It has been some time since my previous blog, four and a half months to be precise. Since then, a lot has changed for me on a personal level. As many will proclaim, and I can testify, becoming a father has had a profound effect on my views, behaviours, and outlook. I like to think that I’m increasingly more patient, tolerant, understanding, and flexible than I was before. Whether this is parenthood or a result of the pandemic, or a combination of the above, is something that I am yet to decide.
One message that I have been trying to share is that it has been a challenging time for everyone. No one person’s problem is any more or less difficult than another person’s. They are just different. In understanding this, it is vital to operate with care, applying empathy and consideration, and to help others to create a positive vision for the future. In business, a saying that we repeat often is ‘what does success look like?’. Taking the time to consider this from a personal standpoint can be enlightening.
Balance, moderation and give-and-take
As the government straddles the fine line between encouraging people to stay safe, yet to ‘get out and spend more’, and with the “eat out to help out” offer feeling like it is long gone, we as businesses, must ensure that service is to the highest of standards. By this, I mean that we as service providers need to provide exceptional service, not just good service. In doing so, we give people a reason to continue to spend their hard-earned money. 99% of businesses in this country are service businesses, so we all need to be placing Customer Service right at the forefront of the business.
Increasingly, I have experienced an increased degree of poor customer service, in shops, in cafes, and even on customer service phone calls. Some might say that is a result of a lack of training, however, I am more inclined to say that it’s a combination of factors. The customer wants the same experience as before (although people are adapting to change in many cases), whereas the service provider needs to provide a variation of the service, different from what came before. These two sides both need to adapt if they are to get the desired outcome. With this said, the customer has the choice to go elsewhere, so it is really the business that needs to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of the customer. Leaders always need to lead by example and those that do will clearly survive this, but it is also the employee, whether this is the Customer Service Assistant or the Barista, that needs to personally take responsibility for making someone’s day extra special and in doing so, understand the profoundly positive impact that this can have.
In closing this section, I will say that it is our collective flexibility to adapt the delivery of services (and in particular the customer service aspect) that has allowed us to continue to perform well during this year.
A change will do you good
Following several months of lockdown, my wife and I (along with our baby) have taken a few opportunities to try to get out of London. On our doorstep, we don’t have many options to see green fields and trees quite as much as we would like, however, when we have, the impact has been extremely positive. This has led us to look at different activities to those we have done before. Instead of eating in the same restaurants, we’ve taken to going for a walk to a coffee shop. Rather than going to the gym, we have been trying to do home workouts instead.
One reason for this is because it just isn’t ‘the same’ as it was before, which can be disheartening. Rather than trying to relive old memories in a less than satisfactory way, this has encouraged us to try different places, activities, and approaches. In doing so, we are creating new memories, rather than living the old ones. My advice to anyone currently feeling negative about the current economic situation (or any aspect that goes with it) is to try something new, rather than reliving the old and see how much of a game-changer it can be for you.
We aren’t alone in our approach. Just this morning I was speaking to a contact in New Zealand who told me that he has been spending a considerable amount of time skiing. On the call, he explained that the ski resorts anticipated that they would need to close. Several months later and they have done better than ever before. This is simply because they adapted. Granted, rather than travelling abroad, or simply further afield, residents looked on their doorstep for an outdoor activity that allowed for social distancing and skiing fit the bill. That said, the ski facility still had to be proactive. They adapted by offering ‘free lessons’ and BBQs to get people on to the slopes and to increase the public awareness that skiing was an option. These people changed their activities of choice and not only are they enjoying it more than before because it’s different from their previous interests (and safe to do so), but this business is thriving too.
Short-term solutions to Long-term problems
Public spending increases are not necessarily the solution. In fact, encouraging in increased consumerism can likely create increased debt for those who aren’t necessarily well educated when it comes money management. Money being the number one cause of stress, and with an already high stress-level due to unemployment amongst other aspects, increases in public spending will lead to a negative impact, rather than a positive one.
As with the above, the solution is not to increase Tax. This will simply reduce the possibilities for businesses. The solution is to decrease tax, opening up the opportunities for smaller businesses to trade in markets with smaller margins.
Recently, the government put in place a ‘digital tax’ for large businesses that operate digitally within the UK. For those of you who don’t know, Google and Facebook simply added it to their advertising fees passing it straight on to the businesses. Well done government! That’s 2% less for the SMEs and zero difference to the big players.
I’m not suggesting that the ‘digital tax’ isn’t a good thing, in fact, quite the opposite, but the Government should have added a clause that prevented them from passing it on to SMEs.
One short-term solution is to encourage entrepreneurialism. Making something from nothing is a skill in itself and one that should be proactively encouraged.
Millenials / GEN-X and GEN-Y and the responsibility of universities
There’s an unfortunate irony in the latest wave of coronavirus cases in the UK. The stats show that the biggest group of people contracting the virus are those aged 20-to-39. Within this age group, there are believed to be generations who have the perceived lowest prospects of any generation currently in existence. The irony is that this economic impact of this age group spreading the virus is that in many ways means that their prospects will inevitably worsen. Is this the fault of the generation themselves, society, the government, or someone/something else?
The social media generations are continuing to visit pubs and be social creatures, whereas those with families are more likely to be staying home. A larger proportion of these generations, when compared to any other, will potentially be some of the first to be made redundant (as a result of time in role and experience) and will have fewer commitments such as cars, houses, dependants etc. Perhaps it is that the younger generations should be encouraged to socialise in-person, as disconnecting from digital technology in favour of ‘real-world’ socialising is better for their mental health, especially given the situation that they currently face.
As with all of these situations that have arisen from the pandemic, the majority of people believe that someone else is to blame. Many proclaiming that “My circumstances are different because of X” and therefore it is acceptable. In truth, everyone’s situation is acceptable from their own perspective. Referencing my earlier statement, everyone’s situation is different and rather than making judgement, everyone should apply ‘common sense’ with the unified goal. As long as people continue to try in some capacity, whether big or small, then it should be praised.
One establishment that should be increasingly held responsible (aside from the likes of the large digital entities) are Universities. Universities teach modules of prescribed courses, but in the vast majority of courses, a lot of basic skills are missing.
Universities often claim to have high levels of employment following graduation, but when this is investigated in more depth, what does this truly mean? Universities can cause a significant financial burden on both the individual and often their families also. Only a small number of students graduate to find a role that pays them sufficient for a good standard of living, but in many cases, this is not the case. The issue presented to recent graduates has been redundancies, in many cases being the first to be let go. Is it worth it?
(I’m proud to say that at novi, we have never made redundancies and have processes and safeguards in place to help prevent this being a step that we need to take.)
Why have recent graduates been the first to go in terms of redundancy?
This isn’t a simple question to answer, as there are many aspects to this question, but one part that stands out to me is that many Universities overpromise and underdeliver in terms of life-skills, in particular money management and commercial awareness.
Universities should proactively encourage (and to some degree make compulsory) a work placement as part of any degree. The benefit of placements is experience. The experience that degrees, even from the best of universities, simply do not provide. Placements have a poor reputation for only providing beneficial value to the employer. In reality, they rarely provide value to employers, but they more often than not provide value to the individual. Placements should be an opportunity for students to learn about how businesses operate in the market for which they are studying. Placement students need to be taught to say “How can I provide value?” rather than “How does this benefit me?”. Reframing this is reflective of business in the real world, as a successful business is much more about the former than it is the latter.
Prior to this point, Schools also need to play a more proactive role in the basics of money and families need to talk about money. Yet in many cases ‘money’ is seen as the root of all evil and in some cases, people say “we don’t talk about money”. It is the behaviours surrounding and relating to money that cause problems, rather than money itself. As with all topics, the more widely something is discussed, the better understood it is. I would like to change the view of ‘make money, spend money’ to become a ‘make money, respect money’ approach.
In closing, the solution is to stop thinking it’s someone else’s problem and to start taking ownership. It takes many years to be an overnight success and with this in mind, it will take many years for the economy to fully recover, as well as many other aspects of society. Let’s start by trying to understand and seeing things from the perspective of others.
Finally, let’s take the time to educate others to better understand and respect money. After all, it’s the currency by which we interact as humans.