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The big questions business owners should be asking right now

Written by Ally Maughan on Monday, 04 May 2020. Posted in Leadership, People

As a business owner, it is incredibly disheartening seeing so much of what we have all built turned on its head in such a short period.

The big questions business owners should be asking right now

I’m the founder of a mid-sized business which has been hugely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Our clients are a similar size to us, some larger, some smaller. They largely fall into three camps: the minority are thriving in the current environment. Many, like us, have furloughed a number of staff and are continuing with some semblance of business as usual. Some have mothballed, with some of those making the tricky decision about whether to try and continue post-lock down.

As a business owner, it is incredibly disheartening seeing so much of what we have all built turned on its head in such a short period.

Fortunately there are many brilliant articles out there which can help us about leading through a crisis, surviving a recession, making strategic decisions, scenario planning and getting ready for the next step.

What I haven’t seen quite as much of is what key decisions to take right now, perhaps from your home office or garden cabin, to make the best of the rest of the furlough period and be really well prepared for when it ends.

The hardest bit is that you may not be mentally ready to do any of these things. And yet, right now is the right time to do them.

Communicating with my team: what on earth do I say?

“No news is good news” is rarely true in the work environment. What you don’t explicitly say can create a vacuum, and the team will inevitably fill it with the little bits each of them know.

There is lots of bad news in the press, including depressing statistics about the potential for the economy to shrink and the rise in unemployment. People are worried. We need to find the positive messages to share with our team, alongside being real and truthful.

A pattern of a weekly leader’s video and email, a weekly team video call, and perhaps even daily check ins is important right now.

Knowing what to write or say in those weekly leader’s videos is hard. The role of a leader is to stay optimistic and encourage the team. Last week, our People Puzzles encouragement was around the fact that the lockdown will end and things will get back to normal, we are a brilliant team, and we have fantastic opportunities ahead of us. We do also share the realistic news: that the business will probably be impacted for some time, and we will all have to act differently as a result.

If you aren’t sure what to say, phone a few of the team and ask them what they are concerned by, or what they would like to know about, then record your message to answer those concerns. You may even want to introduce an FAQs section to your message.

Finally, restating your purpose as a business and what is important to you is never wasted time. Our people want to be behind something with a strong why, particularly in a time when there is so much trouble in the world. Our why is about helping businesses be the best they can be: high-performing and great places to work. Talking about it never gets old.

Communicating with our furloughed teams

For some businesses, some of the furloughed team are unfortunately going to face redundancy. For others, they are likely to come back to full business as usual. The government’s news this weekend that the scheme will be extended until at least 30th June has given some much-needed additional reflection time.

It is important to include your furloughed team in your communication plan at the moment, answering their questions, allaying their fears, or being realistic about the future. We hold a weekly midday coffee slot on video conference with our furloughed team, just to stay in touch and say hello.

When furlough ends, am I going to need everyone to come back to the same jobs?

This is a very tricky question. The furlough scheme, whilst designed by the government to retain jobs, for some businesses will have just delayed a difficult decision.

The furlough scheme was initially introduced for 3 months from 1st March, and has already been extended to 30th June.

In the scenario planning and business reviews you have been doing, there may already be roles that you have identified that you know you won’t need after furlough. This could be because of the economics of your business, or a review of how you have been delivering work that has meant a new shape to the business. It was interesting to read of the huge rush on the Next website when they reopened this week. They were completely unprepared and had to close again the same day, so equally we shouldn’t be unprepared for an end of lockdown rush!

To make redundancies the law requires employers to meaningfully consult – without it, it would automatically be an unfair process. A minimum of 10 days’ consultation with a good process goes a long way to demonstrating meaningful consultation (if less than 20 employees are affected), then once you factor in a month’s notice period, it could be that you need to start properly considering the future workforce around 6-7 weeks before the end of furlough.

As always, redundancies can be quite easy to get wrong, so they should not be undertaken without good planning and a great understanding of employment law. Take proper advice, and make sure you treat your departing team well, as your remaining staff will certainly be watching.

There are reasons to be optimistic, not least the fact that it looks like we are passing the peak of new infections. As business owners, our responsibility is robust strategic planning, holding the vision and motivating the troops. We may not be able to take everyone with us on the next leg of the journey, but it doesn’t mean we need to be any less fair, considerate or kind as we do it.  

About the Author

Ally Maughan

Ally Maughan

Ally Maughan started People Puzzles in 2010 because early in her career she recognised that people problems were often the biggest, single factor holding a company back from growth.

Ten years later, and with her hand-picked team of over 50 experienced People Directors, Ally has personally worked with more than 100 SME and mid-tier companies and is now leading a scale-up business herself.

Results oriented, Ally delivers her own blend of business insight with direct, practical advice firmly based on commercial realities and outcomes. Her specialist knowledge includes people management, organisational structure and high performing teams.

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