Question :
I am a business owner, and I feel like I am continually fighting fires dealing with different issues that have come up from being locked-out, to working virtually, do wage subsidy applications, to bank negotiations and landlord negotiations – my worry is the time that I am not thinking about the ‘big picture’ – what can you give me as a owner around what and how I should be approaching this time? 

Question submitted 03/04/20 @ 01:03pm
Industry: Governance
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    It’s really hard, especially when others are bored, wondering what to watch next on Netflix. So many of us are feeling exhausted from ‘fire-fighting’ just to keep our businesses, and those we work with, alive. Key for me is trying to prioritise – and to put yourself at the top of your priority list. If you don’t keep yourself mentally and physically well, you won’t be much use to your business.
    Yes, it would be nice to have time to reflect, and to look at the big picture and ‘life after lockdown’, but honestly, I think your number one task right now, from a business perspective is just to stay standing, no matter how wobbly.
    Keep true to your values, do the best you can for your people (even if you can’t save them all, do what’s possible and what’s right) and most importantly, don’t beat yourself up about the things you are not able to do, or don’t feel you’ve done well.
    Be kind applies as much to yourself as to others. Finally, find someone you can talk to, really talk to, someone who will listen, someone you feel it’s okay to cry with – and try to be calm. Calm is contagious. Stay safe.


    It’s a good question, but my first response is that the “big picture” for today – and the next two or more months – is your business’ survival. Many of the tasks you mention (wage subsidy applications, bank negotiations, landlord negotiations) are about keeping your doors open.
    Keeping as many of your key team members on-board as you can will help you spring back when we return to normal. Can the bank be an ally rather than an adversary? Are your premises necessary to your operations, and if so, how do you make the landlord an ally? Remember, they’re also facing these issues in their business, so you actually have common objectives.
    It’s also vital to look after your customers and suppliers as much as possible. All successful businesses are built on relationships, not transactions, so nurture your key partners.


    Love the advice from Debra and Scott. Here’s some additional tips I got from a fellow director who recently shared the governance approach he is taking with his portfolio companies:

    Start with Winston Churchill (he’s always good for a quote) “Never let a good crisis go to waste” 

    And that’s where I start.  The approach we are taking is to ask the following questions: 
    1. What will be the shape of our business in future
    2. What are the core assets (people and hard assets) we need to have, in that future model
    3. How do we protect those assets in the transition, and how do we eliminate the non essential assets as quickly as possible
    4. How do we ensure that any decisions we make now are consistent with the model we believe we will have in the future
    5. And be prepared to change our mind (almost daily!) about what that future model looks like.
    6. How do we, in an equitable way, spread the pain 

    The whole basis of this approach is to survive so we can then thrive.  There are some fundamental questions about what society will look like in future. The whole dynamic of society may change –  the big question is, how will it change? This unfortunately is the big unknown.

    How can I reshape my business to a future proof model, when I don’t know how society will, over the medium term, react to what is happening right now.  Will we go back to what we did before, or will society have fundamentally different principles by which it operates? 

    There will be a lot of SME’s who will fail. Others will thrive. As Darwin once said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

    So, keep doing what you are doing and focusing on the important and immediate things that need to be managed including relationships of staff, customers and other stakeholders. Look after yourself AND, when you get a moment to reflect, consider the questions offered above. Where possible, include others in the exploration of these questions (your advisors, directors and staff).


    Hi there – you’ve got some great advice so far. To build on Deb’s answer above, when thinking about the future, I would also recommend you put some thinking time to getting clear on where is the market opportunity is. Any thinking about your business model, the assets you want to protect, the decisions you make, needs to be IN RESPONSE to understanding what VALUE you bring to the table for your future customers. This is the premise of a Design Thinking approach. Which means:
    1. What’s the market need you’re going for? what’s the market problem you’re seeking to solve?
    2. Who are the types of people in this market that have these needs? How are they hardwired? What are their needs?
    3. What value could you offer them – in product / service / experience – that meets their needs?

    Once you’ve got this clear, you’re better placed to review your assets and see where potential matches might be to create something that is Desirable to them and Differentiated from others. And then after this, you can think about how you could monetise that (business financial model) and then lastly how you operationalise that (operating model).

    Key to any kind of strategic review is Insight. Given we’re in a huge state of flux right now, with so many moving parts and structural changes, I’d recommend you find some time to be still and LISTEN. Ask questions. Read. Reflect. I find doing it first thing in the morning the best time before the day hits, but whatever works for you.
    Go well

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