UK managers are facing a series of navigational challenges as they seek to steer their companies into calmer and richer waters. Brexit headwinds, the tsunami of the global pandemic and the strong currents of diversity, equality and inclusion have left many captains of industry either in the doldrums or in the eye of the storm. There are rocks and reefs all around: the economic uncertainty of today; the corporate mistakes of the past; and the working environment of tomorrow. Here are five fundamentals to help sail the Seven Seas:
1. Make sure your “ship” is seaworthy
Expectations of the way a company behaves have changed. Your corporation is being evaluated by its response to Covid-19 and wider Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, notably Black Lives Matter. Responses need to be multi-layered: acknowledging past failings; ensuring that the policies and practices of the current organisation are fair and representative; and putting meaningful corporate citizenship front and centre and not cosmetic platitudes in the annual report.
Underpinning the big ticket items, companies need to reassess corporate resilience and scenario planning; challenge and update risk registers; and revisit issues preparedness and management.
2. All aboard and all hands on deck
As Facebook and others will attest, how the corporation behaves is first and foremost judged by its employees. The process of determining corporate values has flipped. No longer are these decided by the few in a boardroom brainstorm and then ‘sold’ internally. Now the company must be the collective conscience of the people who work for it. This is more than a rewrite and must be translated into behaviours and norms, especially as remote working becomes more prevalent. Behavioural change is not one way and management is under greater scrutiny to behave, empathise and act accordingly.
3. Check the charts and the changing seascape
Looking up and around has never been more important. In an age of disruption, who are the competitors and what are they doing? Technology is changing fast and is creating new markets and greater efficiencies. The regulatory framework is being overhauled in response to Brexit and Covid-19. Efficiency, although still important, is being balanced against risk as ‘Just in time’ becomes ‘Just in case’.
In a changing environment some certainty is required. What are the points on the charts that are fixed and around which change can be navigated?
4. Keep an eye on the weather
The medium-term forecast includes the end of the furlough scheme; a seismic Autumn budget; and the pulling together of 2021 budget plans. Those that have stayed close to their clients, stuck with their suppliers and aligned with their audiences will be better able to read the trade winds and shelter from the storm.
The weather will determine whether the corporate priority is survival, revival or repurpose. Maybe now is the time to forego short term profits for longer term market share?
5. Take regular compass readings
In times of uncertainty, it is best to be clear on your destination and to make small and frequent adjustments in direction. Annual trends and comparisons have become meaningless. Clarity combined with agility and flexibility encapsulated in a three-month rolling spreadsheet has replaced the Five-Year Plan. Regular soundings with clients, customers, suppliers and employees can help reset True North and ensure that everyone wants to arrive at the same destination.