Don’t Allow Panic or Pessimism

Aficionados of British comedy might remember the TV series, Dad’s Army, which had a long running success portraying the antics of part time soldiers in World War 2 made up of volunteers largely too old for military service.

One of the key protagonists, Corporal Jones, when confronted by any urgent danger, was to stamp round the room shouting “Don’t Panic” at the top of his voice, effectively creating panic. Another character, for record Private Fraser, would give his analysis of any tricky situation as “We’re doomed”.

We need to eliminate the Jones and the Frasers from our thinking as we tackle the moving target of the COVID-19 threat. What we need is calm and considered management and planning to tackle this crisis.

Don’t believe we can sit tight, and this will blow over

Mauritius has just seen the first signs of impact – and we have seen already a devaluation of the Rupee, but this is the beginning of the storm. The outlook for the Hospitality sector, a big employer and motor of the Mauritian economy is bleak with most operators believing they will have zero new arrivals for the next 9 months. The financial services sector, given the meltdown in world markets, is headed for a long recession. The textile outlook, with the retail trade in lockdown across most of the World, is more than bleak – it will spell disaster and ruin for many operators. The Mauritian economy is going to be massively impacted

Inertia, or being the “Rabbit frozen in the headlines” is the worst strategy. Even whilst there is massive uncertainty as to how and when COVID-19 will hit Mauritius, we need to act and to plan how we manage our companies and organizations in the short term. Business as usual just does not exist!

Don’t be too Democratic in Decision-Making

Whilst it’s great to have management buy-in and consensus, crisis calls for clear leadership and direction, and decision-making. Now is when everybody is looking to the top management to lead, to decide on how the company will survive, to take the necessary, and often unpalatable decisions, and to do so quickly and clearly, You need to develop a map, and to make sure everyone has confidence in following your lead.

Don’t wait for a problem to become a crisis

The strongest companies tend to be those which adapt and change with agility, and plan ahead. Some elements of the likely operating environment can be anticipated – lower consumer demand, raw materials shortages, workforce absenteeism, high impact of sickness. In these circumstances a scale back of activities, be it in customer service, portfolio depth, and manufacturing may need to be planned and acted upon. For many companies making payroll is going to be an issue – reducing establishment before cash becomes an issue would certainly be a smart strategy.

Don’t believe Cashflow won’t be an Issue

Most businesses have substantial Debtors – getting that money back into the cashflow of the business is likely to be even more challenging as the crisis hits. We need to chase our cash now – and before the Rupee devalues anymore. Shrewd practice would be to chase cash now and look at reducing credit exposure and selling off any non-core assets as soon as possible. Put into place a “grab cash” strategy fast! Early payment discounts might have an impact on profitability, but the key is to have liquidity.

Another measure which can be taken quickly to enhance cashflow is to stop all expenditure on Advertising and Publicity – in the current situation it is highly unlikely that there is any reach or impact on target audiences for such communication

Don’t take new unnecessary initiatives

Development projects, IT projects, buying new assets, building new premises should all stop, as should all hiring and restructuring – management focus needs to be upon core company activities and not on “nice to have” initiatives. Putting all development on ice reduces cash risk too!

Don’t hide from Stakeholders

The operating environment is going to be tough for all companies and enterprises but reducing communication with stakeholders – suppliers, banks, customers, consumers – will heighten uncertainty in uncertain times. I believe a structured organized communication plan is important in times of crisis, with clean and consistent messaging, using agreed spokespersons and of course digital media. Stakeholders are by definition important to us – proper communication, even to the extent of over communication, makes sense in times of turbulence, but dialogue and response to questions and queries is as important as sending out messages.

Don’t Neglect Internal Communications

The impact of COVID-19 today is already a double whammy. Risk and uncertainty about family and individual health, risk which will run over a considerable number of months at least, is enormously stressful and unsetting. Added to that is the clear risk for corporate survival and hence job security, which is a second driver of anxiety.

In these circumstances a clear and defined routine on internal communications – ideally from the C.E.O – can keep all the personnel in touch with company position, intentions and strategy. Straight communication, even if not pleasant in content, is far preferable to speculation and rumor and additional anxiety.

Sadly the arrival of COVID-19 has already impacted upon Mauritius and in all likelihood that impact will worsen in the next few months. My hope is that we react quickly and rationally to adapt our organizations, and that our families, friends and colleagues come through this crisis with the minimum of collateral damage. 

Best wishes to you all.

Richard Wooding

Richard Wooding

Director - Matrix 8 Services

Chief Executive with a proven track record of successful business development and leading turnarounds. Skilled at driving profit growth and market penetration in 3rd world markets, and managing significant strategic change and restructuring, in both multinationals and privately owned businesses. Over 25 years’ experience at CEO level in FMCG and other industries. Has lived and operated in 15 different countries in Africa and Asia. MBA from Cranfield (UK). Cosmopolitan, culturally astute, high energy and leads from the front.

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