What would a positive ‘new normal’ look like for the business community post Covid-19? - Marketing strategy consultant and agency, Newcastle - STO Consulting

What would a positive ‘new normal’ look like for the business community post Covid-19?

There has been a lot of conversation about the fact that ‘getting back to normal’ won’t be just a case of going back to how things were done at the beginning of March 2020. Why would it? Things weren’t perfect then. Progress is a good thing, not a bad thing. We’ve all learned things in the intervening months. So, we may as well try our best to improve what we can.  

How, and in what ways should we change things? 

Well, firstly we need to recognise that businesses don’t exist in a vacuum. We are part of the community. Our people and our customers are drawn from the community, and we interact with it constantly. Incidentally, that’s why I hate the term ‘CSR’ (I’ll write another blog on that one).  

 

Business and community interdependence is just that – a two-way thing. There is no better example than the furlough scheme. And looking at it the other way – all of the ways businesses ensured food was available to those who most needed help. Recognising the vital nature of what some businesses do, and the responsibility that this confers.  

 

Business involvement in the community 

If you harm the community, then you harm your talent pool, and (at least partially) your customer base, and your reputation amongst stakeholders, regulators, suppliers etc. More stringent regulation often comes after clear evidence of a failure of self-regulation (finance, sugar tax, environmental protection). So, by behaving reasonably, you will protect your industry from unwanted change.  

We can’t run an unethical business, donate to charity, and then call ourselves ‘ethical’. What we do each day matters. How we make our money, and who is impacted by it are the things that matter.  

There is a place for reactive measures, as well as getting our house in order, of course. During the pandemic, there were some great examples of people and organisations making major contributions to their communities. Positive contributions came from what some would consider unlikely sources (Mr Rashford, for example). 

Those that have a platform, should reflect on how they use it.  

 

General conduct 

Now that we are all clearer on how infections are spread, I hope it is no longer acceptable to shake hands with someone and then tell them how ill you are. Not only have I seen this done, I’ve seen people cough, or sneeze on their hand, and then shake hands. Or even worse, slowly lick each and every finger after eating, and then immediately shake hands with someone. This should have stopped a long time ago, but hopefully now is the time. We need better personal hygiene. 

To be fair, we don’t need to be shaking hands all the time. It doesn’t necessarily make for better interactions. It’s a great gesture, if it’s done sincerely, but in situations in which it’s just an unthinking habit, this could be scrapped without any consequence.  

It should never again be taken as inevitable that if someone in the office has an illness, then everyone will get it. Just choose not to spread it.  

 

Management competence 

I was amazed at how long it took the supermarkets to get their act together to protect staff and customers. It should have just been one meeting, followed by action.  

But at the height of the pandemic, I saw touchscreens used by multiple customers and staff, with no nearby cleansing facilities. Staff unprotected. People shouting across the path of others. And don’t get me started on people wearing gloves whilst handling a phone. Good leadership would have involved advice to customers on what they could do to protect themselves whilst in that environment. 

It wasn’t just the supermarkets though. I had two occasions of someone trying to stand at my door and hand me a parcel. This is after the clear standards had been set by others.  

Why should any business be so far behind an emerging standard?  

 

The things we value 

Somewhere along the line, it was determined that looking after elderly and vulnerable people was a minimum wage job. A society that decides this is broken. 

When I worked for a high street recruitment agency, one of the jobs the company recruited for was literally standing cracking eggs for use in food production. If you were willing to turn up, the job was yours! Nothing wrong with doing that for a job – someone has to, and I wouldn’t judge them. But it requires no special talent, or training. People looking after our relatives get paid the same as that person.  

During the pandemic, our care services continued to operate, our bins were collected, and our food was grown, processed and distributed.  

Many of the things we consider ‘low skilled’ are not so much. If you are fussy about who does the job, then it can’t be ‘low skilled’.  

 

Trust in experts 

This would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. No-one is an expert in everything. The Twitter and Facebook brigades offering charlatan advice on management of a pandemic was truly shocking.  

We should trust people who have spent years developing expertise in something. And there are various ways of developing such expertise. Internet ‘research’ with selective and questionable sources is not one.  

It’s not that we should trust experts in an unquestioning manner. But if there are questions, then they should be asked. There is no equivalence between an expert opinion and ‘what I reckon’.  

The corollary to trust in experts though, is the importance of the ability to take and apply advice. There is no such thing as ‘the science’. There are scientific facts. These need to be applied to the situation. Then there is scientific advice. That should be caveated. If advice is not caveated, then you are dealing with a fanatic.  

 

Statistical literacy 

Statistics are everywhere. I doubt you will see a business document, or news report that does not contain statistics. It’s bizarre that people are not better at interpreting them.  

‘If we do xyz, then we will make more profit’.  

Not if your sales fall off a cliff because of it.  

 

‘The death rate is only x%’ 

Yes, but 1% of the entire population is a very large number.  

 

‘Look, the death rate is no worse than flu’. 

Oh, you are comparing figures for a whole year with figures for a two-week period, and we haven’t even seen the worst yet.  

 

And so it goes on.  

It may be an unpopular opinion, but we do all need training in how to think. Critical thinking is not something that we are born with, but it is something that we should choose to develop.  

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