COVID-19 has made a major impact on the Australian economy. We are now in unchartered territory and experiencing an economic recession. Unemployment is high. In Far North Queensland it is hovering around 25% of the workforce. Many more are receiving Jobkeeper funding to support them through this crisis. In Cairns alone some 3,600 businesses are in receipt of these funds. (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-11/coronavirus-queensland-jobkeeper-cairns/12339744) This is the highest rate of any postcode in Queensland.
With a reliable vaccine not being available until sometime in the future this impact can only increase. Both Victoria and New Zealand have shown that the virus is hard to control and can seem to lay dormant for lengthy periods of time.
Business has been disrupted with many operators still waiting for things to bounce back to normal. I’ve got some bad news for those clinging to this hope. Things will not return to normal, at least not in the short term. The question then is what do businesses and organisations do to survive and grow during this difficult time.
The important questions to ask
There are a few incredibly important questions all businesses and organisations need to ask in the current climate.
If Jobkeeper, or any other government emergency support, was removed tomorrow would my business be viable? If not, what can I do to become viable? If I’m expecting things to return to the old normal and they don’t what have I got in place to survive?
Even if things return to how they were before COVID-19 it won’t happen immediately. For example, if your business is in tourism and you rely on international tourists for part of your income it is unlikely that international flights will recommence for sometime. Can your business survive until the tourists return? If the borders don’t open for sometime can your business survive on local tourism or domestic state tourism? How long can you survive?
These are critical questions. To hold out a hope of returning to the old version of normal is a naive proposition and an unsustainable position.
But there is a way through this difficult time.
Grab Those Plans
The first thing to do is to go back to your prime operating plans. So, dig out your Business Plan or Strategic Plan and any Annual Reporting documentation you may have. Review these with a fine tooth comb. We are in an unprecedented and unexpected period. Do your plans stand up to what is happening now? What do you need to change? Is the business model your plans are based on still relevant? What can you rescue from these plans to base a new business model or way of operating?
This is a time to use your most valuable resource to help build a sustainable business.
Your Most valuable resource
The most valuable resource you have at your disposal is your staff, employees, team members, colleagues. There is a strong temptation to think that when we are in a recession there is a large pool of unemployed talent to choose from and therefore employees are a disposable item. Businesses viewing their staff this way are businesses without a real sustainable future. Those who work with and for you are the most valuable asset you have.
One of the major costs of operating any enterprise is the cost of hiring staff. If you are experiencing rapid turnover of staff you have an unplugged drain that is leaking money at an incredible rate.
Let’s look at the cost of replacing employees.
In February 2018 Kelly Recruiting estimated the average cost per staff hire was $5000. This estimate includes only the direct costs of time lost to fill the position, training and lost promotional potential. The average hiring time was 68 days. However, other estimates blow this figure out to anything between 15% and 150% of the person’s income.
This is a significant cost and highlights the importance of retaining staff.
Managers who have a record of losing staff are a liability to an organisation and give your business a bad reputation in the marketplace.
If you are experiencing difficulty in retaining staff one approach is to maximise their potential to themselves, their team and the organisation. Keep them trained and up to date. As Richard Bransom once said: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to”
One organisation I know took, at the time, the brave position of placing the value of their staff above other considerations. COVID-19 meant that one of their income streams dried up due to lockdowns and restrictions. They decided to do two important things. First, they asked staff employed in this stream to work across other areas of the organisation to cover some gaps. This stretched the employees who responded positively to a new work challenge. Second, they placed a number of casual staff on longer term contracts as they valued their skills and did not want to lose them. When restrictions were lifted they found themselves to be in a stronger position than they were in pre COVID-19. Staff were motivated, had developed new skills and valued their organisation. This has placed them in a good position.
Employees have strengths and skills that are often unrecognised. This is a time to interrogate their strengths, their assets, skills, knowledge, passions and abilities and see how what they already have can be used to benefit the organisation into the future. You will be surprised at what empowered staff can achieve.
It is a time to partner with your staff in planning for the future. Use their knowledge of the business, their perspective and allow them to positively contribute to the development of new business and strategic plans. A good approach to use is a participative tool such as Appreciative Inquiry. This is a powerful change management approach that is neither bottom up or top down but invites all relevant stakeholders into the discussion for change. Employees are an important stakeholder and can contribute to making change possible.
use tools from alternative sources
Now is a good time to search for different tools and approaches to change. Your workplace is a community. So why not look at some tools from Community Development to build this community and to develop a different model of business operation. There are a number of other approaches and tools to consider. I’ve already briefly discussed Appreciative Inquiry as such a tool.
Look at online training to help you. Herding Together offers a range of online courses to help you in your planning such as Top Teams: Talent Quest; Top Teams: Build on the Rock and Why SWOT When You Can SOAR? These three courses will introduce you to team building and planning approaches (including Appreciative Inquiry) that can assist in this process. Check these out at https:/herding-together.teachable.com
We live in challenging times. COVID-19 has presented us with both distressing times but also opportunity to move in a different direction. Those organisations and businesses who accept the challenge offered, innovate based on their strengths, use their greatest assets are those who will come out of COVID-19 in a stronger position.