Tearing Up The Plans
In the deep recesses of my record collection I have a 12-inch EP called “Tearing Up The Plans” by a band called 23 Skidoo. This early-1980s slab of agit-funk is the perfect soundtrack for what any business owner or leader is going through this year.
If you look at any list of risk factors included in either a recent annual report or a learned study into what will happen in 2020 by a leading business consultant, global pandemic is unlikely to figure highly. Yet that is what has knocked almost every business in the world sideways.
One of the biggest challenges of Covid-19 is uncertainty. The virus has not struck evenly – why was Italy hit so badly and neighbouring Germany less so, is the apparent low impact in Africa and South America due to fortunate demographics or misreporting, have Australia and New Zealand beaten the bug or will we see a second wave?
The business impact is similarly uneven. Great if you are Zoom or Netflix, not so bad if you are a food retailer, potentially fatal if you are in the hospitality industry. And the learned forecasters cannot agree what will happen if and when countries emerge from lockdown. Will it be a V-shaped recession, as EY’s Item Club has predicted, with a rapid recovery, or bath shaped, with a slow build-up accelerating over time, or – heaven help us – L-Shaped?
How will business life change? I’ve already sat through quite a few seminars in the last few weeks about the future of business – with experts saying “purpose” will become more important, companies will have to be more honest and ethical, and workers will want to spend more time working from home. Be frank. No-one really knows.
And if no-one knows how can you plan? And if you can’t plan how can you communicate?
Politicians and business leaders have one major thing in common – they find it very hard to admit they have got anything wrong. However, if the last few months have taught us anything, it is that even the smartest people don’t know everything, or even a fraction of everything.
So, are we going to see a new humility? I’d like to think so. But as it is clear we don’t know what the future is going to bring, I’m not planning for it.