Few of us have encountered business-related mental health challenges on this scale.
While many seasoned business leaders have weathered recessions, few will have worked through a pandemic that has changed the entire way we are used to working. As a result, a feeling of anxiety about the next chapter is a phenomenon that is becoming more common.
Many companies have surprised themselves with how well they have transitioned to working remotely during the first lockdown. Many have been able to service clients and transact business seamlessly so far.
However, clients and deals were mostly won before lockdown. That means there is now growing anxiety around how to win new business while working remotely. This anxiety is understandable but is unhelpful.
Research shows that anxiety primes us to scan the environment for threat (rather than opportunities) and lessens our ability to control what we pay attention to. This makes us far more distractible and impairs our working memory, reducing the amount of information we can pay attention to and retain.
The good news is that research from past crises tells us much about how we can respond during this time to turn the pandemic into a transformative event for us, our colleagues and our clients.
It’s reasonable to try and focus on what you consider to be your best (or most affordable) offering to win new business. But this pandemic is affecting different companies in different ways, and it’s hard to second-guess what challenge each one is dealing with.
During this time, it makes much more sense to be client-led. So, instead of telling your clients and prospects how you’re navigating the pandemic, ask your current clients how they’re doing, and if there is anything you can do to help.
By having an honest (and supportive) conversation with them about how they’re handling the pandemic and how their business is performing, you’ll get a better idea of what they need and how you can help.
It’ll also give you a better idea of how their industry is coping and will provide you with ideas for approaching other companies in a more personalised manner.
The pandemic is a VUCA problem (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), and it is creating hugely complex problems for companies, requiring them to make business-changing decisions in the height of uncertainty.
Research from Dr Heidi Gardner of Harvard Law School shows that often, these VUCA problems are high-value problems for businesses that ideally require integrated, multi-specialist expertise to address.
Dr Gardner’s research also shows that employing Smart Collaboration to address these issues can dramatically increase what companies are willing to pay for the advice or service that solves them.
When many people are being asked to take pay cuts and work fewer hours, it is natural that this brings out territorial behaviour and the ‘hoarding’ of work and knowledge.
But this can be highly detrimental to a company’s ability to identify client needs or growth opportunities, so actively encouraging collaboration between employees and leadership as well as between colleagues is a real business imperative.
Data from the 2008 recession shows that professional service firm partners that collaborated effectively by winning work and sharing it amongst the team saw very little downturn during the recession.
When people are connected and collaborating, they feel a part of the business, want it to succeed and are more likely to share new business opportunities and ideas, rather than hoard them. If they’re not engaged, where are those opportunities going to go when they come in?
Shift from fear to curiosity
Reappraising the fear of an empty pipeline is crucial to navigating a quiet period. Remember, good things can happen as well as bad, and uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing. Shifting your mindset to be curious about the possibilities rather than fearful helps keep a positive, constructive mentality.
This is easier said than done but can be helped by staying connected, engaging with activities that you enjoy and stimulates new ideas for your business (like reading trade publications, books and attending webinars and events) and making some time to switch off from work.
By doing so, you’ll be in a better position to be creative and identify new opportunities.
Provide emotional support
During times of uncertainty, people need to hear words of comfort from those that they trust and rely on.
Some managers struggle with providing emotional support, but it is crucial for building trust (which is critical to teams working effectively, especially when people are not in the office together) and is something that people need.
The words ‘we/you will get through this’ are profoundly comforting and, when said in the workplace, help foster self-belief and optimism that help support a constructive mindset.
There are some campaigns to get business leaders to ‘reboot’ their 2020, but that seems unfair and exhausting.
A more realistic ask is to recognise that we have and are continuing to go through a seismic event and help ourselves and others to emerge from it with greater insight, resilience and ultimately a stronger company (or person) by learning lessons and using these to move forward and grow.
By collaborating with your peers, you can draw on the strength of others to win some new business.
Portia Hickey is co-creator of The Smart Collaboration Accelerator, a research-based psychometric assessment and suite of tools to help teams and individuals collaborate more effectively.
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