Making the shift from survive to thrive

| April 6, 2020

When do we shift our attitudes and behaviours from survive to thrive? When are the plans suitably in place to make sure everyone is safe and well, so that we can redirect our resources to thinking about the future?

These considerations surround us: at an individual level – thinking about myself, my family and friends; at a business level – thinking about employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders; and at a government level – thinking about communities, the environment and the economy. So when is the right time to move?

As a brand-driven business consultant, I walk the fine line between being optimistic whilst being realistic, and future focussed whilst making sure we’re delivering now. It’s top of my mind to not jump the gate too early. Too early shows insensitivity, lack of empathy and understanding of people and business. But too late loses gains and slows recovery.

February and March are usually the months when businesses are planning for the next financial year, which includes reviewing strategies against performance, revising strategies, planning activities and budgets for the following year and revisiting longer term 3-5 year plans.

The government has already delayed delivering the budget from October, and some businesses have followed suit. Planning for the future, understandably, has not been top of mind.

However moving quickly through the stages seems to be in our blood. We have, in a matter of a couple of weeks, already seen a shift with businesses moving from what we’re doing in response to COVID-19 – predominantly crisis communications delivered via email from the CEO regarding open for business or closing doors, how the business is following and helping customers to follow personal hygiene and physical distance guidelines – to “we’re in this together” – providing ways to support and encourage people to stay at home at a brand level, offering jobs to those who have lost them at a corporate level.

Whilst we don’t know when the lockdown will be enforced in full, when it will be lifted, when the majority of people and businesses will be “back to normal” and what the “new normal” even looks like, have we yet reached a position where we can, respectfully, be looking to the future?

I am reminded by the GFC. I was working in London at the time and distinctly remember the imagery of workers with their boxes of personal belongings in their arms on the greyest of grey London winter days. Those times were tough. My key client had to refocus on core business so I was shifted to new business – doing new business for the first time in my life ever during a recession. I can only laugh about it now. Needless to say, after about six months, my role was made redundant. I can’t say I didn’t try. I pounded the pavements until  had a hole in my boots, quite literally. But I do recall one article from that time. I went looking for it last week and found it, and it has as much relevance today as it did then.

It’s by the formidable CMO, then Global Innovations Director, of Diageo, Syl Saller, as published in Just Drinks in April 2009. This is her abridged response to the question “Has innovation slowed down because of the downturn?”.

We’ve accelerated our innovation programmes since the start of the downturn. The recession requires companies to do extraordinary things – we’re all looking for any growth lever possible.

We have switched our focus (from luxury) to our premium, core part of the range.

Then we did a little bit of work on our value brands. It’s not the segment we want to grow, but if consumers are going to trade down, we’ll be ready for them.

We’re also focused on the trend towards at-home consumption.

Finally we’re not taking our eye of the long-term ball. We will come out of this, and I don’t want to be the innovation director looking at an empty pipeline when we do.

What this highlights is the importance of simultaneous short and longer term planning.

We need to look across the entire portfolio or whole of business capabilities to address changing consumption behaviour, identifying growth levers in the short and medium term.

And for the longer term, we need to think about what the new normal looks like and how we create long-term value for all stakeholders.  Purpose-led businesses, brands and leaders are conscious about creating long-term value for all stakeholders – employees and customers, suppliers and shareholders, communities and environment. How do we positively impact the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit – for the longer term?

For those of us who can push forward now, I sense it is our jobs to do so, for everyone else’s benefit. It is our jobs to remain optimistic in its true definition “hopeful and confident about the future”. And it is our jobs to start thinking about what the new normal might look like, what the problems are that we can solve, and how we can make people’s lives better. Ultimately, we need to work together to drive helping people – our friends and families, our customers and employees, suppliers and shareholders, communities – and planet, brands and businesses make the shift from survive to thrive.