Updated: Jan 2, 2021
If you permit me, I hypothesise that there are two types of people hard at work during the current crisis. This is a sweeping generalisation I know but hear me out.
URGENT AND IMPORTANT
Firstly there are incredibly busy people. This bucket would include the front line staff in the NHS and healthcare providers around the world. They are amazing and rightly receiving the support of our nations as they fight to save lives every hour of every day. They are putting themselves in danger and grabbing sleep where and when they can. For the sake of my hypothesis, I will put them on a pedestal and say no more at this time.
Also in this bucket are those incredibly busy professionals, rushing around putting out fires, managing crises within their teams and organisations, barking orders to deal with the immediate time horizon. They are at war in this unpredictable and uncertain time. Fighting to look after their people, their clients and their businesses. We would all be comfortable describing their work as falling in the URGENT & IMPORTANT quadrant of the Eisenhower Urgent/Important framework:
For these people, they mustn't lose sight of the WHY. Why they are working such long hours, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough and not spending enough time with their loved ones. It is all too easy to focus only on the present, the here and now during these times. It isn't easy, but it is necessary not to lose their anchors and the reasons for doing what they are doing in times of crisis. It isn't easy, but it is necessary in these unprecedented times to bring out the best, rather than the worst in their teams, and business partners and not lose sight of personal and cultural values. Every crisis and every bear market is different, but they all have one thing in common, they come to an end. With our reactions heavily influenced by our brains innate fight or flight mechanisms, we have to work extra hard, to be extra aware of staying connected with our people, to empathise and to be vulnerable.
IMPORTANT BUT NOT URGENT
The second type of person in this crisis has found themselves with a lot more time on their hands. Their work may have been as a service provider, perhaps transformational change programs or providers of learning and talent development to executives and teams. This type of work is IMPORTANT but is often not URGENT. In times like this, only the emergencies get attention and focus. Nothing else gets a look in and hence why the second type of person is less busy than usual, is probably generating less fee income and business development is a fraction of what it is during business as usual (BAU) times.
For these people, the first question is whether their work is currently being misclassified and with relatively minor changes, it would become both URGENT and IMPORTANT. If so, make the changes, remove the parts dragging down the rest, the (currently) unnecessary elements, the nice to have - get rid of them. Narrow the focus to that which is urgent.
Secondly, this group should remember; all crises come to an end. Don't get knocked over by the plethora of negative news it becomes self-reinforcing. The negative thinking spiral is a tricky trap to avoid. Cognitive therapy and advice from the stoics can help. The dominant principle at work is:
What you choose to think determines what you feel and what you do next. If you are thinking poorly, you will feel bad, and you will make poor decisions.
Therefore with a glass-half-full mindset, what can you be doing now to better position yourself, your team, and your business for that future? Let's use this simple model for freelancers, independents and external service providers. The tasks carried out in running the business fall into one of five categories. For employees, you could change the descriptions such as #1 and #2 becomes networking, #3 becomes performing your role within the team.
Marketing and visibility (lead generation)
Sales conversations (getting prospective clients to say yes)
Servicing clients (providing the best service you can to your clients)
Leadership (training, planning, strategy)
Other (health, admin, ad-hoc tasks)
In typical BAU times, more effort needs to be spent on #1 and #2 to generate future business and avoid the classic feast or famine that many companies experience. Well, we aren't in BAU, we are at war and in unprecedented times. Business development opportunities have shrunk significantly as new spend, new investment and anything remotely discretionary cancelled, the can has been well and truly "kicked down the road". So what should you do if you fall into this category?
First, be available to your clients. Be flexible to their needs. Provide the best level of service you can, and then do more to level-up your service offering even if the client hasn't paid for it.
Second, in these unprecedented times, it isn't easy, but it is necessary to invest in yourself and your team. Spending money when income is at it's most uncertain may not seem smart, but what better time is there to learn something new. Level-up your skills during this period, invest for the future. I recently completed the HOGAN certification workshop, a significant investment to make but one that I know will be more important than ever. Was it tough biting the bullet and paying over the money? Sure it was, but this is a valuable addition to my coaching skillset for future years. Something that it is all too easy to push off as it is not essential.
Third, it isn't easy, but it is necessary to identify what changes to your service offering you will need to make. Do not embrace the status quo; assume the current way of working will need to change. What will the virtual working arrangements for several weeks, if not months, mean for your market and competitors? Challenge the status quo!
Stay safe, stay well.
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