Business has espoused the lean and mean mantra in recent years, but does that suit the current uncertain times? BRANZ CE Chelydra Percy says we need resilience, and that requires capacity to build trust, to invest and to have strong finances and open transparent leadership.
IF ANY of us were under any illusion that New Zealand had sailed into safe post-pandemic waters, Auckland’s August Level 3 lockdown was a wake-up call.
Business in times of uncertainty
While we hope that further lockdowns will be unnecessary, we don’t know what the future holds. For the foreseeable future, we are faced with uncertainty while striving to maintain business as usual. These two states are not naturally compatible.
Human beings don’t tend to cope well with uncertainty or ambiguity. We value certainty and clarity – these conditions are our happy place. We can plan, model and develop strategies that (if properly implemented) will deliver predictable results. However, predictability is a rare commodity these days.
Resilience is necessary
We are learning to adapt, to unearth the qualities and processes that will allow us to survive in this new environment. Resilience is the name of today’s game.
The definition of resilience is ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties’. It’s interesting that the noun used is ‘capacity’, rather than ‘ability’. Ability is something you have, while capacity is something that must be built or factored in.
However, given the challenges facing the building industry in recent years, lean and mean has been the only way of working for many businesses. When you’re in survival mode, which the industry has been, you can’t afford to build capacity into systems or processes. People have been forced to do more with – and for – less. But what happens when there’s nothing more to give?
We have all been forced to examine our businesses over the past 6 months, and I am questioning whether lean and mean is the only means of survival. What if it is false economy or the outcome has too high a price? What if cost cutting is to the detriment of ensuring capacity in our businesses and therefore having the resilience necessary to endure?
BRANZ well placed during lockdown
BRANZ’s experience during the COVID-19 lockdown was largely positive, because over time, we have built capacity into our business. As a result, this meant we had choices and time to make the necessary decisions when the lockdown occurred. It also made it easier to set three clear priorities and communicate them to our staff and stakeholders:
- We temporarily traded short-term success for long-term stability – for example, acknowledging that working from home was difficult and productivity would be impacted.
- We put people first – we looked after our staff and our key external relationships.
- We concentrated our efforts on supporting the industry.
Capacity is crucial
Looking back, two lessons resonate for me. Firstly, I have learned that, while we can’t manage uncertainty, we can manage how we choose to deal with it. Secondly, while being efficient is important, having capacity within the business to withstand times of uncertainty is even more important.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to growing organisational capacity, my experience revealed four crucial elements that may be useful to consider:
- Building a high-trust culture.
- Investing in critical infrastructure – for example, modern IT capability.
- Strong financial management.
- Open and transparent leadership.
This pandemic is going to be with us for a while. It’s not too late to take control of our destiny by making decisions and choices that place value on and prioritise actions that build resilience. We can’t wait for certainty, and we can’t wait for the government or others to do it for us. We must take accountability for doing this for ourselves.
Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.