In November, we considered how business leaders can survive and thrive amid the economic turmoil expected to continue throughout the year ahead. In partnership with Drayton and kindly hosted by our friends at True Global, we invited four entrepreneurial heavyweights to share their experiences and business advice to help our members prosper in the face of a recession.
Their recommendations addressed a wide range of factors, but centred predominantly around three major topics: leadership, finance, and investment, which were also the areas of focus for our three subsequent workshops.
As the first in a series of articles presenting the standout business advice from the evening, continue reading to discover three things you can do to forge a safe path through a landscape plagued by pitfalls and peril.
How transparent should you be with your team?
A running theme throughout the event’s panel discussion was maximising your transparency with your team rather than trying to shelter them from harsh realities. “Whilst you’re figuring out your plan is one of the hardest times to communicate”, admitted True MD and CMO, Ella d’Amato. “But being able to say, ‘This is going to be difficult; what ideas do you have?’ is extremely useful…tell your team what stage you’re at, celebrate any wins that come through while you’re making a plan, and keep your channels of communication open”, she advised.
Vanessa Hall – the former CEO of Yo! Sushi and German restaurant chain, Vapiano – supported Ella’s advice by explaining the methods she used to stay in touch with her teams throughout challenging situations. “We toured our sites a lot in our spare time, talked to team members on the floor, and hosted video links and open houses every fortnight where team members could come to be updated,” she said. “Communication was key to reassuring our staff.”
Our leadership workshop host, Louise Patterson – the former HR director at PepsiCo, Young’s Seafood, and Graze – summed up our guests’ thoughts rather brilliantly: “You don’t employ fools”, she explained. “They know what’s going on because they read the papers and watch the news. They realise that your P&L is likely under massive pressure, so you might as well talk to them openly. Ideally, you’d be able to share your plan with them, but if you don’t have one yet, you should at least share the questions you’re facing to give them some train tracks to work with.”
How can you plan when there is so much uncertainty?
It is said that the best laid plans often go awry, and whilst that has probably never held as much weight as it does right now, a well-considered plan remains a vital part of survival for any business.
“Ultimately, your team are looking for leadership”, explained Ella. “What they want is a plan.” And the first step to making a solid plan is recognising the need to have one. “What is absolutely awful”, added serial chair and NED, Jules Hydleman, “is the CEO that just thinks it will be better tomorrow. But if they say, ‘I know it’s not going very well, this is what I’m doing about it’, you can work with that.”
Our panellists admitted that changing, or even completely abandoning your original plan can be a difficult pill to swallow – especially if it has proven largely successful thus far. But if your business is to survive, you must have the humility to admit when your initial strategy is failing. The quicker you accept that, the quicker you can act and minimise – or even prevent – the damage.
“You can’t have any sacred cows”, claimed Trouva founder and angel investor, Mandeep Singh. “You have to go back and look at everything from square one with no artificial barriers…let go of your legacy, even if that involves letting go of a team member or partner.”
How do you know if the people around you have what it takes?
“The same people that got you to where you are, and were really good at growth [for instance] …might not be the same people you need to help with your pivot”, explained Ella. “But the more you know your team and the more you know their skills, the more likely you are to know who can help with the next step.”
To gain a deeper understanding of your team and their capabilities, our panellists recommended conducting personality research with psychometric tools, which essentially evaluate your team based on their answers to a series of questions. That evaluation then attributes each team member to a colour that explains their personality traits.
“A system like that is so useful”, confirmed Ella. “It helps you get the right blend within your team and understand what each individual is most suited to.” From your findings, you can see with greater clarity which members are likely to be able to assist you in your new direction. But more importantly, you will be more aware of how each team member will react to certain stimulus. With this in mind, you can tailor how you interact with them to ensure they perform to their maximum.
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The world of business is certainly experiencing significant shifts right now, but with change comes opportunity. If you want to grasp that opportunity however, you must bring your team with you, which you can do by implementing these three pieces of actionable advice:
Be as transparent as possible.
As much as you might want to hide the reality of the situation from your team – even if that stems from an honest desire to protect them – it is your responsibility as a leader to be a source of certainty during times of ambiguity. Being honest with your staff will cultivate trust, encourage togetherness, and may well unveil answers to the tricky questions you are facing. After all, your team see your business every day; they know what your customers expect, and their insight could play a pivotal role in your survival.
Keep revisiting and updating your plan.
A well-thought-out plan helps to bring people with you on your journey: partners who can provide additional support or capital; investors who want proof their money will yield results before they invest more into an idea; and team members looking for stability. The economic climate today is likely to be considerably different from the one in which your initial strategy was conceived, and so you must revisit and adjust your plan to ensure it is still viable. In doing so, however, you cannot afford to be precious. Crisis is not the time to be sentimental, you must be brutally honest, doggedly determined, and act decisively.
Make sure you know your team.
The key to leading your business through adversity is understanding that your team is the most important tool you have at your disposal. You cannot hope to drag your business through the mire alone. To maximise your chances of success, it is crucial to have the best team possible around you, and a significant part of that is knowing what kind of individuals your team is comprised of, where it is lacking, and what you can do to get the most out of it.
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Thank you to Drayton, our brilliant partners, for helping to make this event such a success and to True Global for being such generous hosts. We must also give thanks to our panellists and workshop hosts for providing their amazing insights and advice, and to our members, who make our efforts truly worthwhile.
If you would like to become an All Together member and receive up to 5 hours of advice from our experienced Volunteer Advisors, as well as exclusive content and invitations to future events, apply today.