It seems like every blog post and article at the moment starts with ‘These are strange times’ and they would be right. In fact, these are the strangest times that most of us will have lived through, and who knows what the world will look like and what changes will have happened at the end of it. Even a conservative estimate of 3 months is enough to set significant new habits, whether good or bad.
For those of us running a business they are also incredibly challenging times. It seems quite polarised at the moment between businesses that are shut down or facing significant drops in work, and those that are providing essential basic services which are under intense capacity pressure. Either scenario is difficult to manage.
And the word ‘manage’ must not be confused with Leadership. ‘Managing’ is something that everyone has to do most of the time in some format. We have to manage tasks, logistics, budgets and KPIs. We cannot ‘manage’ people though - that’s where we need to put away the spreadsheets and lead.
As business owners and leaders, this is probably (and hopefully) the closest we will get to our generation’s WW2, and at the end of it we will all have to look at ourselves in the mirror, and each other in the eye, and ask ourselves if we did the right thing, did we act with integrity and did we lead or just manage?
As Leaders it’s our job to look after and protect the people in the business in the hard times such as these. People are not resources on a spreadsheet to be increased and decreased like a AWS instance in response to demand. The people are the business; we work for them, not them us, and if you lose sight of that then you are no longer a leader but an accountant (no offence to accountants!). That means staying ahead of the curve and understanding what is happening in the world so you can lead and not just react. That means regular honest and transparent (over) communication using whatever means are left to us. That means business owners and leaders taking pay cuts before their teams. That means fostering a genuine spirit of all being in it together. That means making the effort to maintain your culture through thick and thin. That means including every.single.person whether they have been a part of your company for 5 days or 5 years. That means empathy for each individual and to recognise that the actions we take can have life changing consequences.
Economically, the actions of the Treasury in this situation have been, on the face of it so far at least, incredibly supportive. The furlough system is a hugely generous initiative and the right thing to do to give employers a way to keep their people together. There have been some great examples of companies that have displayed excellent leadership, using the government benefits in the right way and for the right reasons, and they will no doubt come out of this situation even stronger, especially in the eyes of their teams and peers. Which is why it’s so disappointing to hear across social media anecdotal stories and rumours of companies that are gaming and abusing what is already a hugely expensive system for their own benefit. That’s not leadership. That’s not ‘in it together’ and that’s not the spirit that the country needs to get through this and back to some sort of normality as quickly as possible. We can only hope that in the months to come there will be some reliable and efficient use of audit to ensure that the money ended up in the right hands, because at the end of all this, whatever that really means, we are all going to need to pay for it for many years to come.
So let’s all do the right thing by our people and our economy so that when we come out of this we can do so with heads held high and in the knowledge that when the chips were down we proved to be worthy leaders.