Phil Jones MBE, managing director at business technology solutions provider, Brother UK, looks at the current issues for businesses with returning restrictions due to Covid-19.
The news at the moment is all too familiar. The broadcasters could almost be forgiven for recycling bulletins from March, with coronavirus cases rising again and regional restrictions coming back into force. At a time when we thought we were on the up, and when we’ve grown used to a narrative centred around recovery, the news that restrictions could be in place for another six months has been an understandable blow for many.
So, as we come to terms with the fact we’ve potentially moved from a U-shaped crisis into a W-shaped one, a conscious effort is needed from all of us to keep going – both in our personal and professional lives. We will need to draw on our individual resiliency. If you look up the definition of resilience in the Oxford English dictionary, it means ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties’ or put simply, ‘our ability to positively cope’. Having run a large business for many years, a phrase that I quickly became accustomed to was ‘becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable’. Almost every day brings new challenges, and there are some practical coping mechanisms that I have used – and continue to use – to help me get through them.
- Look after number one
If you’re running a business, you’ve got keep your own spirits up if you’re going to help others do the same. Investing in your energy levels is key. The ability to self-care is so important, but it’s often one of the first things to go out of the window when you’re working long hours and feeling the pressure. I try to follow a ‘DESK’ policy when there’s a lot on. That means choosing at least three of the following four areas and making them a priority: Diet (eating well), Exercise (at least 30 minutes per day), Sleep (giving your brain time to process your thoughts by going to bed earlier) and Kindness to self (indulging a hobby or activity that brings you joy, without feeling guilty about it). Crises make it very easy for us to default into bad habits, despite being when it’s most important to ensure you remain in great shape – mentally, physically and spiritually. Think like an athlete, encompassing rest and recovery as part of your overall high-performance plan.
- Avoid zooming in, zoom out!
It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going on, especially when the coronavirus outbreak is dominating the conversation whenever you speak to colleagues, friends, family, and when you turn on the radio or TV. It’s hard to get away from it. This can often have a compounding effect. A good level of self-awareness is essential when you’re facing any problem – even more so under these circumstances – so you can spot your pre-determined response mechanisms kicking in and ensure you’re managing them effectively. This process is called emotional regulation. You’re turning down your human response mechanisms like fight/flight, and resisting the urge to start over-thinking, catastrophising or mind-reading. These are examples of ‘cognitive distortions’ – habitual ways of thinking that are often inaccurate and negatively-biased, and that come with the risk of jumping to conclusions and beginning a negative spiral.
If it does, don’t worry, you’re only human! But if you can get a handle on your emotions, you’ll be hard pressed to find a problem that you can’t overcome or work through more effectively. So zoom out, take a breath, understand your emotions and focus on kicking in pragmatic behaviours.
- Get your problems well-defined
Creating wider context around your problem is an important step, and in my view, this is where people don’t spend enough time. Undoubtedly, tighter restrictions are going to cause significant disruption in all areas of our lives, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed thinking through the various implications. Define what those implications will be for you – and be specific and unambiguous when you do. List them all, and sort through those you can control and those you can’t. Then, for the elements with your control, spend time working on the solutions you can put in place. Put actions against them that you can take, and start implementing as soon as possible. The old Chinese proverb of ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’ comes to mind. Take an action, however small. If something’s outside of your control, I’ve found the Buddhist term of ‘patient acceptance’ to be the most appropriate coping mechanism. Instead of attaching ourselves to things we may perceive we have lost as a result of a situation, it’s better to accept where we are, welcome whatever comes and then work with that. By investing your time in working on the things that are within your control, you’ll feel more of a sense of momentum, rather than becoming a product of someone else’s decisions. As the saying goes, ‘be a chess player, not a chess piece’.
- Create your own horizon to keep your motivation
I’m a firm believer that it’s possible to find meaning in adversity – and whether we’re responsible for five people or 5,000 people, as leaders, our teams are looking to us to show them the way. That means projecting a vision they can buy into, that might differ from the direction their emotions may be pushing them at any given time. Take the 2008 financial crash for example – at the time, it was all-consuming in the business world, but we moved past it and came back stronger, capitalising on the opportunities during the following recovery period. It now seems a long time ago.
We spoke of the future beyond the crisis, acknowledging the short-term pain but also the longer-term gains we might make. And the same will ultimately be the case for the coronavirus pandemic. It will be over at some point, and we need to remind ourselves of that, to give ourselves the hope and motivation to keep going. Taking a long-term, pragmatic view of yourself and your business, beyond what you’re currently dealing with, is the key to moving forward, and to strengthening your ability to deal with the knocks. So keep the long game in mind wherever you can. Re-frame the moment and create a longer roadmap, to put what’s happening now into the context of the bigger picture.
- An opportunity to grow
To take all of this one step further, I’d like to end by introducing the concept of ‘anti-fragility’. Developed by Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb – the man behind the ‘Black Swan’ theory – it relates to how we not only withstand unexpected shocks, but can actually improve because of them. In contrast, resiliency is about snapping back to how things were when the unexpected shock has passed.
The Covid-19 crisis is both systemic – changing the way we run our businesses and how we behave as consumers – and existential, meaning it’s impacting how we think about our existence overall. I’m sure that spending months in lockdown will have made you re-evaluate what you want from your life and what really matters to you. If we see this moment in our lives as a chance to emerge fitter, faster, stronger and with more clarity, it’ll give all of us hope for the future. A question that often crops up in my mind is ‘What is this experience teaching me?’, as a reminder to not get too buried in the moment, but to trigger that zooming out perspective, even in adversity.
Coming back from a setback, getting stronger from the experience and growing as a result, will ultimately improve your potential to reset, recover and re-build.
I saw this quote from Louis L’Amour recently which I thought was rousing: ‘There will come a time when you believe everything has finished. That will be the beginning.’ One thing I know about the business community in and around Greater Manchester is that we are incredibly good at sharing, collaborating and supporting each other. We’ll all be experiencing different challenges within the narrative of the last six months, so let’s commit to calling someone we know, checking in to see how they are doing and finding out how we can help.
See you out there.
Phil Jones, MBE, Managing Director, Brother UK