In exceptional times... Don't sit back... Be exceptional
Who would have thought only 6 months ago that almost all retail and hospitality would have closed their doors, that people would be shut away in their homes, that human touch would be for many a distant memory and that staying away from family would be an act of kindness and love. Yet here we are in the new world, soon we hope to be a post Covid 19 world. So what can we do now and what do we do when this is over? Can we learn lasting lessons or will this be a distant memory like a blink of an eye?
There are two sets of people affected in business by this epidemic. The entrepreneurial business owners and leaders of companies and the employees, those that opted for the safety of a salary and certainty. Neither are better than the other and neither can be more or less successful. The one thing that is undeniable is that this situation affects them all whether in their first job or having run a successful organisation for decades.
Firstly, thinking of the business owners. Words that spring to mind are the pioneers, the risk takers, the visionaries and many more. Looking in from the outside, people would think that they have it rosey. In the past the media has talked about owners as fat cats and businesses are berated for trying to create shareholder value or using the systems in place to create as much wealth for their own pockets as they can. We focus on the stars of large business such as Branson, Besos or Zuckerberg, however most business owners don’t fly on private jets, own islands or mix with leaders of foreign countries and those that do were for the most part, those that didn’t for much of their lives. They had to fight to get to where they are in a way that others probably cannot imagine. What we tend to fail to talk about is the blood, sweat and tears, the sleepless and often work filled nights and the rollercoaster ride that these business owners and founders have to go through simply to try to get a business off of the ground. The constant fight, between ego and questioning whether you are good enough to be doing what you are doing. The moments of seemingly brilliance and the following times of self-doubt. Love them or hate them, without them, all the other people would have nowhere to go every day and their financial hopes and dreams wouldn’t exist. One cannot survive without the other.
In 2019 there were 300,000 new businesses set up in the UK alone. According to government statistics, 20% of new businesses fail in the first year, 30% in the second and 50% in the third. Over 70% fail by their 10th birthday. The first statistic alone is the business equivalent of the first world war trenches. Lining our troops up knowing that 20% of those that went over the top would not be coming back. Despite this, we keep pushing ourselves over the trenches and businesses go on being created year after year. The current situation is the equivalent of the same war but with a nuclear bomb going off in the centre, affecting all sides indiscriminately, (of course if you are a conspiracy theorist perhaps other than those that created the nuclear bomb and were therefore already hidden away in the bunkers). I hate to think what these statistics will look like for 2020. Very few businesses will come through this unscathed, unless they are too small to be overly affected or too large to fail. Those in the middle will either fold or be working to repay the government for many years to come as a result. Many lives will be in turmoil and many others will have to sign up to many more sleepless nights just to protect what they already have. Mark Cuban, American businessman and investor, has reframed failure in a very positive way. “It doesn’t matter how many times you have failed you only have to be right once.” Something that all entrepreneurs and small business owners should hold dearly at this moment in time.
The press and the world talk a lot about mental health and wellbeing these days. Perhaps we should also think about focussing on the wellbeing of the owners as well as the employees. There is a loneliness attached to entrepreneurialism. It tends to be self-inflicted and will usually be about protecting the reputation of the business or the people around them. It is also talked about to not take business personally, yet that term is a fake one. Any leaders that don’t take personally those that aim to damage what has been built with such an array of problems and risk, over so many years or are betrayed by those that they spend the most time with in their lives are not leaders worthy of having. Yes you can get used to the fact that people will be people and seemingly most will let you down but if you lose taking it personally then you lose the soul of entrepreneurship and the love and devotion for the mission that was set out on in the first place.
Then there are the employees. When I say employees, I’m not referring to the teams of people working in factories and industry employees exclusively as this is what often springs to mind. I’m talking about hard working employees working across a plethora of industries, on shop floors and in businesses right across the country through to FTSE 100 boards. They are all employees, many work for low wages and graft just to put food on the table and provide for themselves and their families, many have also put in exceptional amounts of work to get themselves into positions that allows them to become influencers of great power despite still being an employee.
They are all aligned in the turmoil of this situation currently. Unless you have the luck to work within the very few industries boosted by the COVID 19 pandemic, which are few and far between, you are united in your positions. Boardroom or factory, it is reported that over a quarter of the UK workforce has been placed onto the government furlough scheme for protection. Every one of those individuals is questioning themselves daily. Is this the time for change and am I doing what really fulfils me? They are questioning whether they have the ability to continue on, in what may be a long battle back to where they were before it happened and they are certainly questioning if the very business that is protecting them for now will in fact be able to keep them on as time goes by.
The employees are also in a position where they will be having those sleepless nights, worrying about what the future holds just like the entrepreneurs that will have come to learn to live with this as the norm. Many are distracting themselves with focussing on using this time wisely and seeing this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to hit the pause button but underlying they are questioning everything, every day. Many of their worlds are turned upside down and for a huge number furlough is ok for now, but how long will it go on for? They will be focussed on how long they can survive financially, because for many this doesn’t actually equate to anywhere near 80% of their salaries.
I think that it is safe to say that there is not a magic line drawn across the two with a big thick marker, in the end entrepreneurs are employees and many employees, the best ones at the very least, have entrepreneurial spirit. The temptation that a global shut down brings to people is to decide that they will step back, give up or move on in the new world and focus elsewhere as they all reflect internally. Most are gluttons for punishment and find themselves addicted to the thing that put them where they are whether that is on the shop floor or in the boardroom. Make no mistake, the nuclear bomb has gone off and the trenches have gone quiet, the troops are united, we are in a rare moment of equilibrium. Whether you are an employee or an entrepreneur, a risk taker or have opted for a steady income and life, one thing that is needed now and that is In exceptional times... Don't sit back... Be exceptional.