the business and to chat about their own situations – as much as they want to – is invaluable for reestablishing the good employer you are.

Preparing for business as usual is largely common sense. It just needs thinking about. This is a time when you can review your own management style. You may have a thoroughly flexible approach to managing others. You may, on the other hand, be a stickler for procedure and rule. If the latter, I’d suggest you think about taking a more human approach. Coronavirus hit everybody, leaders and led. It levelled us in a way that nothing else has done before, although WWII was itself a great leveller in the West.

Time to adopt a thoroughly human approach to management. That doesn’t deny discipline.
On the contrary, it makes it work.

Stay safe, stay sane.