A sudden slip into Alert Level Three, the blast of the emergency ‘COVID’ warning through our phones and once again we’re into the balancing act of keeping our businesses moving in exceptional circumstances.
Last month our Pulse Check results told us how adaptable and flexible New Zealand’s small business are, with business owners altering operations and changing practice in order to survive the challenges that 2020 has thrown at us all. Just as we have rolled out our August Pulse Check – which you can access here if you would like to participate – the beat has changed again and, in Auckland, we are facing at least three days at Level 3, probably more, with the rest of New Zealand parked up at Level 2 for the time being.
We asked our Auckland team for their thoughts on the current situation and their advice was simple — we’ve been here before, rely on past experience and know that it will pass.
The Alternative Board’s managing director Stephen James said: “Knowing it will pass, spend some time addressing a few scenarios. For example, if Level 3 lasts, as announced, for three days what do you need to do? Or, if it remains in place for two weeks or if Level 4 is declared and we have full lockdown for an indefinite period — what then? Develop plans of action for each scenario and communicate these to your staff and stakeholders.”
Many businesses just go with the flow but what happens when unpredicted things happen?
First reactions are often fear and uncertainty, then frustration as worrying questions come thick and fast. What is going to happen? How will I be able to continue trading and working? What will happen to my business and employees?
These feelings and questions are normal in the first moments of shock but it is possible to mitigate the effects of market upheaval for both the business and its people.
A business without goals – and plans to achieve those goals – is like playing football without knowing where the goal is. You can play well and have fun and even have a false expectation about getting good results but are these results the right ones? Do they improve the business situation you’re in or your position in the market?
The first step is to set goals and create a plan to achieve those goals. Then comes the tricky part: how do I set my goals if I don’t know what is going to happen next?
As Peter Drucker said, “You cannot predict the future, but you can create it” and the solution is to create scenarios. At minimum you should create two scenarios, the worst case and the probable case. You could add the best case if you want to.
Creating a scenario forces you to place yourself in a specific context, which can be out of normality, or focus on extreme conditions. This may create uncertainty or even fear but it also provides clarity on what you could do in a particular situation in order to achieve your goals. Once your goals for each scenario are clear, then you need to make a plan for each scenario and its set of goals.
Working with scenarios helps you to create certainty in a world of uncertainty. It allows you to be prepared for a wide range of possibilities, even those outside the scope of your imagined scenarios because, once the exercise is done, you have a broader view of the operating environment.
The ensuing reality will be different to the scenarios you created but two considerations here: the reality will generally fall somewhere between the worst and best case scenarios and, most likely, will be closest to the probable scenario you created – and this is not coincidence. If you follow a plan well, you will most likely reach the goals you forecasted.
If market forces make it impossible to achieve a goal, having planned a series of them gives you an advantage and a more positive position. You will not be shocked or unprepared. You will be ready to take action, drawing on your thinking from the various scenarios considered or, in the worst case, you will be able to set new goals and create a new plan.
How do you create good scenarios? Work with your team, do it with your coach or get the help of your board. You will get more ideas and will cover more variables. Two heads are better than one. The resulting collaboration will be a more robust and certain position for you and your business while your team will recognise your leadership and be more engaged in working towards your goals.
Does my organisation have the capacity to undertake this new task or project? This is one of the common questions that many companies, especially those experiencing strong growth and with limited resources, ask themselves every day.
How do you know if your resources can manage the increasing number of tasks and projects in the days, weeks and months ahead? Managing under-resourced companies growing at a fast pace, I have learned that the most important point is to know the capabilities of yourself and of your team and then to be able to decide which projects or tasks to execute, which to put on hold and which to abandon altogether.
A way to manage this is situation is by following these two steps:
Estimate the time every task will take. This must be discussed and agreed with the person or group of people
that is going to perform the activity, trying to consider all relevant aspects. Measure and register the actual time spent in every job done every day, every hour. It is key to report the spent time frequently and consistently to be accurate. People forget what they did the day before or how much time it took.
As Peter Drucker once said, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” If all team members register their spent time in any of the activities, tasks and projects that are being pursued, then project managers are immediately aware of such important things as:
• Are we ahead or delayed in the execution of the task?
• Was the task/project estimated time correct?
• Are we spending too much time on a task? Does it need improvement or re-engineering?
• Do we have free time to add a new activity, task or project?
• Do we need to reprioritise, put tasks on hold or abandon any of them?
• Do we need more resources to undertake existing or new tasks or projects?
Following this process also helps team members to look back and review their progress, to see what was achieved on a certain date and fulfil the humans’ inherent need for progression and growth. This helps to alleviate any feelings of frustration that employees often suffer from perceiving a lack of progress, overload or lack of direction.Following this pattern of project or task management has the longer-term benefit of changing employee behaviours. Since everybody becomes more aware of both the limited time available and pre-existing workloads, organisations become intrinsically better at organising and prioritising tasks and projects.
Alfredo Puche – The Alternative Board Nelson and Marlborough