By Matseleng Mogodi, Founder and Principal, Snooks Estates
The greatest gift from the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions is that businesses now get to implement new refined strategies, which were forced upon them during the hard COVID-19 lockdown. Almost all businesses were impacted, but as we know, the scale always balances, and we know there are businesses that have been saved by the restrictions, because they got to dominate, like the pharmaceuticals, food, internet service providers and others.
The question could be, what did business do before the restrictions, and what is business doing now that the restrictions have been lifted? There is definitely a strong belief that most businesses entrenched in old ways of doing things and reluctant to look at new innovative ways to broaden their horizons to suit the current market, may either be forced to shut down or step up.
A business that still uses fear as an excuse to not venture out and perform differently may find itself out of operation, because it does not help the business to focus on what the COVID-19 restrictions have done to it, but rather to look at the opportunity that has been brought by this dispensation. The fact of the matter is that most businesses that were solid and focused, have been better able to adjust due to their agility, regardless of the economic conditions.
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In his book, Zero to One, Peter Thiel reminds businesses, mostly start-ups, which most businesses have felt like due to the restrictions, that “each moment happens once” and the greatest lesson from this is that business has had to self-introspect, and not reinvent the wheel but rather to excel at what is currently being done or work towards being the first in a new product or service because of the multitudes of needs that suddenly emerged due to the changes caused by the COVID-19 restrictions.
COVID-19 restrictions have pushed businesses to the limit, it has pushed individuals to find products that serve humanity, made clear what the gaps are and what people need. Most wins come at a huge price, and this is one that humanity had to pay, to forcefully re-align humans, who represent business, to quickly embrace the new dispensation and change the narrative of what business should look like.
Has business lost revenue? Absolutely, yes. However, the restrictions have pushed for reconstructing the business landscape, forcing business to innovate and serve the new demands in the market. Now with the restrictions being lifted, businesses can assess the relevance of their new ideas and business re-engineering to be in line with the current market demands.
It is normal to complain about the negative impact that the COVID-19 restrictions have brought to the nation, but it is during this period that most people in South Africa, and the world, have had to start new businesses after losing their jobs, and because of these challenges, most people were forced to think about the economy, think about the world of business, look at our government and start to really question and interrogate who really has a say in South Africa’s business. Small businesses, who employ a large percentage of people, have had to relook at their operations and look at innovative ways to remain relevant and profitable.
Businesses in the property sector, which contribute the most towards South Africa’s GDP, have been hit the hardest as well, but, in the process have been forced to be more innovative and embrace technology, which allows the sector to be integrated and accessible across the world. This kind of push toward going more digital has created a positive trajectory that will see this sector doing even better as it has also forced those averse to technology to ditch the time-wasting methods that may not be profitable or relevant to the current needs of customers.
Moreover, critical for future planning is the reminder for businesses to go back to proper strategic planning, wherein the business plans for future scenarios that would help corporate leaders make unemotional decisions in the future, by thinking today about possible future threats to the business. No business would have foreseen the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects, but every business can, and should look at mitigating risks, and having an implementable plan for such eventuality in order to overcome hurdles and remain profitable and sustainable.
Is it really possible that we could have restrictions similar to the COVID-19 restrictions in the near future? Anything is possible, but this is highly unlikely in the near future. What could have a negative impact on businesses are those who refuse to embrace technology, implement strategies or are just nebulous about their business vision.
Several strategies could help prepare businesses for possible future restrictions and those include:
Reducing business overheads to reduce costs
Businesses with adequate resources for staff to perform optimally
Hiring the ‘right’ fit for the company’s vision and strategic alignment
Continuous re-engineering and agility in the business
Innovative value propositions that appeal to the needs of the customer
Encourage ‘intrapreneurship’ within the business, these would be the linchpins of the business, who will think ahead for the benefit of the business, and of course themselves too
A people-centric approach, when a business looks after its people, the people look after the business, and when challenges like the COVID-19 restrictions or any form of impact on operations occurs, the internal staff would come together to make it easier for executives to implement strategies to save the business and retain jobs.
Customer satisfaction, and resource allocation for the customer, so that no matter what happens, the market share of the business remains high, thus ensuring survival in dreaded times.
Working systems that refine processes to optimise the usage of resources and avoid duplication of tasks, and not future proofing the business.
Managing expectations of all stakeholders to ensure that the focus is not diverted from the chief aim of why the business exists in the first place.
Invest in research to keep the business abreast of developments in its respective industry, and use the results of that research. Some businesses do this exercise as a tick box, and lose the value.
The book Good to Great, by Jim Collins, brings to our attention what the COVID-19 restrictions have indirectly brought to the fore. He says that “Technology induced change is nothing new. The real question is not what is the role of technology? Rather, the real question is, how do good-to-great organisations ‘think differently’ about technology”. One knows that thinking differently is predominantly about the people, and which is the responsibility of the leadership in the business.
Businesses today may adopt technology, but the question will always remain on how agile they are to make sure that the technology works for the business. Other types of restrictions are possible in the future, and businesses that are unwilling to innovate risk being extinct. COVID-19 brought to the world a huge digital disruption, especially in South Africa, where there is huge inequality. Therefore, through the pandemic, the conversations have had to be put on the table. Big businesses have had to understand the impact of the lack of inclusivity and the price to pay, the impact will be felt more when small businesses rise and take on a larger portion of the market share.
Matseleng is the Founder and Principal of Snooks Estates. She is a member of the BWASA (Business Women Association of South Africa), SAIBPP (South African Institute of Black Property Professionals), and also the IODSA (Institute of Directors in South Africa).