There is an old Chinese curse – “May you live in interesting times”. With Brexit, oil wars and now the coronavirus Covid-19, it feels strikingly relevant today.
Having worked in change roles for many years, responsible for multiple restructuring, implementation and process change projects, I’ve experienced first-hand how people respond to change. Shock – Denial – Anger and Blame – Bargaining and Self Blame – Depression and Confusion – Acceptance – Problem Solving. We all process these emotions, these steps along the change curve, in different ways and in a different order. One moment you may find yourself catapulted into depression, only to feel angry a few hours later.
Today, many people are clearly still in shock whilst others are racing forward to acceptance. The point is that recognising where we and others are on this curve can help us to be more understanding and compassionate. If you’re already problem solving, it’s easy to be incredulous at all those who are still in denial. If you’re in blame mode, you might find it hard to cope with those who are accepting the new rules. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, observed that “The only constant in life is change” and people all over the world are finding their own ways of adjusting to yet another new reality.
So how do we navigate all this uncertainty? How do we keep ourselves healthy and safe with so much fear and confusion? And as business owners, how do we protect what we’ve built and keep our teams together whilst continuing to serve our customers? The truth is that more businesses will die in the coming months than people. The challenge for today’s entrepreneur is keeping a clear head so that they can not only survive but thrive.
STEP ONE – YOUR MENTAL & PHYSICAL HEALTH
The first and most important thing is to stay safe – both physically and mentally. There’s a lot being talked about opportunities, and although I agree that there is plenty for entrepreneurs to get stuck into in these uncertain times, first we need to keep ourselves safe. Once we’re safe we can care for our loved ones and our teams, and then look for the upsides. It’s not selfish to focus on yourself first – if you’re not OK you can’t help anyone else. If you’re panicking or catastrophising, you’ll be no good to your loved ones, no good to your team and no good to your business.
First, let’s talk about mental health – what’s happening in our heads. If you haven’t already read The Chimp Paradox, I recommend you take a look. We all need to manage our chimp, the part of our brain that is fearful, that reacts, that thrives on emotion. It often reacts before the human, more rational, part of our brain can catch up. If you’re looking for some advice on how to manage your emotions, reading this book would be a great place to start. Recognise where you are on the change curve and be kind to yourself. Focus on what you CAN control – control the controllables – and try to manage your stress and anxiety levels.
Secondly, make sure you’re getting your information from reliable sources. There’s a lot of information out there, there’s even a lot of so called ‘fake news’. I was particularly upset to discover that the ‘dolphins have returned to Venice’ was false! It’s important to ensure we’re getting our information from reliable sources and not letting panic and hysteria escalate.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), government and NHS websites publish regular updates and guidance. These organisations are taking advice and giving us guidance based on expert opinion. Unless you ARE an expert, let’s not pretend we know better! Let’s get our information from reliable sources and follow the guidance. Even if you really don’t like working from home and don’t usually allow your people to do so, now is the time to learn! If you feel yourself getting anxious or panicky – put the phone down, turn off the TV. Don’t obsess or catastrophise. It only leads to panic buying and the crazy selfishness we’re seeing on our screens.
Last week I spoke to a lady who told me she was obsessively checking her phone. “I’m checking the stats all the time, seeing where the new cases are!” she told me. I advised her to plan a couple of slots in her day where she reviewed the latest updates but to avoid it compulsively checking. Compulsions feed hysteria, anxiety and panic and leave us feeling exhausted and unfulfilled. Instead try to manage your state, your emotions and keep yourself calm and focused.
To do this, focus on what will help you stay calm. Get out in the fresh air – take some deep breaths. Yoga is great for the mind and body and meditation will help you clear your head and quieten your mind. How about some creativity to give your brain a break and feed your soul – drawing, painting, music? If you don’t already keep a journal, now would be a great time to start. Journaling gives you perspective and self-awareness which in turn will help keep you calm (plus it will make interesting reading in years to come!).
Move your body – dance, exercise, walk. Your body should respond positively immediately to the change of pace and your mind will appreciate the diversion. Even though I know this works, I’m still amazed how quickly I can go from feeling down in the dumps to smiling like a mad woman within seconds of putting music on and forcing myself to dance or get on the treadmill! Try to eat well and keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water. Experiment with different foods. If the shops don’t have what you want, try something new.
STEP TWO – SUPPORTING OTHERS
We’re all on that change curve somewhere, so let’s be kind to each other. We don’t know each person’s situation. We don’t know who has elderly relatives they’re worried about or difficult home lives. Let’s not forget that millions of parents are trying to home school their children whilst adjusting to the realities of working from home. So, let’s cut each other some slack.
I’m sure you’re checking in on your loved ones regularly but what about other people in your network? Extroverts might be struggling to adjust as they get their energy from being around people. This doesn’t mean the introverts aren’t struggling but we all have different ways of coping. Also please do check in on that friend of yours who’s always OK, who always has a plan, who helps others and seems so very together. Check how they’re holding up under the superman/woman mask!
Working from home is a new experience for many people so check in with your team. Do they have everything they need to work from home, how are they coping with the new realities?
How are your customers managing and what do they need from you? I’ve seen lots of talk about how we can all benefit from going online, delivering our services in a different way – but what do your customers actually need from you right now and how can you best serve them? Flexibility is key here – with so much confusion and uncertainty the more adaptable you can be in service of your customers the more they will appreciate you and your value.
STEP THREE – MAKING DECISIONS
I don’t know about you, but I feel better when I’m making decisions. It’s all about controlling those controllables. But please remember the change curve and don’t make decisions when you’re stressed or anxious. Focus first on the short-term decisions you can and need to make before worrying too much about the long term.
Here’s what I’d start with:-
Numbers – what are my business costs (team, premises, equipment and services), how much do I need to take each month and what’s my runway (ie. how long before I run out of cash)? What costs can I cut?
Before you make any decisions, please work out these numbers. They don’t need to be exact – round numbers or ballpark figures are what you’re after here. I find it terrifying how many seasoned business owners leave even this level of business management to their accountants who are, after all, charged with ensuring compliance rather than running your business for you. There’re few things that create more fear than not knowing where you are with your money, either your personal money or your business money. Let’s act on facts rather than panicking and catastrophising.
Team – what do I need to do to enable people to work from home? What information or equipment do they need and how can I best support them?
Customers – are they OK, what do they need from me, how can I serve them better? Can I offer flexible payment terms, additional services?
Calendar – using your calendar to plan out your days will help keep you calm and feeling organised. Don’t forget to diarise your mental and physical heath commitments as well as calls with clients and your team.
Community – however hard you or I are finding this new reality, there are people out there who are being hit much, much harder. The block of flats where I live now has a WhatsApp group to allow people to support each other with shopping or just a quick call to say hello.
STEP FOUR – THE FUTURE
Once you’ve gone through the first three steps, you should be in a good place to start thinking about the future. Get the fundamentals in place first and then unleash your creativity!
Small businesses are especially vulnerable in these uncertain times. But the other side of that coin is that we’re able to move more quickly than larger organisation. We’re able to be more agile and flexible. So what opportunities are there for you to offer additional services to your existing customers and to serve new and different people? Is there an element of your service that you can provide online or in a different way? Are there other markets that you’ve never tapped into but could look at now? What different ways could you deliver value to your customers?
But before you jump off into new and exciting products and markets, do a stocktake of where you and your business are. What assets do you have that could be deployed differently? It’s really important that you think about serving your customers where they are today, not where they were a month ago or where you think they are or will be.
Finally, I want to remind you that you’re not alone in this. Please ask for the help and support you need. My free online community, The REAL Entrepreneurs Community, is there to support you. If there’s anything that I or my team can do to help you navigate through these uncertain times, please get in touch. Take care, stay safe and let’s ensure we all get through this together.
We may be living in interesting times but we’re not doing it alone.
Lisa Zevi – March 2020