‘Hire people with a startup mindset’

Expert tips on how to lead your business through coronavirus.

From becoming more agile to democratising your decision making, theres plenty that can be done to help you guide your organisation through a period of unprecedented change. 

The pandemic and its economic fallout means the outlook for businesses is more uncertain than ever. But there are ways in which your business can not only survive, but thrive as well. Here, founders and industry experts share their key insights…

“Explore different scenarios about the future and create a portfolio of actions to tackle them,” says Prof Costas Andriopoulos, professor of management and associate dean for entrepreneurship at Cass Business School. He advises asking difficult “what if” questions that challenge assumptions, such as: “If travelling by plane is no longer possible, how will we change the way we do business?”

Bring a variety of stakeholders into the debate. To solve bigger challenges, you’ll need to harness the power of teamwork, according to Bruce Hellman, CEO and co-founder of uMotif, which captures data for clinical trials.

“The big difference for us has been hiring fantastic people who have a ‘startup mindset’: they want to solve problems because of the excitement of building something new,” says Hellman, adding that having a diverse team with different perspectives often leads to better decisions.

Sometimes a fast shift is required. During the first wave of Covid-19 early last year, TONIC15, a Korean beauty brands retailer, saw much of its B2B sales evaporate. So founder Jin Kwon grew the consumer segment, in part by doubling her Instagram following between March and August, a key sales channel and feedback loop. “I take the time to reply to each individual comment on our Instagram and openly invite consumers to email me or ask for advice,” she says of the strong growth in followers. One customer suggested launching a gift set to mark the Islamic holiday Eid al-Fitr: Kwon did, and it was well received by the Muslim beauty community.

“Quick, but considered decisions often save time and money further down the line,” she says.

To be agile, consider the company’s structure. Zamir Cajee, founder of electronics e-retailer iQualTech, overhauled his global supply chain, making it more resilient to disruption after Covid-19 caused bottlenecks and raised import costs.

Cajee now takes smaller, more frequent orders with suppliers and holds more stock in a wider range of locations in case manufacturers have to scale down operations again. “We have adopted a guerrilla mentality,” he says. “Being small and flexible is an advantage.”

Whether you stick or twist, communication will be crucial in leading your business through change. “It takes guts to stick your neck out when nobody knows what is around the corner, but it demonstrates leadership,” says Rob Jupp, CEO of Brightstar, which provides specialist financing.

He was able to help curb coronavirus anxiety among his staff by publishing a weekly vlog with updates on the latest developments in the market, keeping the team in touch and informed through lockdowns.

Ana Bakshi, director of Oxford Foundry – the University of Oxford’s entrepreneurship centre – insists that despite the uncertainty, companies can turn a crisis to their advantage. “Accept the new reality, but also frame it as a chance to introspect, refresh, reprioritise, consolidate and seize new opportunities,” she says.

While no one can predict the future, businesses can at least become comfortable with ambiguity through a blueprint for leadership in uncertain times.

The essential steps are to forecast and plan for contingencies with a team, keep up communication, take feedback and be decisive through data.

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This article was originally published on theguardian.com as part of the British Business Bank and Guardian Labs 'Getting back on track' campaign. Written by Seb Murray.