8 minute read
17 July 2020
CEO & Founder
This is the very first time in our lives when the whole world had to stop at the same time.
Since the UK entered into lockdown, I have closely monitored government policy, business reaction, education, people’s lifestyle and behavior, and then summarized my findings and views into 30 articles (in Japanese).
Now, many try to predict what the “new normal” would be, but I realised changes had already started before the COVID-19 pandemic. As people stopped and reflected on their lives, some of these changes have become more apparent.
What have we learned and what can we do as a business?
Interestingly, the lockdowns happened when we were reviewing our own business strategy and it has made us look even more closely at who we are, what we believe in and evaluate our place in the world. We have had the time to sit and think deeply about the purpose of Ocean Bridge Management and how we connect with our clients across the globe.
Individual values re-defined
When COVID-19 forced the world to stop, it triggered people to think profoundly and re-define what matters and what happiness means to them. Many people have realised that real happiness derives from your own values, not necessarily from something given externally, such as titles and money.
What does it mean for businesses?
People will focus more on the difference between “reality” and “superficial rhetoric”.
Some companies have set “CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)”, ” Environmentally friendly”, “Equality” as their corporate policy but sometimes they were merely marketing messages and the substance was not there. People have had the time to distinguish between the words and the actions of their brands and where there are gaps they are vocal about their displeasure and are taking business elsewhere.
Even before COVID-19, ‘customisation’ of product and service has been a cornerstone of B2C business – what consumers want they get, their way. I believe this will now also become mainstream as a platform for B2B. Companies will have to consider more about how to answer each individual clients’ requirements and preferences, when they design products and services.
This point is also relevant to companies’ own employees. The employee brand – especially when we are all working remotely – is key to creating trust in a brand offer. As home working brings peoples personal and private lives closer together can a companies’ values match with those of their individual staff members? Are staff convinced by company policy, products, services, activities and contributions? Communication with logical and emotional explanation and constructive discussions between managers and staff will even be more important so both sides can clearly understand values.
This will be very challenging in high-context cultures such as Japan, where people are expected to understand the other with implicit and nonverbal communication. High-context cultures have their own virtues and benefits and whilst we don’t have to change the culture, it is vital to introduce more verbal communications particularly in a business situation. This represents a huge opportunity for Japanese businesses to get truly close to their teams in a way that has not been possible before but which much research shows results in improved productivity and innovation.
Humans are more capable and adaptable
One of the positive findings of COVID-19 was that we discovered that we are more capable and adaptable than we had thought.
There were so many companies and people who hadn’t worked from home before. Although people certainly faced difficulties, we have adapted ourselves to the new environment very quickly. Managers have learned how to achieve virtual teamwork, more online training courses have become available, and even exhibitions are held virtually. Thankfully we had had the right technologies to make these possible as well as people’s capability and can-do attitude. Through this experience, managers have learned that they can actually delegate more to their team members and also have identified more suitable roles for some individuals.
Working-from-home and home schooling have made us realise what our family members have been up to and what they can do. It is still the case in many families that women play the main role to look after households and raise children, and I have heard of many mothers’ struggles to teach their children in addition to managing their daily work routine. However, I have also heard from male colleagues that they started getting more involved and would like to join in more family matters than they used to.
Even after this pandemic recedes, people will pursue their work-life balance further, and in order to attract talented people, companies should offer flexible working options for each individual to choose from.
Accordingly, companies’ staff appraisal schemes should change. Judging productivity by the number of hours in the office does not work anymore and flexible targets according to an individual’s personal life may be even required. Therefore, the more intangible benefits like happiness and self-achievement and daily communication between manager and staff will become even more important.
As lockdown has been eased, I have observed that some companies have returned back to their old behavior. There will be a larger gap between the companies who stick to their old rules and those who adapt to the new customs. Businesses with international operations may want to be aware of this and apply styles, which suit different countries and regions.
Local and Global – the importance of partnerships
During lockdown, when people had to isolate themselves, and access to essentials was difficult, the local community support network has become a key to supporting daily life. Small local shops, which understand local requirements, have acted swiftly to stock up on products which large supermarkets struggled to source. They also have offered customised services such as a delivery to the local community and sourcing of specific products for vulnerable people. In the past, many people had chosen convenience in getting everything from large supermarkets but have realised now the importance of local and personalized relationships.
The pandemic also has highlighted importance of global cooperation. Whilst this unknown virus spreads around the world, scientists, politicians and businesses have had to learn from each other and work together to establish the best practices. A single country or company could not have tackled this challenging situation itself.
I do not believe in protectionism. Globalism with a cooperative mindset will be the way. Indeed, I believe in the importance of relationships in the business world in the same way that Japanese culture values relationships.
From a business perspective, this global pandemic has also paralysed global logistics, supply chains and people’s movement. Some companies, who had moved their factories abroad due to lower labour and operational costs, are already re-considering bringing back some production lines to their own countries. Others have started looking for overseas partners as their staff cannot travel abroad. These actions have been taken not as temporary measures but as permanent arrangements in order to build more resilient and flexible supply chains and business models.
The important point here is that companies do not have to necessarily establish everything by themselves. Working with reliable partners, supply chains and business models can be more resilient and effective and possibly be a better way to understand the local market requirements.
The answer is not to choose either global “or” local but it is both global “and” local.
Importance of “Fail Fast” and “Correct Fast”
Faced with a fast-spreading and relatively unknown virus, governments had to apply every possible analysis from scientific, political, and economic perspectives and make some very quick decisions. Although advanced digital and medical technologies, as well as expert knowledge were applied, COVID-19 spread faster than the human decision-making processes could keep up with. I can imagine how difficult it was for all countries when they were forced to make difficult decisions before finalising their analysis and having to deal with relatively high levels of uncertainty in the data. None of the decisions were perfect but on average, it appears that they saved more lives than if no decision was made at all.
What I learned from this was the importance of “Fail Fast” and “Correct Fast”.
It is very difficult to take risks. We naturally want to delay the decision point until we feel confident and comfortable. In some countries like Japan, failure means embarrassment and it is difficult to be given a second chance (nowadays the trend is changing though). When the world is moving faster, delaying the decision-making could make the situation worse. It’s better to make the best decision at that point, act, and analyse the result – run all the process as quickly as possible – then if it fails, correct it fast.
Today, as more research and analysis are revealed, we have started hearing “This could have been done.”, “That should have done.” It is important to understand the results but let’s not to use these to blame someone. We should appreciate the best possible decision was made at that point, learn from it and move forward.
Everything is equal
I have taken this pandemic as a warning from nature as to the arrogance of human beings.
This incident has taught us that everything should be equal; between nature and human, client and supplier and between individuals. These relationships should not be about one person or party controlling another person or party. When everyone stands on equal ground, embraces differences and removes silo mentalities, we can achieve real collaboration and create a more compassionate world.
The world had to make so much sacrifice. Too many lives have been lost and many people have experienced pain and sorrow. We express our sincere condolences and promise that we will not waste our learning. We should not go back to where we were. We do not have to wait for the world to change. Let’s make positive changes and leave the world in a better place.
At Ocean Bridge Management we look forward to welcoming you all to create ideas, partnerships and continued success in a ‘new’ world.
Please contact us if you would like to discuss further.