Covid-19 and Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket
I don’t know about anyone else, but when actively running a business, involved in the everyday detail, spending time with clients, staff, customers, suppliers, peers I used to do so with one eye looking over my proverbial shoulder at my “To Do List” (TDL). In my eyes a calculation was being made, “Is it getting longer, have I managed to take even one thing off the list today?” I used to calibrate its size by how long it would take me to cleanse it, 3 months I reckoned, but I don't bother doing that anymore. In part I jest for the value of theatre, but it is true than when I was a younger man, I attempted to complete my TDL, to focus on having nothing left on it, such was my desire to complete the first task on my TDL, “To complete my To Do List”. I never got close.
It’s only as I got older, took council and guidance from mentors that I realised that if you were running your business properly, there would never ever be a time when the TDL is empty, for that day arrives only when you run out or inspiration or ideas, or you are not busy enough spending your time in the right places with the right people. So it was that epiphanic moment that led to me to stop wrestling that giant 30ft anaconda accepting that I could never win, it was too big, and in fact winning wasn’t about defeating it, winning was about controlling it, controlling what when on, what came off, what I did myself, what I focussed on. Prioritisation and delegation in other words. With that realisation I became more comfortable in my skin, managed my stress levels more easily, become a more considerate leader, a more effective trainer and delegator. I realised I had to engineer the business to give me as much time to myself to choose where to spend the time adding value where it was needed. The key was to choose, not to be forced. I had to make myself operationally indispensable, train and empower my teams to make decisions with confidence, so I would start asking more questions rather than providing all the answers. In time, I would then have the option to start looking at some of the projects and business development plans I had for the business that sat on the TDL.
Now, Covid-19 is about to turn all that on its head with the PM announcing that we should all start working from home and practicing self-isolation. I don’t mean the good practice in term of snake wrestling and in structuring your business to allow you to breathe, I mean in terms of it providing a potentially one off Get out of Jail Freecard. Look at it as Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket, a once in a lifetime opportunity perhaps to get something done that will never be repeated. A chance to at least knock a big whole in your TDL or maybe even wipe what is on it now completely clean. (I caveat that as inevitably when you start tackling business development opportunities and get into what they used to call blue sky thinking you enthusiastically add a load more things to the list.) In essence, if we are to protect our elderly, we need to cancel all meetings, events, interviews, any face to face interactions with everyone unless considered vital and that means we all have a lot more time on our hands, stacks of it in fact.
Now that doesn’t mean you won't be busy, in fact you may well end up working more hours than you do now, as it will be a different kind of working for most, and many will find it refreshingly energising and motivating to be able to get stuck into things they have been putting off for months or never dreamed they would have the number of consecutive free days required to focus and deal with them.
So there is all the stuff on your TDL, you know what this is, but plan to engage with it constructively and don’t get carried away, you still have to make plans for the business to operate. What have to you done to make sure all home working can take place effectively and seamlessly for the staff and customers. IT and process will be at the heart of that. Do they have laptops that can get on the network? What about phones? If you have VOIP that will be much easier. Are there mitigating expenses? Do you have video conferencing? Do the offices close completely? How are keys to be collected? How is property management going to work?
A few basics of a long list depending on how your business is structured and what services you offer. Process, training, compliance, and communications all need consideration. A full SWOT of your business in context of COVID-19 self-isolation should have been done already, but if not it should be the first thing on your list as you prepare to start the change to home working and distance management of your teams and customers. A good starting point is just to consider everything that happens in your business from a customer walking into an office, to a completion taking place, to viewings, to contractors, to travelling etc etc and think, how might that be different soon?
I digress. So, let’s assume all of the above is done, the business is now successfully detached from its former existence and ready for the weeks and months ahead to operate safely and efficiently. Where to start on the TDL? What should other people focus on, on their TDL that could be important to the business?
Well it is a good opportunity for nearly everyone in the same boat to make an unprecedented number of phone calls and reach out to groups of people you have never had time to do. Remember, most people will be at home like you, and whilst many will also be making the most of the their Golden Ticket, they will still be more likely to be able to take your call now than when the world returns to normal. Your teams to call the entire database is an obvious one, ready with a list of keys cross pollinating questions to ask, like asking buyers if they are a landlord, or tenants if they have a mortgage they are looking to remortgage, always mindful that your clients and customers always have more than one hat on.
What about what I call the Alumni? That to me was everyone I ever interviewed that I still wanted to employ, anyone that had left the business likewise. What about suppliers, not just to the business, but lettings contractors? Build some familiarity, ask some questions about forthcoming changes, or suggestions they may have for you. What about new suppliers or products to explore? What about business contacts you wanted to say hello to ready to tee up a face to face meet when you are back to the office? What about every member of staff a 15-minute call to review their progress and experience in the business? There will be others.
After that, you no doubt will be able to review things that are normally managed by others, from your website which could do with some fresh content in conjunction with looking at Google analytics, re writing some process manuals, doing some preparation for the ARLA audit, reviewing your social media output, your marketing, your competition, your terms and conditions. Your list will be driven by your ongoing SWOT of the business that should then drive your TDL and be reviewed in conjunction with. What are your businesses strengths? Let’s make those better and stronger, promote them more. What are your weaknesses? Let’s try and find some solutions to improve these. What are the opportunities out there? Let’s try and exploit these. What are the threats out there? Let’s try and defend against these. Everything will fall into one of these categories.
Don't forget that this pandemic could actually provide opportunities for the business to help as well. Do you have any elderly clients, sellers, tenants who are most exposed to the virus? Do they have family locally to help? Could the business assist them in anyway? What about self-managing landlords? Are they comfortable still doing it themselves, do they know what to do to remain compliant when their tenant is in isolation? Some open questions will quickly get to the bottom of whether you can help and ultimately you could be later rewarded with the management full time.
So, no one would have wanted COVID-19 to happen for obvious reasons, but we can only shout NEXT to ourselves to get in the right mindset. Next is about focussing on what we can influence and that is not the past, only the seconds, minutes, hours, days and weeks ahead. True some of that may be influenced by the past, but what is in the past has happened, you can only focus on making the most of the future.
Many people will use this time to catch up on personal TDLs which of course is maybe a good thing to do as well, horses for courses, but whatever you do have a structured plan, don’t just spend your time staring at Twitter and the FT looking for the next headline, or staring at KPI showing that yes not many of much is going on. Make the most of Willy Wonka’s ticket and have a plan to go back into your business whenever that comes in better shape than you have ever been.