A 21-point starter list for maintaining your business during Covid-19 crisis

These are immensely challenging days with enormous pressures on everyone. Our thoughts are with you in the weeks and months ahead. We have been giving some initial thought to what are useful tactical and strategic pointers for businesses and organisations who are undertaking priority setting.

shop owner changing sign to open for business

The following points are by no means comprehensive, and not a replacement for your own specialist advisers and consultants, but may add to your own action planning. Do please continue to seek professional (including legal) advice from those who know your business area well. Some points are painfully obvious but under duress, the very obvious can be missed.

Leading is messy and you will want to flex actions here to suit your situation. But many within your network are looking for those who will lead at this time, and our encouragement is to lean into planning sooner than later. Expect criticism for leading. Try to listen to critics even when they wound. They are often the people who care:

  • You and your family's health and well-being are the first concern. Before you approach major decisions, to reflect on when and where is the best time and place to open what is a combination of tactical (survival) and strategic decisions (sustained recovery). Be aware of your own state of mind and its ability to calmly engage in action planning.
  • Sustainability is rooted in a deep analysis of 'the now'. Any effort to make sense of the present moves towards a potential successful recovery. This current problem is likely to be complex so extended dialogue suits as a methodology. Asking broadly 'what is the situation I'm facing?', 'where am I at now?', 'what is the issue I'm trying to address?' are critical questions that expose the assumptions beneath what you believe is happening. Getting to these assumptions is vital. It is like standing on the highest hill you can find. Who, why, what, where, when and how questions may feature in testing assumptions. Some around you are very 'action-orientated'. Action and reflection need their balance here.
  • Who else should be alongside to balance, question and push back on thinking shaped by the pressure of events? Give them permission to question.
  • Government is currently revising its advice for businesses. Visit their online sites to check the latest statements. These are changing by the hour, and are by no means refined yet. Their actions are unprecedented and will have a significant impact on your risk planning.
  • It is an important time to sit down as business leaders/owners and consider re-forecasting cash flows. Business stops when the cash runs out.
  • It is wise to hold extended dialogue with advisers and consider different possible outcomes. This is not a science but relies a lot on your existing business knowledge and ability to be honest about assessment.
  • Consider all your sources of potential cash.
  • Review your lending arrangements, and consider the potential for adjusting those terms.
  • Importantly talk to your lenders and get a feel for their willingness to adjust arrangements. Listen also to their advice but be prepared to be assertive where you feel you have the right to expect contractual flexibility.
  • Hold talks with all your stakeholders. Now is the time to bring your network into confidence and invite dialogue.
  • Regular engagement with your customers will reveal not just their short-term intentions but their willingness to be served in other ways.
  • This includes talking to landlords, suppliers and investors. At this stage, you are inviting their understanding and engagement.
  • Employees are nervous currently and you must take great care in communication with them. Professional advice here is possibly the most keenly needed.
  • Remain in regular contact with stakeholders to invite their continued support. This will retain their belief that you are doing all that is necessary to protect the business.
  • Assess which suppliers are vulnerable themselves and anticipate their potential withdrawal from the supply chain.
  • Simultaneously be in contact with alternative suppliers and markets. Although this is a shock the discoveries you make under extremis could be healthy for the business. Under pressure consider the ‘model of your business’ and what elements can be transferred to other forms of trading activity. What non-core activities that don't add real value and absorb precious energy should be jettisoned?
  • Channels to market: what services and products can reach existing markets in new ways?
  • What services and products can be developed to meet new needs that have emerged in the current crisis? And so on.
  • Keep a daily written record of activity that tracks your actions and the actions of others.
  • You may wish to record personal reflections about yourself as this can be very helpful to your continued well-being. Refer to these notes regularly to keep a semblance of continuity and coherency at a time of stress.
  • Continue to build a community around yourself as your personal support network. Consider social media to alert supporters to your needs.

This is a worrying time so where you can hold open space dialogue to consider new and creative solutions generated by your network try to do so. We may be prone to decisive and urgent action in the normal course of trading activity. Is this a time to adjust your style and technique of leadership, to allow for broader more reflective conversations? At this stage, no idea is a bad idea. Be open to new suggestions.

Maintain your own well-being by sharing your anxieties with family and friends. Your business needs you well and motivated to fight in a measured fashion. And of course, continue to be referent to legal advice especially given that much of your activity has contractual obligations.

Asking questions of people, especially asking them to clarify what they mean, and why they said what they said explores the logic behind their statements: 'I hear that, now walk me through your arguments!' If they are authentic they will have a coherent and plausible response.

Every sincere good wish as you formulate early plans. And of course, these are evolving so be prepared to expose them to wide scrutiny. Many voices speaking into 'the now' balance sometimes the lone dominant or strident voices. Even when that voice seems convinced.

Many of you could improve on this initial thinking. Do not hesitate to make suggestions: stephen.gibbs@cumbria.ac.uk. Forgive me if I cannot respond to all remarks offered.

Dr Steve Gibbs, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Leadership at the Institute of Business, Industry & Leadership, University of Cumbria www.cumbria.ac.uk