“The only certainty in this world is uncertainty” You may agree with me that this is an over-emphasized cliché. However, there is no better phrase to describe the times we are in. Typically, organizations strategize for upcoming years with all the possible scenarios in place. For example, the availability of historical data allows business leaders to forecast revenue from sales, average growths in their cost base based on projected inflation rates as well as non-current asset investments for subsequent years. Businesses have become very accustomed to this practice over the years with little adjustments to this routine required in a very long time. The advent of the year 2020, however, changed the dynamics of this routine.
Not all scenarios can be preempted.
The COVID-19 pandemic has muddied the waters for most businesses if not all. This pandemic is not something that is usually provided for in the budgets or financial statements of businesses for an upcoming year. Business Continuity plans of businesses usually focus on insurable situations such as workflows in times of fire outbreak, earthquakes, among others. Management members will not typically sit in a strategy session and preempt a situation that would require not only their region of operation but the whole world to be at a standstill for a good three weeks. Trust me, if this possibility was presented to any business leader six months ago, chances are they would have said the probability of this happening was highly approaching zero.
Bloomberg estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic could cost the world economy $2.7 trillion. This amount is equivalent to the entire GDP of the United Kingdom. This shows that one way or the other, everyone would take a hit. However, these are times for leaders and fantastic business ideas to emerge; for in the face of adversity, opportunity abounds.
Spot the Opportunity, not the challenge.
After the great depression of 2008, two college friends Iqram Magdon-Ismail and Andrew Kortina launched the digital payment app Venmo in 2009 as a way for peers to exchange cash digitally and without lofty transfer fees. This was borne out of the crises as most investments had gone down the drain and small cash savings in terms of reduced transfer charges was a very huge incentive.
The creators of Venmo saw the opportunity that existed at the time due to a loss of trust in the entire financial system they decided to exchange cash among themselves without necessarily having to go through a bank directly. Within three years, Venmo was now worth $26 million. It is very easy for leaders to get engrossed in the day to day challenges the crises brings to the business. It is important to do that; it helps you keep abreast of the situation and steadily guide the team to shore. However, proactive leaders would focus more on what could be done to maximize returns, even in such a period. Would this be the best time to launch that digital solution which would help the customers of a bank open accounts remotely without having to step into the bank? Does this present an opportunity for businesses to try remote work which could also serve as an overhead cost reduction activity? These are but a few of the considerations that management of a bank, for example, should be making in these times and not overly getting engrossed with the problem while opportunities stare them right in the face.
Agility and Innovation
Most people get acquainted with one way of doing things which may be good in standardizing output however, in times of crises, the old and highly revered processes may not necessarily fit into the new dispensation. For example, if a chef of a restaurant is used to serving 20 plates of food every hour, he must understand that in the current dispensation, his customers are locked down at home and would not be available to consume the standard 20 plates he is so used to. To be able to make anything close to the revenue he made prior to the crises, he should start asking certain vital questions. Can we add a delivery service to our product array? Is it possible to reach out digitally to our customers with the daily menu and request they order from their homes?
There may be times where the strategy and mission of the business can change as a result of the crises. In the short term, as seen in Ghana, some tailors are channelling a lot of their resources into the production of nose-masks and other protective gear. The demand for clothes would definitely fall in such a period of a lockdown as most occasions and ceremonies which require the donning of these apparels would have been cancelled. Those who are agile enough to alter their strategy by providing protective gear other than ordinary clothes would be benefiting from the opportunities presented by the times.
Good leaders are not born out of crises
Most leaders are using the period of crises to exhibit high levels of empathy and compassion to their stakeholders. However, these stakeholders can spot how real or otherwise the show of affection is. If prior to the pandemic, the leader was distant from them with little show of care and concern and was always numbers-driven, there is only a slight chance that they will respond positively to the directions of the leader in times of crises. This then should appeal to us all as leaders to know that leadership is an unending process which requires little efforts everyday and not an act which born out of specific situations.
Francis Tetteh Padi