Rear view of business owner wearing medical mask placing open sign “OPEN BUSINESS AS NEW NORMAL” on front door.

4 Things to Stop Your Business Suffering from COVID

Over the past three years the business world has been enduring 4 systemic shocks:

  • Brexit (labour shortages and the lengthening of supply chain lead times)
  • Covid-19 (working from home, reduced/no revenue and more supply chain problems)
  • War in Ukraine (causing commodity price spikes, particularly oil and gas)
  • Inflation (the outcome of quantitative easing from the last financial crisis)

During this time, while many businesses have been struggling, their employees discovered something new – life!

Contrary to media reports, most people didn’t endure lockdown, they enjoyed it. Public sector wages got paid in full and the majority of people working for large companies also got paid. Fortunes were mixed in the SME sector, but overall, most people worked less and got paid the same. (For the sake of this article I’m going to ignore the NHS).

For the first time in their adult lives people were able the put themselves and their families first in ways that just weren’t possible before. They no longer had to waste a couple of hours every day – or more – just getting to and from work. Nor did they have to endure the cost of commuting. They also found that their bosses and co-workers interrupted them much less, so they could get their work done in far less time. New interruptions took over – children, pets, partners, and housework, but no one seemed to notice. The problem with their previous lives at work is how poorly those lives compare with this new experience.

People have asked themselves “what was I doing wasting my life on that hamster wheel existence putting up with my awful boss?” and they’ve worked out the answer.

Whilst lockdowns are over, for now, businesses have yet to recover. Much to the consternation of business owners and senior executives, employees have not rushed back to the office and productivity levels are way down on pre-lockdown norms.

What really happened is that the lockdown showed people who were worth working for and who wasn’t. It showed them too, what people could get away with, and what they couldn’t. Rigid, bureaucratic hierarchies will have come off worst in this assessment for two reasons. Firstly, most employees have no time for the game-playing, grandstanding, bullying and politicking of their largely useless layers of managers and bosses. Secondly, because of the above, these hierarchies move with glacial slowness when trying to adapt to changing circumstances.

In smaller businesses, it is a bit simpler. The vast majority never had to actively engage their workforce, because the boss led from the front, and everyone followed. This new dynamic is beyond the experience of business owners who literally don’t know what to do, because they never had to do it. Fortunately, they can benefit from what’s been learned about engaging people in larger organisations. The principles are the same.

If you didn’t see the meteorite of change coming and you haven’t already adapted, now you have another chance to catch up. The good news is that catching up can be as simple as you want to make it. The bad news is that most people don’t want to do simple. Four steps will get you started.

  1. The first thing you have to do is to create alignment at the board level. If your directors aren’t aligned and they haven’t played a collective part in creating that alignment, there is no point going any further.
  2. Fear dominates the world, particularly the business world and that’s why bosses promote loyalty, not competency. You have to get rid of that fear. People know that the messenger is the first person to get shot. It’s why they keep their mouths shut. With the appropriate mechanisms, you can get your employees to speak up.
  3. Once you have the truth, and your top team is aligned, it is time for everyone else to create alignment, together.
  4. The fourth, and most important step, is action. Action is the only thing that proves to someone that their voice has been heard.

Beyond these four steps is the sustained engagement of everyone in your organisation. The unfortunate truth is that most large organisations do not use their scale to create a competitive advantage, they unwittingly use it to hide a huge amount of inefficiency. Believe it or not, it is that inefficiency which turns off employees. They know that layers of managers do little useful work so naturally, they ask themselves why should they do all the work? Fail to deal with that and your four steps will have been pointless.

John Cottrell was one of the first people to use Open Space Technology (OST) in a work environment to help clients both save and make money. He has been running Directors and Employee Alignments for nearly 20 years. They are the perfect mindset and motivation antidote for a business suffering from COVID.