Mark Davies is managing director of Link Mortgage Services
For the last 12 months, businesses have been in the throes of crisis management, trying to stabilise their operations, protect their workforce and communicate and transact with customers. But the phrase ‘crisis management’ implies a return to normal within weeks.
The reality is businesses need to plan for a different future that accounts for the impact of the virus today and the resulting business and societal changes it will have brought in the months to come.
Amidst the bravery, courage and imagination, we have also seen less noble reactions to the pandemic in the shape of reduced mandates, greater centralisation, expediency and fear driving widespread business behavioural – not to mention consumer – change. Our relationships with each other, our paymasters and the state are evolving.
All this is happening against a backdrop of changing expectations. While we have had nearly a year of this, many businesses have not moved beyond coping and hoping that things will return to how they once were.
Strategies for the longer term are mostly predicated on perceived wisdoms and accepted ‘group think’ that was commonplace before the pandemic. But while we have been dealing with the task at hand, life has gone on. Our population has changed as has our workforce and with it too our collective attitudes and expectations.
I cannot be the only person who has picked up on the fact that the slack cut to companies by consumers dealing with the results of the pandemic is waning. People have moved from their initial willingness to forgive poor service.
Now, nearly a full twelve months later into the crisis, they are saying,’ you’ve had a year to deal with this.’ Certain issues remain very difficult, like training new starters, in a remote environment where learning on the job from colleagues is impossible and auditing is much harder.
In the rush to cope, organisations have lost sight of investing in their workforce – bringing on new people, training them, and helping employees get back to peak productivity.
Consumers’ expectations are shifting and organisations will have to take a long hard look at themselves and how they interact with the world around them. Above any day-to-day service issues, we know the new generation of managers will not carry on as their predecessors have done in the past.
There is a broader acceptance of environmental and societal concerns that make the annual demands of shareholders look short-term. Our collective problems are bigger than that.
Investment in people, the environment, and broader society means organisations require a purpose that goes beyond making money for shareholders.
Profit is not bad but companies need to deliver ‘profit plus’. The investors and pension funds recognise this and are not immune to the intergenerational shift of power and wealth from baby boomers to millennials.
Sustainability, in all its forms, is becoming an important part of why a business exists – it is no longer the cost of doing business – and this puts a sharper focus on the longer-term.
The level of scrutiny that is accompanying ESG means window dressing is no longer going to be enough if we want our businesses to truly be ‘long-term’ themselves. The expectations of consumers are growing and it is up to us to exceed them.