Resilience: Tips for a strong recovery
From crisis-hit SMEs to FTSE financial directors, discover how business leaders are finding the personal and professional resilience to survive and thrive in this strange new world
On 31 December 2019, those working in financial services had every reason to be cheerful. As fireworks exploded in the skies over landmarks from Sydney Harbour Bridge to Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens, business leaders were looking forward to a decade ripe with new tech-based opportunities, a focus on purpose over profit and, in the UK, time to finally move on from Brexit.
Earlier that afternoon, in Geneva, the World Health Organisation received news from China that several cases of pneumonia with an “unknown cause” had been identified. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed life. Billions of people worldwide have been confined to their homes.
Most flights are grounded. There is no sport, live music, meals in restaurants or that first al fresco drink of the summer in beer gardens. Footage of empty streets and hazmat-clad medics mirrors a dystopian drama.
By 14 April, over 120,000 people worldwide had died. But businesses are adapting to new ways of working as they work out how to rebuild. ICAS members and non-members alike, from CAs to neuroscientists, share their advice on building such resilience.
As they all tell us, never underestimate humanity’s ability to bounce back…All sustainable businesses share a common challenge when it comes to the bottom line: what happens if doing good comes at a cost? Better measurement of sustainability helps, but isn’t always the silver bullet.
5 lessons on coping in a crisis Mike McKeon CA, outgoing president of ICAS
1. Find time to think
When it looks like everything is crumbling in front of you, set aside some thinking time – maybe for an hour or so before you start (remote) working. It can be extremely valuable.
2. Use your peer network
Good ideas come from all sorts of places. Get talking to people, even if they’re your competitors. Usually, your business rivals will never share their stuff with you. But when you’re all in the deep stuff, nobody cares. At such times, it isn’t about having an edge over the competition – the only thing that matters is that we’re all still around at the end of it.
3. This is where CAs prove their value
We know everything that could happen inside a business, such as where things work and where they don’t. If a company loses money in one part of the organisation, we know the knock-on effects that could occur elsewhere. Also, accountants are always thinking about long-term planning and short-term actions. This crisis is about turbo-charging both.
4. Don’t sit on a problem – change it
If it isn’t working, do something else. If you’ve been furloughed and are struggling at home, get another job or volunteer instead. I suspect many people will, purely by chance, find something that they like doing.
5. Think big, because right now, anything is possible
We now have permission to think differently. What you were doing before might not work, so think about what is possible. Nobody would have predicted the government funding everybody’s wages to the tune of £30bn. Now it’s both possible and permissible.
Building resilience… at a start-up
Ed Duguid CA is a director of fresh food brand BOL. In 2017, its sales halved overnight when it eliminated all meat, fish and dairy products. Here he talks about building resilience during tough times
Believing in the mission of the business… helped us weather the significant reduction in revenue.
Both the team and investors were all clear on the ‘north star’ for the brand: inspiring the world to eat more plants.
Our focus shifted from financial measures of success to how many portions of veg we were serving the UK (we’ve now sold more than 30 million), which the team found motivating.
Working at a start-up you need resilience in spades… Things rarely go to plan and you can feel every bump in the road so you need to know how to persevere when you are getting knockback.
At BOL, we emphasise resilience in our recruitment and in our training.
Keep the water high… We use the analogy there of being in a boat heading downriver. The rocks you encounter symbolise the knocks that will inevitably come.
But the higher the water in the river, the better you’re able to deal with these rocks. Focusing on things that keep the water high can build the resilience needed to deal with such problems. Switching off and taking time for yourself is a great way to maintain perspective.
Stay connected… Some people’s resilience can be massively boosted by interactions with others. It’s key that we find ways of remaining connected despite social distancing.
Watch your mental health – it’s very easy to spiral
Jonny Jacobs CA, Finance Director, Starbucks EMEA and a Mental Health Foundation trustee, on avoiding the lockdown blues
Mental health statistics on accountants are eye opening. Around a third say they feel stressed and three-quarters said work negatively impacted them in the last year.
With COVID-19 dominating the news cycle the, constant focus on an uncertain future, with worry for loved ones or jobs exacerbates this anxiety. It's easy to spiral.
How can we build our emotional wellbeing? Community is key; staying connected is fundamental, whether it's having a daily team video call, connecting with family and friends, and having meaningful conversations.
Fostering a greater sense of purpose can also help, be it supporting a charity or setting yourself development goals.
As someone who faced tough realities growing up in Glasgow, I know what it's like to feel low. It was when I was in a tough spot that I built my resilience resolving to focus on my greater life ambition to get the grades and go to University.
I also like to focus on maintaining normalcy; get dressed as usual, exercise at home, eat well and ensure I keep the decompression time that it would have had commuting.
And an altruistic act can go a long way. Studies indicate that the smallest of acts can help to fight stress. Hence why the Mental Health Foundation has changed the theme of its Mental Health Awareness Week to “Kindness”. Many of us are reimagining not only what kindness looks like, but also what it feels like. As we emerge into a post-coronavirus world, my hope is that we will sustain this heightened level of kindness and resilience.
Get tech ready
Jimmy McCann is Head Of Digital Strategy at digital marketing agency Search Laboratory
It’s been particularly challenging for firms that weren’t ready for remote working… They might have had desktop PCs, or systems and data in a physical location rather than in the cloud. Their productivity would have been severely impacted. When everybody gets back, disaster planning services will see a peak because companies can’t afford these barriers to hinder them again.
In quarantine downtime? Deep-dive into your data… You might have loads of data from customer relationship management on your customers, or on anonymous users of your website. Now’s a good time to join that information together into one place, which will give you a clearer idea of the bigger picture and what your consumers look like.
There will be opportunities… Many of those companies experiencing a boom, such as home fitness, DIY or consumables, have got a problem because the unexpected demand has seen them run out of stock. Many companies will be preparing for another spike by assessing their stock, meaning there could be opportunities in procurement, supply chain management and consulting.
Anybody working in procurement should be spending this time looking at their website analytics and ensuring there’s enough stock for when people are ready to buy them.
You could have the best tech in the world… but if nobody’s there to buy your products and services, it would still be difficult. Companies should use this time to get their house in order: driving new customers, having the right analytics and data infrastructure.
Have your tech ready to go… Once we get out of this, there’ll be a massive demand for products and services. By getting your analytics in order and joining up your data, it’ll open up what you’re physically able to do when we reach the ‘new normal’.
The science of resilience
Hilary Scarlett is author of Neuroscience for Organizational Change. She explains how to train your brain to be more resilient
Our brains are about survival; they crave certainty and want to know how to predict what’s coming up. It stems back to the savannah: something on the horizon might be food or a tiger trying to attack us. At the moment, in this strange world with the nasty virus, our brains are in threat mode and see risks bigger than they are. It’s important to be aware of that. But we have more control over our brains than we realise.
How to develop resilience
- Try to remember any tough times that you’ve experienced in the past. Recent research from the Institute of Employment Studies found that mental health is better in the over60s, which is interesting because it suggests we build resilience through tough times.
- Setting ourselves and others short-term achievable goals. Knowing that you’ve achieved something at the end of the day is rewarding.
- Staying calm: it’s important leaders learn to manage their emotions. Find some things that will calm you down, but don’t activate the amygdala (the part of the brain that processes emotion and which is activated by external threats). Meditation and mindfulness are useful here – they give you the opportunity to pause and reflect.
- Reframing the situation. Look at the situation positively – are there any opportunities in this?
- Remember: humans need stress to keep us going. It’s quite a fine balance – you don’t want to feel overwhelmed – but being stressed is when human brains perform at their best, as it stimulates the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain important for both thinking and decision making.
This article first appeared in the May 2020 issue of CA magazine.