Amid the pandemic crisis, businesses are fighting to keep afloat. Liquidity is the number one priority just to keep going. And rightly so; business continuity and survival undoubtedly depend on immediate access to cash availability.
Normality and regularity are expected to slowly return to our lives. It will not be an easy ride ahead. It will be slow and gradual. It will be volatile. It will be uncertain. It will be unstable. It will be fragile. And probably it will never be the same again.
Despite the frailties, despite the vulnerabilities, businesses ought to begin to plan ahead for the next day now. As difficult as it sounds, taking a longer-term proactive approach is crucial at this point in time; even with incomplete information, even with limited visibility and despite the substantial uncertainties that the future holds for them and the economy at large.
Businesses ought to start planning for a recovery strategy which will necessarily take place in a totally new economic paradigm, in a profoundly different, new business reality. Planning for new ways of doing business, drawing up (and adjusting and re-drawing as many times as necessary) a plan to manage constant disruption and upheaval.
The typical road to recovery starts with the initial stages of reaction and resilience building, which concentrate on the survival mechanisms of immediate cash accessibility and preservation, and cash and working capital management optimisation, by extracting as much as possible out of a business’s balance sheet.
Further to this though, business owners, managers and directors need to dedicate time to critically re-assess their core operating and business models going forward into the new world. And now is the time to do this; crises may be the best reminders that our world is changing and that our businesses need to adapt if they are to survive.
This next defining step takes the form of looking at the underlying performance of the business and challenging the key assumptions around which the business model has been built on. This phase focuses on the earnings-generating profile and capacity of the business, with dedicated concentration on the business’s capability to adapt to the new world in such a way, so as to overcome challenges and identify and take advantage of new opportunities opening up. This step typically requires the following iteration of actions.
i. Objective and critical re-appraisal of the business’s income generating model and capabilities:
o all products and services offered
o the key client markets served
o the major suppliers
o the mode/channels of product and service delivery
o the business’s marketing strategy and communication
o the availability of key personnel and requisite capabilities
o and last, but not least, the use of information technology and technology platforms and the business’s e-commerce and digital strategy, as this will be one of the key drivers for all businesses, irrespective of size.
ii. A diligent investigation into the business cost structure. All cost drivers must be thoroughly examined. There is always scope to identify unnecessary cost fat, activities which are no longer required or can be performed in a more efficient manner, discretionary expenditure which does not add value to the business’s service proposition and can be avoided. In effect, this investigation will act as a complete review of the business’s operating model from a cost point of view to challenge prevailing norms, prioritise cost drivers, identify superfluous or inefficient processes and activities, and establish areas for improvement.
iii. A deep understanding of the new challenges facing and opportunities opening up for the business, in light of the new emerging economic, business and societal trends and behaviours. Assess if and how the business is equipped to manage and take advantage of these respectively. This new competitive landscape may well precipitate the need for business consolidation and alliances (be it in the form of partnerships, mergers, takeovers, or otherwise).
iv. Rigorous monitoring of developments both at home and abroad. We have entered the new reality: the new reality of discontinuity, disruption, novelty, of the unknown. In this respect, planning, budgeting, drawing up multiple contingency scenarios, frequent monitoring and adjusting will be the new norm.
The new reality is upon us. And it requires acts of discovery, of invention, of testing possibilities and of agile market-driven adaptation. This voyage of discovery is a critical part for businesses in the attempt to create their own reality in the fast-evolving new world which is characterised by disruption, fragmentation, disorder.
Businesses must safeguard their immediate survival which is mainly driven by their liquidity position, cash accessibility and prudent debt management. And once they do that, they must decisively venture, without delay, into the future by looking at and, more importantly, challenging their underlying operating model and profit-making capacity (and of course the conversion of profit into cash) vis-à-vis the evolving economic and competitive landscape: by investigating the unfamiliar, exploring the uncommon, testing their possibilities, discovering and (re)inventing and, ultimately, re-profiling the essence of their business models.
Only then will they acquire enough resilience to adapt and thrive in the new world.
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