FWB PB Aberdeen office hosted a Non-Executive Director discussion via Zoom, bringing together a cross-sector group of non-execs representing some of the region’s leading organisations. The purpose was to share experiences and strategies relating to how we are approaching the current business challenges due to coronavirus and the oil price slump. The discussions were held under Chatham House rules and extremely open and valuable discussions ensued covering, amongst others, the following topics:
What is the single most important business priority you have identified within your portfolio companies?
- The single most important focus for businesses during this period is survival. There was an acknowledgement that the majority of businesses in the UK are facing challenges never experienced before and that no business could have prepared for. As a result of this, the mantra of ‘cash is king’ has had to take precedent and the financial robustness of the organisation is as strong as it can possibly be whilst navigating through this crisis.
- Another important factor that businesses must ensure they do not overlook was empathy for their people. This covered a range of areas, such as mental well-being, furlough and in some cases redundancy. There was a strong sentiment amongst the participants of the need to recognise that employees in many instances have had their remuneration directly impacted or unfortunately are losing their job altogether. Ensuring the business is staying connected to its employees was regarded as being hugely important and that when looking back on this period, you feel that the business has conducted itself with empathy and integrity.
How has the CEO & NED/Chair relationship been impacted?
- The consensus among the participants was that the frequency of contact between the Chair and CEO had increased significantly. There was recognition that there is no playbook for leading a business through this crisis and as such, the demands placed on the CEO are unique and unrelenting. The importance therefore of ensuring that the CEO does not become overburdened was a concern shared amongst the group.
- There was a feeling that the role of the Chair, during these uncertain times, was to try to adopt a longer term view, whilst at the same time supporting the CEO in the day to day decisions that their respective businesses are faced with. The difficulty expressed by the group was that whilst the Chairman may be looked to for the answers, they too are operating in unchartered waters and there is therefore a difficulty in providing guidance that relates to any previous experience.
- In an effort to assist the CEO with decision making, the importance of forecasting was discussed at length. Whilst it was acknowledged that forecasting is difficult at this time, scenario planning to help with financial decision making and the scrutiny applied to these forecasts by the executive team, will help the business to make clear and calculated decisions.
- As well as an increased frequency of contact with the CEO, many of the participants in the group had experienced a higher frequency of contact with other employees, helping to address questions and concerns they had around the plans of the business and its future. There was a general sense that employees had welcomed and valued access to senior figures and felt valued as individuals.
- There was consensus amongst the group that whilst the initial support measures and announcements from government were positive, the roll-out and execution of said schemes has been poor. The Furlough scheme has been widely adopted, however there was a mixture of companies who had ‘topped up’ salary packages whilst others had more broadly initiated pay cuts of 20% across the board.
- There were concerns that the management of government schemes by HMRC were already significantly behind where they needed to be, and this presents the risk of additional financial pressure on businesses to continue to payroll staff whilst they wait to recoup money from the government.
- Another measure introduced by the government which was widely discussed was the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. The understanding and clarity with respect to what qualifies a business to apply was unclear and there was criticism for the way in which banks are making this difficult to access.
- One point that all participants unanimously agreed on was that priority needed to be given to businesses that are at risk of bankruptcy. The damage being done to the economy right now is immeasurable, however preserving business and employment, where possible, should be a focus for the government and banks.
What are the leadership traits you are looking for in the Exec Team during these unpredictable times?
- Empathy and integrity ranked highly for all participants. Recognising the importance of employee well-being and understanding that employees may have concerns and worries that go beyond their job and being willing and prepared to listen and engage was deemed important.
- Another trait desired was decisiveness. During this period, it is expected that at times leaders may become overwhelmed with information and their ability to decipher this information and make informed decisions will help to ensure the viability of the organisation moving forward.
- Communication was also regarded as being a key leadership trait. This was deemed as being hugely important across all levels of the business both internally and externally.
Future Positive Outcomes
The positive outcomes that may be expected when we come out of the crisis, either for our own businesses or the economy/world in general include:
- Resilience has been abundantly apparent, and leaders must grasp the opportunity to harness this in future.
- Evidence of teams pulling together in a crisis and increased levels of communication being witnessed across the business.
- Remote working – Attitudes toward working from home are likely to change. The proof is there that this works, and that the IT infrastructure is there to support it.
- Utilising technology will ensure unnecessary spend can be minimised, there is likely to be more meetings conducted digitally and this will inevitably reduce company spend in areas such as travel.
Whilst the participants recognised the uniqueness of the situation, we find ourselves in, it was hoped that lessons can be learned and that moving forward we are better prepared for ‘Black swan’ events such as Covid-19. One hope, as we come out the other side of the pandemic, is that as a society we continue to be more caring and empathetic, that we care about the well being of others and that we communicate more. Though we are being tested in ways we have never been before, acting with empathy and integrity throughout should continue to be at the forefront of people’s minds.
This leadership forum will be repeated regularly, and we are hosting similar sessions for functional leaders including Finance and HR. For further information about any of these forums please contact John Cameron (email@example.com) or Stuart Cochrane (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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FWB Park Brown
FWB Park Brown continues to deliver its full range of services which includes providing support and advice during the Covid- 19 Public Health and developing global economic crisis.
We have established a range of cross sector as well as sector focused discussion forums for Chairs, NEDs, CEOs and all the main business management disciplines. We are also working closely with the Scottish HR Leadership Group to provide constructive support including discussion forums and Q & As.
Summaries of the discussions will be posted on our news section and also on LinkedIn.
For further information about any of these forums please contact us via email@example.com