Jules Hydleman, All Together Advisor
For so many businesses, surviving this pandemic has, so far, been about furlough, CBILS and banks.
It was no different for a business I was recently introduced to by All Together, the pro bono mentoring organisation set up as a result of COVID to introduce experienced advisors to CEOs in need of a sounding board. The effects of lockdown on this particular business had been immediate and dramatic, with an 85% drop in turnover almost overnight resulting in the business going into what the FD called an “induced coma”. If you’re a CEO blessed with a strong FD you are indeed lucky: there was a calm assurance about how he managed the situation with all the uncertainty swirling around.
Yet, despite the steady hand of the FD and the myriad avenues for accessing financial support, we still have to wait and see how the banks and wider economy manage the journey back to some sort of regularity. My feeling is that it will be a tough journey back as there are endless variables for different businesses and therefore it’s impossible to agree specific rules that actually work for individual circumstances. The feeling of ‘all in it together’ that we shared going into lockdown could very quickly evaporate as perceived disadvantages surface for different organisations.
Paris for Lunch, Berlin for Dinner
This made me question whether the desire to return to ‘normality’ was a worthwhile endeavour. It would certainly be the easiest approach to take: work out how to claw our way back to something that resembles the past because we know how that works and it suited us. For some, undoubtedly, that is the only choice. Increasingly however, there’s a growing realisation that for business, and indeed for life, this is not going to get sorted anytime soon. Predictions of a V shaped recovery and quick bounce-back make me think of the the quote from the WW1 Blackadder series where General Melchett says encouragingly to Blackadder – “Paris for lunch Berlin for Dinner!”. (If you don’t get it I recommend the series).
As individuals, undoubtedly there is little we can do to influence wider government decisions, but as CEOs and founders, we have a lot of influence in our businesses. We all know it’s a key business skill to adapt continuously to new challenges and environments, so if you can’t wait for things to get back to ‘normal’ stop reading now because they never will and your time is better spent planning your new chimney brush business.
It was armed with a new focus upon adapting and rising to the challenge that I called the CEO of the aforementioned business. We discussed how the company could survive until recovery came and gradually moved on to explore how long this would take and, more interestingly, what the new business world would be like. Excitingly, the puzzle looked a bit easier when we talked about what the business world might look like in 5 years time when some sort of ‘new normal’ had become established. The question then became ‘how would she operate in that environment?’
Free Yourself from the Here and Now
To approach answering this, we agreed on a series of key considerations and questions for her to think about and use on our next call. Below is the outline structure.
1 – Write a Year End CEO report for 2025 starting with the words “We have had another great year since starting on our post-COVID transformational reset….” This first one is the key because it frees you from the constraints of the here and now and allows you to visualise what your business would look like in 5 years time. Of course it’s a cheat but if you can work out what things could be like in 5 years time it makes getting there a whole lot easier.
2a- The team. Who do we really want to keep and who would we really like to lose? Ask any good business leader and they will say that people are their most crucial asset … The answer to this question may be that you want to keep everyone, but don’t duck the question.
2b- With this in mind, in our radical reset plan who still fits?
2c – How can we make every one we keep better in their role and happier in the organisation?
3 – We will go though all spend on marketing of all sorts and STOP IT! After an hour and a short walk, we will go back to it and think through the marketing plan we wish we could have, see what fits from the old plan and ditch the rest. Maybe now we have some budget available..
4 – What 5 things do I know I should do but haven’t yet done? …do them.
5 – No sacred cows – anywhere in the business anymore.
You can write your own questions but these are the ones we started with. The point of all this is that forward thinking and freeing yourself from the constraints of the day to day is something all business leaders should be doing on a regular basis. What’s happened with COVID is that there’s not many of us that can continue to say we haven’t got the time. So let’s get on with it.
Jules Hydleman is a Volunteer Advisor for All Together. He is Chairman at Rab Clothing, Non Exec Chairman at Moju and D30 and was Chairman at Innocent Drinks.