In the wake of the storm; settling into the new normal

3rd August, 2020

Mercia‘s Head of Portfolio Resources, Lisa Ward writes how businesses have been affected in many different ways due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and why a shift in mentality is on the horizon.

As we anticipate the passing of the hurricane that is COVID-19, many businesses will be left to deal with the wake of issues that it has uncovered. No one has been immune to this pandemic and it will have undoubtedly affected every business in some way, often for the long term.

I’ve spoken with many members of our Non-Executive network in last 19 weeks of lockdown and perhaps unsurprisingly, there have been common themes in those conversations.

The evolution of Governance and debate about what arising conversations matter is just one example. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter have been a timely reminder for Boards to re-evaluate what measures, including ESG, they use to gauge success more broadly. Whilst the board agenda might not fundamentally change, there might now be new agenda items or a shift in emphasis of existing ones.

Secondly, it goes without saying that the economic environment in recent weeks has been the toughest for many years. Portfolio management teams have shown real resilience in what will possibly be one of the most trying times of their executive careers. Their dedication to the business, employees and shareholders has been thoroughly tested. As we begin to unwind, there are many things your board will be considering, but I’d like to highlight two for consideration:

  1. We can easily forget the reality of the immediate past. Partly, this is a protection instinct. Now is the time to reflect in order to ensure we learn from recent events. There’s a wealth of research that shows that our memory isn’t as consistent as we’d like to believe. What’s worse, we’re often guilty of changing the facts and adding false details to our memories without even realising. Instead, we should encourage taking stock and reflect upon how we dealt with these extraordinary circumstances. What worked well? What could we have done better? What can we learn from this unprecedented and challenging experience?

2. With remote working, we have literally had a ‘zoom’ window into the home lives of our colleagues and employees. Many of us, myself included, have had the impossible task of juggling home schooling, work, home life and health. No one is immune from burnout. Arianna Huffington (author and founder of the Huffington Post) has recently written about her own experiences and said it best in her concluding weekly remarks on Thrive Global, May 30th:

“Now, with burnout in the spotlight, companies have a fresh opportunity to step up, for the sake of their people and for the health of the bottom line. Focusing on people’s actual experience at work is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have for anyone who wants to succeed in the long run”.

Weathering a storm is part of life and can be stressful for individuals and businesses alike. However, no matter how dark the skies become they will pass and the blue sky beyond, which never leaves, will be seen once more. With effort and discipline, we can search for the positives within the negatives and use these to become better boards, companies and people.

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