Uncertain may be the mildest and least offensive characterization of 2020 entrepreneurs are willing to accept. A rollercoaster, gong show or a dumpster fire might even be too polite in your opinion. For some it has been an unmitigated disaster for others opportune disruption but for everyone it has been tumultuous.
Uncertainty has presented itself at every angle with very few passages to steadying the ship. COVID-19 has challenged every start-up owner in uncomfortable ways and given rise to consistent new challenges.
Finances have been stretched; government regulations change daily and maintaining the work place for safe interactions between staff and customers give a full bodied experience of our ambiguity. The ugly business acronym, VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) has never been more appropriate.
Accepting & Acknowledging Sources of Uncertainty
COVID-19 – We will Never Forget It
From an entrepreneurial viewpoint, COVID-19 brought the house down. The word pivot has enjoyed its most popular year as every start-up was forced to reassess. From shut down to designations of essential business, we are forced into upheaval on a biweekly schedule.
COVID-19 has claimed innumerable businesses despite wage subsidies and other helpful provisions and it shows little regard for future operations.
Even with surviving businesses, the pandemic has caused internal struggles especially when it comes to staffing. The sheer prevalence of COVID-19 has treated our 6 degrees of separation like its play toy.
If nothing else, it has laid the foundation for a mass migration to remote offices and the abilities of teams to adapt. Collaboration and honest togetherness has been a reward for some business and introspection and appreciation the reward personally.
Financial Instability as a Constant
It yields little comfort to know almost every business across the globe is dealing with the same obstacles. Even those traditionally regarded as monetarily sound enterprises have been cast into the shadows with no allegiances to their historical fortitude.
Business has been flipped on its head and for a while you couldn’t even get into a bank to have a discussion. Income streams have been stop – start for most at best with those who offer products or services suitable to delivery making some headway. However, those are few and far between.
A vast reduction of in person exchanges put a firm roadblock in the way of many forced to shutter. Sporadic openings and regulatory reshuffles have meant that doors can open momentarily before we all retreat back into fiscal slumber.
Like squirrels that have come to the last of their post-hibernating nuts, financial reserves are beginning to wear thin and the road ahead may not look too promising.
Any business owner responsible for a team of employees in the past year has faced into exceptionally harsh decisions. Out of sheer loyalty and earnestness, you have likely done everything you can to retain your people and their incomes. Drastic impacts to revenue make this a struggle as the fiscal challenge renders your decision a loss leader.
The personal allegiance to the team who have toiled and struggled with you underscores your decision making while the wiser financial move might have been to make everyone redundant. Glimmers of hope for reopenings mean you will need to have people in place ready to restart the fire but maintaining employment is watering the embers.
In truth, it is an extremely difficult decision but ultimately business survival is your responsibility. Giving people buoyancy is honorable but if the ship is sinking anyway, it won’t matter in the long run. That is not to say axe everyone but the long term opportunity to re-employ teams might be the strategy to secure both yours and theirs livelihoods.
Regulatory Remedies are Rare
Delivery efforts, essential business and more are thriving to an extent but the changing state of play provincially, nationally or city-wide have wreaked havoc on consistency.
Two competing factors are generating the majority of entrepreneur’s anxiety – regulations and supports. The strategic opening and closing of economic activity causes a merry go-round for staffing, stocking and just about every other resource a business is expected to have.
With an inquisitive mind, one can try to work out when businesses can open based on the past. We were given Thanksgiving and Halloween which brought a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases. Then we were hit with an extended shutdown. The hope is we can get things right for Christmas to allow people be with their families. Undoubtedly a hive of economic activity and Christmas celebration will cause further increases meaning January will see a shutdown.
With any luck the peculiar algorithm we seem to be operating under will feed businesses just enough until a vaccine can be distributed.
Methods of Managing
Financial Capital Fixes
Look, let’s not kid each other and say prosperity is a certainty but if there can be hope, there should be.
An economic rebound is favourable for every country. Period. The recessionary expectation may actually favor some businesses even if that sounds completely ridiculous. After the global downturn of 2008, we learned an awful lot about how to dig up.
Recessions develop a microclimate of entrepreneurship. Governments and incubators have learned that more people out of work tend to turn their hands to self-employment for income. This has brought about the increased availability of seed and growth capital.
For anything to grow it needs a fuel source including currently operating businesses. On a microeconomic scale, it is far more advantageous to financially support a company employing people than allowing it to collapse and pay out social allowances later. It is known as the multiplier effect.
Effectively, if I pay extra now, it means I won’t be hit with a huge bill later. The willingness of governments and local populations to help businesses survive is cause for hope.
Leading Your Team
Team leadership in the middle of a worldwide pandemic is hardly a favorable job but there are some tools to employ to make things easier.
Emitting confidence amid certainty helps to motivate those around you. Of course you are all reading the same news sources and you are not ‘faking it till you make it’. Having a confidence that you and your team will be able to ride this out is what is called for.
Ultimately in times of VUCA, employees need honesty. If the road ahead is rocky, communicating that in the right way early is key. Try to avoid the wailing theatrics of the movies but deliver the message with clarity and transparency. This reassures your team that you won’t hide anything from them and that you have them in mind with every change.
Maintaining the team’s focus is the most crucial attribute of successful survival. Employees are more productive, better at problem solving and more successful when they are fully engaged. Bring the team together as a collective unit, share problems, ask for feedback and opinions and connect your people where possible.
Creating a sense of purpose and collective ownership of success imbues a sense of individual responsibility within each team member. By doing this you get the absolute best out of your employees and give yourself the best chance at surviving.
The current environment is fraught with anxieties from many different angles and it is a truly unimaginable time to be a business owner. Fortunately as an entrepreneur, you have faced a version of these conditions multiple times over. This is not new. If you started a company, you launched into uncertainty with a passionate hope and desire to be successful. Now is no different.
Your experience and determination carried you through the most challenging time of your business which was starting. Every step now is just an intensified iteration of challenges you have already succeeded through. In that stead, pivot, change, innovate, get help and inspire where you need to. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good when it comes to trying the new. Above all, remember that the day is darkest just before the dawn.