12 Reasons Leaders Need to Think About What They Are Doing Right Now

Content adapted from James Osborne

There is no doubt that these are very unchartered waters for leaders across the globe and whilst the current situation we are facing creates immense challenges for many of us, it does also generate some unique opportunities to create more productive, more profitable and more sustainable businesses that are truly fit-for-purpose in tomorrow’s market.

To set things up from the outset, you first need to…

Avoid the Sideshows

All that matters right now is survival. You simply have to be around at the end of all this, when the markets bounce back, to be able to fight another day.   

This means absolute focus on that, first.

Understand what sits outside your circles of control right now (you can’t control the markets, you can’t control the macro covid19 situation, you can’t even to an extent accurately control revenue coming in to your business) but instead align your thinking to just the things you can control (costs going out of the business, where you invest your time and / resources, low-risk revenue generating opportunities) and those things that that will have the biggest impact on assuring your survival and your ability to thrive on the other side.

Design your New Normal

There are too many people simply asking the wrong question right now – what will the new normal be after this? This is wrong. The question we should all be asking is what do we want our new normal to be after this?

This is an extraordinary opportunity for us all to take the lessons we are currently learning about ourselves, about our businesses, about what we value and proactively construct a future that we want.  Don’t let paralysis set in, waiting / hoping to find out what tomorrow might look like, but go out instead and build the future you want right now.

Look Way Back to See Way Forward

These past few months have been unlike no other. You can’t compare what we are going through to a typical downturn in a typical economic cycle. This is not typical. This is an event-led downturn driven by something that is impacting people’s lives in very deep and personal ways.

From both a health and economics perspective, we can certainly look back and get some pointers from similar historical events that have occurred before but the world evolves at such a fast pace that comparing the current economical cycle with that of the Global Financial crisis of 2008 is just not a like for like comparison.

Politics and global trade relations have evolved in the last 10 years, social demographics have changed, technology has moved on significantly. Imagine all having to work from home using the technology and broadband capacity that we had even just 12 years ago!

What we can learn from history though are trends and more importantly how certain trends will have both quickened as well as aligned because of this, thus creating new markets, new needs, new opportunities for businesses.

  • Have you mapped out the emerging trends in your markets that came out of the last downturn?
  • What do these trends show you about how your market evolves in situations like this?

But now is really not the time to let your thinking get anchored in the past. Instead, we need to look forward 3 to 5 years at what the current trends are telling us about your markets tomorrow and then work your strategies back from that.

This future trend analysis will then help you to start building out how you will…

Create your Own Recovery

Business leaders tend to be entrepreneurial, and entrepreneurs by nature tend to be optimistic. I am definitely an optimist, with a very heavy dose of realism, and personally cannot stand pessimism.

Not for once ignoring the terrible plight that many are facing right now, the reality of the matter is that for most people, we will get through this and good times will return. You don’t have to be an optimist to know that.

The bit that really separates the optimists and the pessimists, the part that prevents the realists from moving forward whilst the opportunists are picking up market share, all comes down to timing. When.

When will the recovery come? When will my markets come back? When will we start growing again?

The optimist in me, coupled with some very sensible data / insights from some of the best social economists out there, points towards a “V” shape downturn – the market drops off a cliff, as it has, and then fairly sharply bounces back again. 

Remember what we said above, this is an event led downturn – the recovery will be driven less by the traditional number analysis that the economists calculate and more by the social will of the people aching to get back out working, to get out of lockdown, to just get on.

However, what some leaders forget is that businesses do not have to necessarily follow the same trend as the markets. They will be influenced by that, of course, but a business can have its own “V” shaped bounce even if the market itself is on a “U” trajectory.

So, move. Move faster than everyone else and decide what type of recovery you’re shooting for by developing your…

Outside In Strategy

You must look beyond the walls of your business to build your future strategy.

It is easy to become too inwards focused at times like these, when in reality (once you are on top of your business survival plan) you need to look at the bigger picture and more importantly at the wider supply chains within your target markets. If you don’t, you might end up walking head on into a load of challenges that will negatively impact your growth plans or indeed a bunch of opportunities that will make them fly. 

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What exactly is going on right now in your markets? 
  • What parts of your target market will be decimated because of this, and similarly, which parts will grow?
  • Which companies are just about getting through this and which companies will be thriving? Why?
  • If those companies are thriving, which of their suppliers will also be doing well?
  • Which areas of the market will capitalise most on the ensuing upturn? Why?
  • If those companies start to do well, which of their suppliers further down the supply chain will also follow suit?

What are those supply chain trends telling you about where you should be focusing your sales and marketing resources, and also what products / services do you need to be developing right now that align to what your customers are going to want to buy (from you)?

If market share is going to start increasing, we now need to maximise our return by doing some…

Bottom Up Planning

Without doubt, one of the clear trends that is coming out of all this, is the extent that many businesses have actually been running fairly inefficiently in the past.

Now, when our backs have been put against the wall, and we have been forced to literally cut out as much as we can from our businesses (and quickly), we have all managed to do it across most areas. Whilst in some cases quite hard to do emotionally, it has been relatively easy to start spotting areas of inefficiency, unprofitability, and wastage that have slowly crept into our business over the years, especially when we were in the good times and business was booming.

What this period has made us all do (and we have had the time to do this), is to focus long and hard on cash generation and profit maximisation, perhaps more than we have ever done before. Turnover and GP is irrelevant if it doesn’t drop enough to the bottom line.

  • Where does the real profit in our businesses come from?
  • Which clients deliver the most contribution to the bottom line?
  • Which products and services that we sell create the most net yield?
  • Who, amongst our consultants, delivers the most ROI?
  • Do we have the right people, in the right jobs, doing the right things that generate profit?
  • What is the one thing we do above all else that really makes us money?

Over the past few weeks, my conversations with leaders has been firmly fixed on retraining and redeployment of people and re-engineering of business structures to, quite simply, create greater capability to generate greater profit margins.

This will of course impact everything within your business, from incentives and commissions to hiring plans and importantly culture. That is why a great leader will always put…

Purpose over Profit

How ridiculous is that! Profit should come before everything right? Wrong.

Profit is created by having products / services that your customers value and want (need) and a team of employees in your business who deliver an amazing user experience to get those products / services out to your customers efficiently. The whole process of profit generation falls down when one of those elements is missing.

Purpose drives the culture, that drives the behaviours, that drive the customer experience.

Deliver an incredible customer experience, backed up with a fantastic product / service and you will create both profit and growth. Focus too much on the profit and you will create a heartless business with limited commitment and a disengaged culture.

These past few months have been an incredible test of a company’s culture and whilst many organisations have stepped up and put their values and purpose at the heart of their strategy during this extraordinary time, many haven’t.

Our employees don’t just have financial concerns right now, they are also fearful for the health and wellbeing, they are being emotionally challenged, they have very real and personal worries, which is why this is so different from a typical economic downturn. The leaders in a business need to lead with far greater heart and demonstrate genuine empathy more than they have ever done before.

After this, we will all be remembered for what we did and didn’t do, which is why we should now…

Leave the Shutters Up

Never before have we had the most incredible opportunity to get as close to our customers as we have now.

We meet them in their lounges / bedrooms / sheds, our meetings are interrupted by their children and pets running in, we have to look them in the eyes and focus more intently on their words than ever before, we genuinely care about how they are, they genuinely care about us. The barriers between our clients as corporate people and our clients as just people have been removed and the shutters are no longer down. This changes everything about the business of business.

Look at what you offer your clients…  

  • Is it easy to buy from you?
  • Is it hard to get rid of you? 
  • Have you an embedded solution that makes you sticky?

Look at how you work with your clients… 

  • Do you deliver a truly celebrity user experience?
  • Do they value what you do?
  • Do you get paid according to that value?

Look at the output of your client relationships?

  • What is the typical length of a customer relationship?
  • How much of your new business is referred to you by existing customers?

If you can set your business up to reposition your offering more towards long-term, embedded partnerships and less towards contingent supply, then you can start to…

Feed the Machine

This is where marketing meets selling, and selling becomes a continuous part of your DNA, not an enforced KPI.

For years marketing has been kept independent from sales. It was about making us look good in print and online, about how much kudos you can get per social media post to feed your ego, about how much (often pointless) noise we can make above the competition. Now more than ever, people are online consuming content, seeking out ideas, watching brands and marketing has never been so important.

Sales on the other hand has always been about the phone, the meetings, the numbers game. It is equally as important as marketing, but when done badly can create huge wastage and inefficiency in a recruitment business (do we still think working towards the 80/20 principle makes sense?!) and negatively impact brand value (external) and consultants’ confidence (internal).

So both are critically important, but not in silo. These are not independent things but instead are two very joined up parts of your ability to create consistent sales pipelines – what we refer to as “the machine”.

All day, every day, the machine needs to be fired up and fed – not when we get time to do it, but continuously. All day every day.

The machine also needs checking every day for performance improvements (squeezing better conversion ratios at every stage of the sales pipeline) and it requires an automated process to sit behind the human effort to ensure efficiency can be made to improve conversion ratios at each stage of the pipeline process.

Don’t forget to adjust your selling styles to fit the market and…

Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem

  • We miss opportunities because we don’t explore deeply enough into the customers’ real challenges.
  • We try and sell products and services that aren’t applicable because we don’t understand their real needs.
  • We focus too much on short term, quick wins and less about building long term solutions.
  • We still talk about price and not value.
  • We sell the same “product” as everyone else keeping our competition always relevant

These are of course generalisations, but I am sure ring true for many if we honestly look back on what we were all doing pre-covid19.

Selling is not one dimensional, but nor should it be complicated.

It should be consultative, truly consultative, helping customers to understand their future needs, to challenge their perceptions of what is possible and working collaboratively with them to reengineer talent processes to drive efficiencies and outputs that make a very real and tangible difference.

It should start with a blank page, a bunch of data and a load of questions – where it ends up is anyone’s guess, but it will more often than not end up far deeper and further down the line than traditional selling does. Let the conversation decide, let the problems be discussed, let the solutions flow.

Enjoy the Journey

I’ll start this by going to back to the beginning – these are unchartered waters for leaders who are meant to know all the answers right now. Give yourself a pat on the back for what you have done and how you have responded so far, and more importantly give yourself a break.  

Leaders have concerns about the economy, about families, about personal health as everyone does, but they also have to keep an eye on how the overall businesses are faring, about how they are faring as leaders, about the team, about just about everything! Emotionally, this is tough and our resilience is being tested.

But it doesn’t have to be.

The start of every new day is a new opportunity to drop in the next building block of our future. Throughout every day we have wins, however small, that we must celebrate with our teams. We also have challenges that ultimately we somehow overcome, that should also be celebrated.

The end of every day is an opportunity to celebrate another step closer to a new and better normality.

As an observer, I find the whole thing fascinating, watching how people are responding to all this, from those who have buried their heads and hope it will all just go away, to those who just want to ensure they…

Don’t Waste a Good Crisis

Winston Churchill said this in the mid-1940s, referring to the emerging US / Russia / UK alliance that would go on to become the United Nations and the opportunities that were coming out of the crisis that was the Second World War. And his words were as right then as they are today.

These are challenging times for sure. 

Be an observer of everything right now – the good, the bad and the ugly, inside and outside of your sector – and look for the opportunities that change creates.

Don’t look at this time as being “difficult” and instead see it as being “different”.

Learn. Adapt. Compete. 

  1. Avoid the Sideshows
  2. Design your New Normal
  3. Look Way Back to See Way Forward
  4. Create your Own Recovery
  5. Outside In Strategy
  6. Bottom Up Planning
  7. Purpose over Profit
  8. Leave the Shutters Up
  9. Feed the Machine
  10. Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem
  11. Enjoy the Journey
  12. Don’t Waste a Good Crisis