The importance of consultation and engagement when you’re navigating a difficult economic climate

Times are tough. Individuals and businesses around the world are feeling the impact of COVID-19 on the global economy. In such trying times, it can be easy to get tunnel vision and become overwhelmed by all the challenges ahead of you, whether you’re at the forefront of your own business, or working somewhere part-time.

Not only did the pandemic directly lead to a historically huge drop in markets across the world, but unemployment also spiked globally.

When you’re facing such difficulties, it can be important to remember that consultation both internally and externally can shine a light on key issues and how best to navigate them. Whether you’re looking to the public or your own staff, it can be important for your business’s resilience to open a discussion on the appropriate channels about what you can and need to provide to stay afloat, or in some cases, even flourish.

The importance of such measures was the topic of discussion on a recent roundtable hosted by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and its partner Russell-Cooke.

Sacrifice vs sympathy

The reality is that in tough times, sacrifices must be made. How can you be fair, compassionate and sympathetic when you might have to take some tough decisions for the greater good of your business? Is there room for both?

Illana Adamson, founder of Be Better, begins with her own experience, specifically highlighting an occurrence when she was advising another business on strategy adaption during lockdown: “We realised when looking at things from a sustainability lens, we shouldn’t be putting more pressure on the supply chain right now.”

Illana says that the primary objective was “to ensure the staff were supported” rather than prioritising the production line “We put the societal concerns first, then the environmental ones,” she said.

Jyotirmoy Roy, founder of GreenEnco, shares his own struggles caused by the floundering economy: “During the first six months [of the pandemic], we had no income coming in.” In the first few months, Jyotirmoy explains that some members of the team even refused to accept their salary to ensure the survival of the business.

It was not all bad though, Jyotirmoy says that the forced adaptation of the business model eventually flipped an extremely difficult situation into the “most profitable year” for the business.  Briefly touching on some solutions that, while they involved sacrifice, seemed to be the only options he had at the time, he mentions how some salary was “cut in half,” for a temporary period. Despite the salary cuts, after some consultation with his employees, he ensured those salaries were paid back and even some bonuses distributed.

“What I did as a business owner, I didn’t take any salary during that period,” he finishes.

Building back up

Kerry Mackay of ScrubbiesUK had been getting started with setting up her own manufacturing business just prior to lockdown. “It didn’t even occur to me we’d have something like a pandemic,” she says.

Kerry continues to detail some of the sacrifices she’s had to make, and some difficult choices she’s been faced with: “Since we’ve been starting to come out of the pandemic, I’ve had to choose between getting my manufacturing up and running again, or increasing my prices, even possibly decreasing the quality of my products.”

Despite the problems, Kerry realises these sacrifices are necessary. She aims to re-establish herself by making the right compromises and simply building back up to where she was before.

“We were due to launch eighteen months ago,” says Ashleigh Bishop of Bagboard. “We had built a fantastic team, there were fifteen of us ready to gear up for a big launch.”

They may have been raring to go, but Ashleigh says she had to “really reduce the team to a core group of people,” adding that after sharing her plans with the group and consulting with them she discovered that some were willing to take on the salary sacrifices necessary to ensure the survival of the business.

“Now we’re at a point where we’re trying to grow, we cannot get people in,” explains Ashleigh. The pandemic pandemonium not only cut jobs in the first phase, but is now seemingly stopping a substantial number of vacancies being filled. “It’s a real challenge for us to build that team back out,” she finishes.

Where some had trouble letting go of their employees, ironically the challenge facing them now is getting them back in, or taking new ones on entirely.

Simon Payne of Sole Responsibility says that he and his business are one of the very few that have been fortunate. “We’re growing quite a bit at the moment,” he elaborates, although this is not without its problems.

“We’re trying to recruit at the moment and it’s really tough,” he adds. “It’s a tougher environment than I thought.” Simon also explains that while he thought that establishing the business was difficult, growing it seems “impossible at times”.

Recovery and solutions

Carrie Lomas of Brand Conscience feels the pain of the panel, but mentions that from her own experience “being in touch with the universities can really help”.

Maintaining contact with a variety of educational institutions can not only give you potential insight as to how you might recruit more effectively, but also how you might go about circumventing the staff shortage problem, she explains. Graduates are a strong source of new hires, though it might be more difficult if you’re looking to fill more senior positions within your company.

Despite the difficulty that might be faced filling senior positions, you may be surprised to learn that Carrie attributes some value to the universities for filling even senior positions, “some of the tutors support each other and work part-time for a variety of businesses,” she says.

Carrie then mentions the range of grants available to businesses, some of which she herself applied for when she was bootstrapping.

Some businesses can even opt for disaster clauses in their contracts, allowing the amendment of terms depending on the situation. Even if it strains your business, it might be an idea to look at what you can do, by almost any means to maintain some of your workforce.

The recruitment slump many businesses are now facing is something some have managed to avoid altogether as they have retained their workforce through amended terms, pay and salary adjustments.  A combination of consultation and transparent engagement internally allowed employees and employers to come together and make necessary sacrifices. That has paid off for everyone involved.

Employment partner Anthony Sakrouge of Russell-Cooke says: “The frank discussions by the GBEA members at the round table demonstrated the lengths to which businesses had to go during the height of the pandemic, and in fact to which they are still being pushed. However what became apparent from contributors was that by involving their employees and other stakeholders in discussions from the very beginning, they were surprised by the sacrifices and compromises many were willing to make for the greater good of the business. A really important reminder that what is good for the business is good for those who depend on the survival and resilience of the business.”

The importance of consultation and engagement when you’re navigating a difficult economic climate

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