This is one of the hardest articles I have ever had to write! I have weathered many crises, developed new business strategies, dealt with “severe” emergencies, and built new futures for businesses. We always won in the end, and I was pleased to show that I really know my profession, that I am a talented business developer. But this situation is completely different! People’s private lives, or their lives in general, are under attack; there will be no winner in the end, no one will stand on podiums, and no one will smile with medals draped across their necks!
Yes, we are human!
This article is obviously about business development: what is happening around us, what are the mistakes we should avoid, and what are the specific recipes that will support us to not only survive, but to stay on our feet, or even come out of this crisis stronger than ever. But before we dive into the professional waters, I don’t want to be one of those managers who doesn’t think we need to talk about private issues, who believes that we will look stronger if we pretend everything is perfectly fine. I have always taken great care of my private life, those of my mentees, and those of my colleagues if they wanted because it is clear that business success is only possible in the long run with a stable private background. Many have tried over the decades to argue that anyone can be successful, even with an empty private life, and they were often right in the short term, but I have never seen a real, long-term success without a stable home life. Nowadays, I think everyone agrees with me. That is I was surprised when I was browsing LinkedIn and Twitter — looking at the more “business” side of social life — and I could hardly find a post about how much we worry about our parents, grandparents, friends, and loved ones. Instead, I saw hundreds of posts about what a tragedy this is for businesses, what will happen to my “industry”, and CEOs crying among themselves. They were playing their acclaimed role of the objective, tough businessman who eats, sleeps, and breathes business. Do we really have no private lives? Do we really have no one to worry about? Are we actually worried about them? It doesn’t seem like it! This is a direct consequence of the fact that most owners and managers do not live and achieve success with their “original personalities”. Many people are now frozen because there is no well-designed formula or code of conduct for this situation. Of course, we can’t be ourselves yet, because we have got to figure out some trick, some way to outsmart this situation. This is a crisis where masks not only start to crack, they shatter into a thousand pieces!
What do we achieve with this? Leaders do not talk about these feelings; they do not say that “I am a fantastic manager, but already, and for the foreseeable future, my mom, dad, grandma, or someone else will dominate most of my thoughts, no matter what! So yes, I won’t be 286,000%!” If the leaders don’t talk about it, their team members won’t talk about it either, so it becomes a big, theatrical production that skips rehearsals and starts performing in front of an unforgiving audience. Good luck! We need to open up about this topic; we need to be able to talk about our fears! Because if we don’t talk about it, we end up feeling overwhelmed by the news cycle. To rely on the media in a situation where, unfortunately, their responsibility for providing reliable information is often dwarfed by the need to get clicks? That’s not too wise! Of course, trustworthy professionals will also speak in the media, so not everything we hear will be “stupid”, but in this emotionally fraught situation, filtering information is very difficult. If colleagues have to bury their feelings and fears, it is not just the absolutely understandable and realistic anxiety that will take energy away from work, but also their role-playing. That means that by the end of the process, we will have people performing at their worst, thus making the crisis even more terrible than anyone could ever predict!
I think I’ve proven myself enough over the years to say I’m a good business development professional! But my thoughts are filled with anxiety about my family members. My mother is in two high-risk groups, and she is in the Netherlands, where, unfortunately, their response timing was later and less effective than Hungary’s. I often think that “this year, next year, and for a very long time, I would like to send my love to her on Mother’s Day.” But I’m not at ease with my partner either, because even though their age group has “only” a 0.02% mortality rate and no disease that could put them at heightened risk, even if there is only a slight chance of anything going wrong, then I’m worried and I want to protect them! And this is how I am with the people that matter to me! Those who know me know that I am not quick to panic, and even consider me very objective and raw in personal issues, but this is a different situation. Of course, those who really know you won’t be surprised by these sentiments!
Nothing will ever be the same!
There is a crisis! The rules that are true for any crisis will apply to this one. One important thing I hope we have learned — especially after the 2008 Great Recession — is that nothing will be the same as before! This was the most significant adverse effect a little over ten years ago. So many people thought they just had to hunker down, wait for the storm to blow over, and then everything would settle down! Well, nothing has settled! One thing is for sure: those who proactively built new business strategies recovered the crisis, and those who hesitated ended up blaming the recession for their bankruptcy, even after 5-6 years. This is no different now, at least in business terms!
The human factor of this crisis, however, brings several new important aspects into the picture that should be addressed very, very, very carefully! In 2009, a businessperson, especially an executive or business owner, would have been expected to step in, dynamise themselves, and come up with new strategies the next day! But I can count on my hands the number of people who actually did that. Maybe, because many people learned from this, there are very proactive people now! Perhaps even too proactive! While on one side, some are crying, on the other side, others are trying to hide their fears that their business may be ruined by coming up with lightning-fast solutions for how they will rescue themselves. They think that people will activate themselves once they receive guidance. That would be the case if nothing else were happening in the world! I have read dozens of odd, hollow statements from event organisers and business clubs such as “even though you can’t network in person, our gates are still open!” There is no specific content behind such messages. I have also read posts from a “personal branding” expert’s saying that, first of all, they are not affected by isolation orders and travel bans since they only have 15-20 members at any given event anyway — which is not a good message to send after operating for so many years — and, second of all, they think the situation will be resolved in a few weeks! What? What do we open the gates for? What’s going to work out? We read every day that hundreds/thousands are dying here in our neighbouring countries, and the epidemic has not even reached its peak. How do you know what’s going to happen? Unfortunately, social media is a double-edged sword, and many people are stabbing themselves now.
Nothing will be the same! Note that this is a very serious recession from a business point of view! It is what some smart consultants had predicted for 2020 anyway, but it would never have occurred to me that it would happen under these circumstances. There will be companies that are strengthened — yet not victorious — and there will be companies that fall apart by the end of the crisis. It can also be said that a crisis is always a kind of “cleansing fire”, in which professionally weak companies are the most likely to fail, and professionally strong, proactive ones survive and find themselves in a better position than before the crisis. Just one recent memory from Hungary: at the onset of the Great Recession, I started working as a mentor for a media company. Even though the official data showed that the revenue of the media world had shrunk by more than half, this mentored company’s profit actually increased because they developed new products and services. Everyone else “disappeared” from the market.
The criers and the others
Yes, there are economic sectors where business owners and executives are facing severe problems. But this crisis is a strange “genre”. Everything will be in its proper place in the end, but I must stress heavily that I am only talking about business here! Many sectors that are already bearing the brunt of the crisis have grown unnecessarily rich in recent years or decades. And because there was a constant, inflated demand in their sectors, unfortunately, the quality of service also left something to be desired. Obviously, this is not true for all players, but true professionals who have served customers respectfully so far will find themselves doing it in the future as well. There will be very fierce competition, which will always lead to drastic quality improvements! Although these thoughts may not be sympathetic, they are still true!
And yes, some sectors will thrive in this situation! After all, there are industries where calm is not good. But they too must proceed intelligently! In many cases, I have seen companies take flight and circle like vultures, which is far from morally acceptable and does not bode well for the long run since people will remember how they took advantage of a devastating situation. Plus, it’s all true! If we are working in a business where growth is realistically expected — because, despite many CEO tears, this version does exist — then it is our duty to act FAIRLY. There were examples of this on my beautiful newsfeed: a company that made their home office solution available for free, or a major telecom that increased customer bandwidth for free to help address anticipated problems! In both cases, they could have just waited for “customers to fall into their laps” as they say. But they didn’t! And we who are decision-makers, we have to take similar action, or at least behave similarly, like humans.
Most importantly, if not at other times, we must now be aware that such a crisis will affect every personality type differently! We cannot deal with people or the situation “in general”. Now it really did not matter to whom or how we speak, because it is a spiritual crisis, a mental crisis and an economic recession. Where, moreover, it is not the economic recession followed by a personal panic, but vice versa! Don’t forget this! In other words, we need to know the “original personality” of our staff, because during a crisis and they will live with this personality! With this in mind, we also need to be prepared for the fact that we may be surprised by a colleague. If we are not ready for such a surprise, we may lose them, or they may ruin our business. In sport, this occurs at the start of a championship match, but in this case, many are struggling to survive!
We need to rethink our leadership capabilities! We need to rethink our own fitness! Those who are in perfect command of a company/team in peacetime are usually not capable of managing them during a crisis. Of course, we want to think that we are universal leaders, but we are not. If we are wrong about ourselves, it will be fatal to the business. Making a mistake with a colleague can make the future harder. We should review our earlier analyses and take a long look in the mirror.
We need a new strategy! But this can only be built by the right people! Let’s be careful about who is good at managing and dictating in new situations, and who is simply pretending in hopes that it will help them survive. We must not be mistaken about this either! It is often stated that every personality type can be a good leader, which is true. Still, in this situation, it will be difficult to move in the right direction without the proper “Ruler” factor and at least the appropriate “Individual” factor. In fact, it will be hard to move at all! If there is no such specialist within the company, get one immediately from outside, even if you need to hire someone!
New sales technology will be necessary. In fact, sales will definitely be essential! Many companies have not learned much from the Great Recession, so they are “stretching” existing relationships to the limit and are putting zero energy into sales. Some people had started emphasising sales, but it was “too expensive” and did not bring in money right away, so they pulled the investment. These companies are now very vulnerable as they not only lack a salesforce, they do not even have sales attitudes and instincts present in the company. But this is a serious problem!
An assessment must take place! We have to own up to the weaknesses of our businesses; our strong sides are used to taking blows from the outside, but a crisis is sneakier, it always finds a way to hit our weaknesses! Of course, this should be done every year, but the vast majority of business owners and executives do not do this. In addition, you should ask an expert for an assessment; otherwise, it will not be objective! What should be assessed? For example, the extent to which our current business has followed consumer or generational trends. Making a profit doesn’t mean I’m doing the business right! It can also mean that I’m in the right place at the right time! But now neither the right place nor the right time will happen very often!
And, for my closing thoughts, I left the home office phenomenon. This will be standard in the future! If we cannot adapt to this situation, we will suffer mentally! On the one hand, many people now find themselves forced to do something as an employer that they would never have done, all as a result of external pressure. Indeed, for example, the “Supporter” personality-type leaders who love to be physically close to their people, even when there is no need to do so because they can do their jobs from home! They do this because of one of the psychological rules of proportion: everyone starts from themselves. After all, they cannot concentrate on work at home — at least they think so — because, for them, the workplace means not only work but in many cases also their primary source of social interactions and friends. We also have to take into account that there are those who do not like to be at home! Many relationships survive because people only see each other for two hours a day. So the home office is much more than “bringing my computer home”. Mentally, this is a brand-new challenge for a significant share of employees! If we do not count on this, if we do not develop an HR strategy for this, then our business may have very serious problems. Can you imagine Individual people, who always want others around them, working productively from home? Can they sit down and work alone, systematically, and do it all at the same quality as before? There is not much of a change in the case of the Ruler, though they may become more proactive, so there is one personality type for which the home office makes no difference in work ethic and performance: the Expert. As leaders, we need to know the personalities of our companies/teams have when it comes to planning work and maintaining quality! We also need to recognise that the home office — which has now evolved into obsession — may become a fundamental part of our culture for the foreseeable future!
About my home
Returning to the introductory thoughts, these are the most difficult moments for a businessperson, a real person. Business development — true business development where professional knowledge is given — will flourish in the coming period. Obviously, when it comes to a reshuffling of the market, it can’t be any different! Unfortunately, many people will try to take advantage of this situation. The professionals who use words like “inspiring”, “dynamic”, and “agile” have already appeared. Let’s learn from the waves of “coaches” that emerged after the 2008 crisis. Remember when nine out of ten ineffective directors were fired, and they suddenly became “executive coaches” who were ready to help SMEs reach the next level? Look at the size and revenue of their coaching firms; no real business development specialist has 60,000 EUR annual revenue with zero profit!
I’ve talked to a lot of great people in recent weeks, as my mentees immediately contacted me for information since the onset of the crisis. There were places where strategy had to be rethought and others that need to just stay their course! We have been preparing for a serious recession! As I have already emphasised, not one from this source, but it was clear that major setbacks were coming. And, of course, starting many years ago, we have been building strategies for our partners that ensure secure growth. So our mentoring conversations also covered personal matters, because business is okay.
I asked all the professionals at Mentors & Partners Group to stay human! I don’t want to see social media reactions like “we have JUST the product for this situation!” However, crisis analysis is indeed the “genre” of the RISE system. I don’t want anyone to pounce at the expense of a particular company! Let’s be honest and intelligent! Of course, everyone has asked me, is it true that real business developers will be the winners of the crisis? And my answer to everyone is that there will be no winners! The victors will also stand atop the podium in tears, not because of personal satisfaction for their performance, but because of humanity’s suffering!
Finally, take care of yourselves, your loved ones, your friends, and your fellow human beings! And it might be weird to read this from a business developer, especially from me, but now the time where we have to deal with our private lives first and then move on to rescuing, rethinking, and developing our businesses!