As the uncertainty presented by the pandemic prevails, businesses must embrace a new way of thinking about, and dealing with, the unpredictable.
By Michael Mekhitarian
For the past several weeks my wife Suzanne and I had been looking forward to a trip to the Gold Coast and Northern Rivers over the Easter break.
…. And then Covid struck again, completely decimating our plans.
But sometimes experience can be the best teacher … And this is on my mind right now, in light of the webinar that Jim Vass and I hosted only a few days ago about what businesses must do to prepare themselves for the economic uncertainty that lies ahead, post JobKeeper.
Only moments after that webinar ended, I received the news via email that Blues Fest (which we’d planned on attending) was cancelled. My heart immediately went out to all the artists, the event staff, and in particular, the small businesses – the food vendors, the accommodation providers, the stall holders who were undoubtedly ‘festival-ready’ only to be up-ended with just 24 hours notice.
The community of Byron Bay was quick to rally, posting ideas and enthusiastic support on the local Facebook page for a food vendor parade or a series of ‘pop ups’ around the shire over the long weekend so that these small businesses wouldn’t have to waste their inventory.
It was a touching gesture from a tightly knit town, acutely aware of the significant cost to these businesses. Businesses that are owned by their neighbours, owned by the parents of kids their own kids go to school with… etc.
But in these days of tight public health restrictions, even this possibility seemed unlikely to get off the ground. We didn’t stay to find out. Instead, with our own weekend plans shattered, we decided to cancel our flights home, rent a car (all done with a laptop) and enjoy a relaxed road trip back to Sydney instead, taking the chance to see old friends along the way. Thanks to Spotify we found a few playlists of all the bands we had hoped to actually see live.
Just as we were heading south over the border, the Queensland Premier decided to lift the 3-day Brisbane lockdown to the relief of many, although as has been reported in the major newspapers, most people – about two-thirds – had already decided to cancel Easter holiday and school holiday plans to stay home instead. The estimated to cost the already struggling tourism industry is $1.7bn in lost, or ’postponed’ revenue.
Will insurance cover the losses? In some cases maybe. And I don’t want to be a pessimist, but as time goes on, and Covid hangs around, surprising us when we least expect it, we all need to face the fact that right now, nothing – zero, zip, nada – is set in stone.
Contingency plans are a MUST.
More than that though, businesses also need to be nimble, they need to be able to pivot quickly to adapt to the circumstances they find themselves in, often at short notice.
While Australia’s solid track-record of efficient contact tracing and hotspot containment are to be applauded, and the vaccine is on the way, we are, for quite some time to come, still going to be faced with uncertainty.
And the only way to prepare for uncertainty is to have the resources and capability to embrace it.
SMEs must build risk-management thinking into their cultures at every level.
And when I say “risk management”, I don’t mean the ‘old’ way of thinking – mitigating risk, I mean being open to opportunity and possibility, so that when faced with adversity SMEs have the skills and resilience to work through it – to pivot – to choose another option or change direction.
The truth is, when the sh** hits the fan, it takes some skill to find the silver lining.
But developing and nurturing the ability to assess, think innovatively and adapt quickly, will be a critical survival skill for all businesses moving forward.
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