AU Business Sentiment: Early months into the pandemic

Today marks 7 weeks since returning early from an overseas trip, entering self-isolation, and commencing the WFH journey. I’ve spent the bulk of this week speaking to clients about the issues they face, the impacts they are going through, and what is on their hearts and minds at this current moment in time.

Upon reflection I thought it may be helpful to others (particularly consultants, agencies, and suppliers) to piece together some of my key takeaways on what is happening among my (yes, limited) client base and broader industry connections.

As a researcher, I may go so far as to call these ‘anecdotal’, but I believe the pace of change is happening so quickly that to verify these insights through scientific enquiry may deem them irrelevant. (Who hasn’t read a publication or research insight in the past 6 weeks that seemed out of date simply because fieldwork took place a week or two prior to publication?)

Realities impacting business leaders:

1. Future ‘time anchor’ is gone

Leaders are struggling to find comparative point in history on which to anchor their thinking and provide future business direction. With the future hazy, it’s a day by day affair.

2. People are working longer and harder

Covid-19 has brought with it an immense additional workload for most businesses. Even businesses thriving during this time (i.e. due to the way home and work life have so markedly shifted these past two months) are struggling to keep up with consumer demand. Every business and organisation has in some way needed to pivot, which has added to the workload.

3. Creativity is under attack (i.e. people are now tired)

For some households, it’s been over two months of juggling children at home while balancing the workload. Others have found their groove but are increasingly itching to return to some sense of ‘normality’. Employers must be aware that the combined forces of a)the juggle and b)greater workloads and c)uncertainty can become grave barriers to creative thinking (which his immensely needed during times of crisis!)

4. Information is at a near saturation point

People have had an influx of webinars, thought leadership, and data made freely available to help their businesses during this time. There has never been more information directed at employer, and employees across every level of the organisation. Leaders are doing their best to share relevant information in a way that is helpful to the business. They are using immense critical thinking skills to dissect, analyse, and disseminate the most pertinent information to their teams.

5. Reporting is happening with more frequency

Executive teams are asking for more, not less, from their managers. They are seeking timely intel in a time of uncertainty, again adding pressure for leaders to weed through a significant amount of information and communicate often.

6. Budgets have been slashed and projects put on hold

Even businesses with a stable cash flow have shifted budgets previously allocated to marketing and innovation (like campaigns and product development) into the next financial year to create a buffer for the economic impacts ahead. Cautionary business spending is on the cards for at least another few months, and where budget is available, it is likely to be very lean.

Despite these realities, we're seeing a culture shift

1. We are seeing more ‘human’ in business

The lack of future ‘time anchor’ for business leaders has some positive impacts: We are being forced to lead with greater authenticity and humility. Shared internal collaboration is thriving and hierarchical leadership structures are now long dated. A good thing, I say.

2. Empathy is growing

One of my key goals as a parent is to teach my 20-month-old son to think about others – a task that seems insurmountable at times! I’m pleased to see a growth in empathy across and between business leaders at this time. We’re learning to listen and to feel. We’re learning how fragile and vulnerable we are, and how little control we really have. Humility is birthing a shared empathy.

3. Many are focused on the silver lining

There is an immense amount of resilience in our communities, a call to hold on to hope, and a togetherness. Good things can come out of crisis. We are getting to know those we live with on a whole new level, meeting neighbours for the first time, enjoying a deepened focus on home life*, and taking inventory of emotions we were too busy to feel before.

*I’m aware that many in desperate situations are not privileged in this way. My heart goes out to those impacted by loneliness, mental health, and domestic and family violence at this time.

Key takeaways for other consultants, agencies, and suppliers to larger businesses

I know that for many consultants and agencies, things are leaner than normal. Can I encourage you (as much as I am encouraging myself) during this time:

1. Be patient

In your client relationships, focus on the long-term. When the economy begins to recover (even if this takes a considerable amount of time), those relationships will still be there (if they are fostered).

2. Be human

The B2C and B2B environments have been moving towards a H2H (Human to Human) context for a few years now. This is being accelerated thanks to Covid-19. What does this mean for consultants, agencies, and suppliers? Be real, authentic, relatable, and understanding.

3. Be gracious

Clients have demands placed on them from many business stakeholders at this time. Thank them for taking the time.

4. Be innovative

Clients are not closed to forging new business relationships if what you have adds value. This is a brilliant time for businesses to consider new ways of doing things. Focus on services/products that lead to efficiency gains, reduce operating costs, increase stakeholder engagement, and create organisational confidence.

5. Be flexible

Clients may have a fraction of the budget they had before. Adapt your work to work with what is on offer, when necessary, during this time.

6. Be kind (to yourself, too, please)!

Take a deep breath and acknowledge that this is not an easy time. Everyone is feeling the same pressure. Be kind to those you work with, those you live with, and most importantly, to yourself. For me – this has meant making a list of the things that fill my tank, locking them into my diary, and then actually doing them – on a daily basis.

Who did I speak to?

Since founding The Curious Co two years ago I’ve had the privilege of working with diverse teams and leaders across our nation. I offer services including strategy facilitation, trend presentations, innovation workshops, and research. Clients I’ve engaged with span across professional services to membership associations, digital agencies to local government entities, and disability providers to the not-for-profit sector.

A note of thanks

A huge ‘thank you’ for those who have taken the time to connect with me this week – I so appreciate your time in this busy season.

Your response

Thoughts? Responses? I’d love to hear how your own experience lines up with the ideas above.

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