Here’s what I know: The art of business management in uncertain times

Peter Done: Group Managing Director and Founder

November 04 2019

In a speech made back in 2016 following the EU Referendum result, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned of the considerable uncertainty the country faced. 

He made the point that “Bad things come in threes: geopolitical, economic, and policy uncertainty.” 

It’s fair to say that three years since Carney made that comment, we as business owners are still operating in an environment where uncertainty in all three of those areas is unresolved.

How, then, do we manage—do we lead—when we are working on such shifting sands? 

Differentiate yourself

Firstly, while this period of uncertainty is uncomfortable, it isn’t unprecedented. 

Back in the seventies, when my brother and I were starting in business, we were operating in a political environment that was profoundly anti-business. But I learned that even in difficult periods, you can still differentiate yourself as a business. 

Your competitors are in the same boat, so focus on what you can control and work on improving that. 

Whether it’s through client service, better marketing, more clever use of technology or improvements to your product, you can always make small, incremental differences even in the most difficult times. 

So work out what is in your power to change and control and concentrate on that. 

Boom & bust is cyclical

Secondly, keep in mind that this economic uncertainty won’t go on forever. Nothing in life is certain apart from change, so this is just part of the deal—however frustrating it is. 

It’s important when running your business to be consistent and keep a clear eye on what you are trying to achieve. 

Respond to change and be flexible, but keep a strong sense of your business goals and how you are going to achieve them this month, next month, this year, and in the next five years. 

Adversity builds resilience

Thirdly, if you can get through uncertain and difficult periods, you can get through anything. 

So look hard at where you can make savings and tighten your belt a little or a lot (that will pay off in the good times, too). 

And remember that the adage “cash is king” is never truer than in uncertain times. 

As well as bringing challenges, periods of change bring opportunities—competitors not making it, good people coming onto the market, new equipment going cheap—so don’t be blind to the openings that volatile markets can create rather than simply focusing on the problems.

Collaborate & adapt

Learn from others and build a network of close advisers you can trust. 

Whether it’s your accountant, your marketing agency or Peninsula for your HR and health & safety, you need to be able to draw on the expertise of a good network of counsellors. 

And finally, remember Darwin. The path to survival is adaptation. So challenge yourself, learn to react quickly, and be aware that nothing is constant.

As Darwin said, “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

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