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  • Writer's pictureDavid Cope

Out of the ashes, regenerating business

In the UK, Covid vaccines are rolling out at pace. There is finally an end in sight to the enforced life-saving restrictions that caused us all to stay at home, board up our businesses and retreat. But how do we want to emerge, blinking into the light of a new dawn? What will the lasting changes to business be?

Without the furlough scheme, there is no doubt that hundreds of thousands more people would be out of work, millions more perhaps. And even with that support, the peak of redundancies has exceeded that seen in the 2008 financial crisis. Economic activity, as measured by GDP, has contracted in ways that will give economists nightmares for years to come. Many physical businesses (shops, restaurants, leisure) feel like they are teetering on the brink of being wiped out as we live our lives online.

There are big questions about whether the gradual release of the restrictions will be done in a way that prevents further dramatic lockdowns. The narrative is that everyone wants to get back to 'normal', but what was normal anyway? In the UK, productivity had flat-lined for over a decade, employment statistics pointed towards the eradication of unemployment, but job insecurity, earnings inequality and the number working poor pointed towards lower quality work becoming a trend.

And after such a huge global shock to the system as Covid has caused, we are all changed, everything is changed.

Going back to 'normal' isn't possible, even if it was desirable.

Some businesses have seen their profits soar during the pandemic, but most have taken losses, taken on debt, lost experienced staff and lost touch with their otherwise-loyal customers. What is the road to recovery for them? How can they emerge from the ashes of this horrific pandemic and thrive in our changed world?

There are many critiques of the type of economy we had created. It was extractive - extracting value from the planet, from workers, from future generations, and putting that value in the hands of a few shareholders who have amassed huge wealth. It rewarded the status quo through a taxation, regulatory and financial system that the big players, the vested interests, protected from disruption. And it relied on the assumption that there would be endless growth in economic activity, as measured by GDP, which is impossible on a finite planet.

But the pandemic has created a moment of potential. The old 'normal' has gone, burned to ashes. We now have choices about how we want to move forward. We can regenerate, into something that is fit for the future that we want to make. I've written before about the opportunities that 'green growth' can bring to businesses. Indeed, there is now evidence that businesses with a social and environmental conscience are bouncing back better, as this chart shows.

Regenerate your business

So what does this mean for your business - how can you regenerate in a way that brings benefits to your bottom line as well as society as a whole?

I've written before about how organisations can emerge from this crisis, fit for the future, by following these four steps (more details are included in the link):

  1. Dial up the amount of time that you and your team talk about your future beyond the topics of survival and operational challenges;

  2. Be extra vigilant about your natural instincts to jump to answers and lock in plans. We’ve been operating in crisis mode for a while now, and that predisposes us to take decisions and answer questions. But devoting time to discussing possibilities, scenarios of the future, being open to uncertainty and being welcoming of ambiguity can help you understand your situation even better.

  3. Focus on outcomes, on how well you’ve met your goals during the crisis so far. Write a list of all the things that you have done that has helped, and all the things that haven’t worked. What new ways of working or innovations have made a real positive difference?

  4. Take a step back so you can see the bigger picture too. What has been the culture in your organisation during this crisis, do you want to preserve and enhance aspects of it into the future or are there aspects of your previous culture that have been lost that need to be brought back?

But a lot of that is just about adapting and making changes, not about transformations that could catapult you into something that will truly bring about regeneration. You've been affected by this terrible year, but so have your customers and your competitors too. Now is the time to position your business to succeed in that new landscape.

There are many ways that might chose to think about how to regenerate your business, but I like to talk with people about this Venn diagram. I use this as an adaptation on Ikigai - the Japanese approach to loving the life that you lead, where work is a pleasure because it feeds your soul. This simplified approach is a good framework for thinking about your business strategy too.

A Venn diagram, showing the intersection of what you love, what you excel at and what your customers need
Finding your business purpose

What you love

This is all about your passion, what fires you up and excites you about your business. Take it a step further and ask your team what they love about the business, and what would make them love it more? Have your views changed as a result of the pandemic?

What you excel at

By knowing what do you better than anyone else, you'll be able to demonstrate your competitive advantage. Is it about the skills of your team, the intellectual property or your brand recognition? What new talents have you discovered through the pandemic, where were you found wanting, and what can you do to improve on that?

What your customers need

If you can give your customers something that they value, at a price that they think is fair and that allows you to turn a profit, you've found a winning formula. But the pandemic has adjusted the expectations of your customers, are you keeping up with their changing needs? And could you go further and think about what all your stakeholders need (e.g. your suppliers, the local communities you operate in)?

Your answers to these questions come together in defining your business purpose. At 600 strategy we believe that purposeful organisations are truly transformative.

Take it a stage further

If these ideas have convinced you that you need to take this moment of opportunity to regenerate your business, then 600 strategy is here for you. We will work with you to find your purpose, and then help you put in the changes to make progress.

And if you know that this is the future you want to take for your business, then you are already half way to satisfying all the requirements to become a B-Corp. Together, B-Corps are a force for good, a community of like-minded businesses that want to achieve better result for people, planet and profit. 600 strategy can walk you through the process of certifying as a B-Corp and joining businesses as diverse as Alpro and Ella's Kitchen, or Alessi or Triodos Bank.

B-Corps are all leaders in their sectors, accredited as meeting high standards across customers, community, environment and governance. The recent Edelman Trust Barometer showed that 86% of the public expect company CEOs to speak out on social challenges and 68% expect business to step forward to fix social problems when governments do not.

So get in touch to start a conversation on how we can help you rise from the ashes and regenerate your business.


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