Are you up to your chest in crocodiles?
by David Abbott
“When you're up to your chest in crocodiles, it's hard to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp” paraphrases one of those sayings that has been around for years. Amusing when you first hear it, its impact diminishes with the passage of time.
Nevertheless its essential message, that it’s difficult to maintain a focus on long term objectives in the midst of a crisis, remains as true today as when the phrase was first coined, with the current pandemic testing to the limit business leaders’ commitment to their strategies.
There has been no shortage of Covid-related crocodiles in recent months and many of our members have sought the advice and support of their TAB Boards when confronted with them. Here is just one example:
Richard is CEO and one of four shareholders in an online consumer products company for which the month leading up to Christmas generates around a third of annual turnover and half of its profits.
Throughout the Spring, he worked hard to create a Covid-secure working environment that incorporated 2m social distancing for all his staff. The effect of these measures was to significantly reduce the number of people who could work in the building at any one time, so he introduced a shift system which enabled him to battle through the summer and autumn without prejudicing either service levels or staff well-being. Whilst this was costly to maintain and profit levels suffered significantly, at least the business was able to continue to trade at normal levels.
However, the impending crucial peak period presented Richard with a major crocodile that he could not ignore, so he asked his TAB Board to help him choose between the following three options:
- Follow his normal practice of hiring a dozen or so temporary staff to cope with the increased demand whilst implementing a reduced “1 metre plus” social distancing regime.
- Maintain current staffing levels and protocols, accepting that some customers would be disappointed when their orders arrived too late for Christmas.
- Suppress demand for his products by reducing marketing and sales activity
He was under pressure from his fellow shareholders to choose either 1) or 2).
Richard’s dilemma was that 1) would prejudice the safety, welfare, and morale of his permanent staff by introducing strangers into the workplace. 2) would damage his brand’s hard-earned reputation for great customer service, and 3) would result in the company posting a loss for the first time in its 20-year history.
After 40 minutes of questioning and advice from his TAB Board, the way forward became clear to Richard. He chose to suppress demand and accept the consequent impact on financial performance.
Why did he decide to choose this path? Because he concluded:
- Loyal hard-working staff deserve their commitment to be reciprocated
- Brand reputation takes years to build, yet can be destroyed in days
- Well-motivated staff and a brilliant brand reputation are more important than one year’s financial performance and, to extend the analogy, are better indicators of future swamp draining success than a few dead crocodiles floating on the surface.
Whether or not you agree with his conclusion, it was the ability to be questioned, challenged, and advised by his fellow TAB Board members that enabled Richard to reach a decision with which he was happy.
Are you up to your chest in crocodiles? A TAB Board could help! Find your local business owner advisory board.
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