When an unprecedented challenge such as COVID-19 impacts a business, no matter the size of the organisation or the scale of challenge, it does not necessarily mean that the requisite solutions are unfamiliar or need to be re-invented. This was and still is the case with Brexit, whereby business solutions to deal with the commercial impact included a number of restructuring measures to supply chains, as well as the relocation of staff and operations. Although COVID -19 presents a very different challenge than Brexit to SMEs, a similar approach in finding workable solutions is required.
The real challenge lies within combining the tailored solutions to fit the organisations business model, particularly in SMEs. Tacit knowledge and cross-sectoral expertise will assist greatly in engaging such a challenge. This is the core reasoning for this collective of organisations namely, mascontour, Time & Place Consulting, and J.O.S Solicitors to come together in solidarity to assist SMEs globally.
Many national governments are implementing plans to facilitate loans for SMEs within their jurisdictions, in dealing with this current crisis. For example, the European Investment Bank together with the national banks throughout Europe are cooperating in devising fiscal solutions to help ease the financial fallout for SMEs.
Such financial supports will provide crucial assistance for most SMEs in helping to sustain cash flow and survive in the short term. However, other considerations and tactics will need to be evaluated by all SMEs in dealing with this unprecedented crisis. Below are 7 key elements that require such consideration for your business.
Note: The document will be updated regularly depending on relevant developments.
- Understand your customers loyalty to your product and effect on future sales
Understanding consumer behaviour in B2B or B2C has always been at the heart of every business. COVID-19 is not only a crisis because of the fact it is a highly transmittable disease, but also because it creates distrust, scepticism and fear amongst the population. Evaluate if your customers will still consider your product as a necessity. Despite the fact your marketing strategy says otherwise.
- Evaluate internal operation systems
You will need to evaluate how your business operates internally to see where it can demonstrate agility in adapting to necessary organisational and operational change. All aspects of the supply chain up to the end product or service, particularly if it’s a manufacturing, retail or products-based entity should be scrutinised.
Given the level of globalisation, many businesses rely heavily on countries such as the United States and China in the provision of part supplies and raw materials integral to the overall finished product for sale. The earlier a company can understand and identify weaknesses within its own supply chain will enable it to identify either alternative suppliers from different jurisdictions or secondary methods to achieve a finished product or service delivery.
- Review your internal employment policies and contracts
An immediate review of the company’s employment handbook and employee contracts is paramount to help employers identify and update specific policies relating to sick leave, short-term/temporary lay-off, remote working, reporting illness, staff travel restrictions and of course health and safety procedures in the workplace.
Such policies, if existent, should both guide and inform employers on how best to prepare and initiate all necessary actions as required in dealing with staff members who may need to self-quarantine, work remotely for a period or care for a family members who becomes infected with the virus. Overall, these polices will need to be adaptable to change and updated as required.
If an employer does not have the basic employment law structures in place such as an employee handbook and employee contracts, they will be left in a precarious legal position. Employers could face potential lawsuits if they fail to act fairly and appropriately with employees or breach any rights and entitlements in the absence of such contractual terms.
- Communicate clearly to stakeholders
Businesses have stakeholders at every level - staff, suppliers, customers, shareholders, banks and in some cases even media, depending on the brand and size of the business. It will be crucial for senior management to pro-actively communicate clearly and confidently to its many stakeholders on how the business is coping with and managing the crisis, adopting key messages as required to suit the audience. In times of economic peril, it is important for those in leadership roles to convey a sense of calm and denote a confidence they have matters in hand, as to avoid mass hysteria or panic.
Keeping up to date with communications from your local government will also be required by business owners, as to ensure proper protocols are been adhered too, particularly in the event a positive case occurring within the confines of the business premises. A ‘holding statement’ may also need to be issued to the media in high-profiled instances, to bide valuable time for a more definite response on what actions are being taken by the organisation.
- Look beyond your traditional business elements
Never forget to lift your head to see what is happening outside of your organisation. Government authorities, civil society organisations and industry associations are highly active in times of crisis. They must be, as it is their role, and because in some cases they may lose their raison d’etre if they are not proactive. This support can manifest itself through an ease of state aid regulation, or platforms for pooling knowledge, or centralising supply chains.
- Try to look ahead
It is difficult in times of crisis, especially when you are looking to survive. When you build your strategy keep in mind that once the crisis is over, you need to be ready to grow again. Often organisations ignore key issues that might sling them into the next crisis once one is over. Of course, it is important to prioritise, especially with limited resources. But, ignore the future, and your business might not survive the subsequent crises.
This is also why…
- You shouldn’t entrench your business
Finally, never look at a crisis response as one of building walls. Former US President JFK once said: “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity.” Keeping this in mind, we recommend you read all the above again.
We as mascontour, Time & Place Consulting, and J.O.S Solicitors are dedicated to pooling our knowledge of business management, change management, political understanding and foresight, organisation development, crisis management, profiling, employment law for business and individuals, corporate law, commercial litigation, media relations and public affairs to help find solutions for SMEs around the globe.