One of the reasons I’ve always hated the comparison between business and sport is that whilst one has a very clear beginning and end, whether that is the geographical distance of a race, the length of a season, or the number of points that need to be achieved – the other is entirely open ended. There is no finish line, no final whistle, no countdown clock – we go and we go again.
Which is why I’m starting to feel slightly uneasy about the last twelve months of self congratulatory indulgence about how well organisations have navigated the pandemic. Because, I fear what is to come is going to be way harder for most leadership teams and that in a few years we’ll look back at the pandemic as a walk in the park. Don’t get me wrong, I”m not smug – in fact I sincerely hope I’m wrong. But the economic clouds that are gathering, suggest I might not be.
I was speaking at a CIPD conference a few months ago and in amongst the inevitable discussions about hybrid working, the great resignation and the new found freedoms that “every” employee has. I talked about spiralling costs, industrial unrest and the prospect of business collapse and significant redundancies. But this time, with no furlough, no Government support and no immediate economic bounce back. Suffice to say that I was as popular as being sat next to “that uncle” at the Christmas table. In fact, it reminded me of a session in London in 2015 that I wrote about here. I’m at risk of never being invited again and that would be entirely fair.
Talking with my son yesterday, who is in his early twenties, I was explaining the housing repossessions of the 90s and how for many in their thirties and early forties this would be a completely new experience to them. The combination of cost inflation, not being matched by wage inflation and increasing rises in interest rates is a heady mix of trouble for every single customer, employee and of course for the majority of organisations too. At a team meeting last week, someone made the point that jobs and recruitment were regularly in the news these days and even on the news at ten. I’m sure I’m not the only person that is old enough to remember the charts every evening of the number of job losses that were announced that day.
We live in a truly global economy and whilst there are certain things that we can organisationally do to influence the macro economic environment, I don’t intend to go into those right now for the fear of being even more unpopular, the reality is the most important thing we can do is to think ahead and plan for our own businesses and organisations. I don’t foresee any circumstance where we will be able to totally avoid the pain, but we might be able to reduce it – making decisions now that make things better for our employees in the future.
You think the pandemic was hard? Just wait and see what comes next.