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Sure, those hors d'oeuvres look tasty but don’t miss the main course

Monty Python suggests that we should “always look on the bright side of life”. You might be finding that a bit difficult today, given what’s going on around the world. However, fixating on the fact that times are tough doesn’t seem helpful either – we’re all living through it and are very well aware of what is going on.

It may feel contrived and naïve to paint a rose-coloured picture of the world that is at odds with what everyone is seeing and experiencing. But somehow, I think that business leaders should, particularly at these times, be taking heed of the Python’s outlook and somehow find the silver linings among all the dark storm clouds overhead and on the horizon.

The reality is that silver linings, good news and opportunities are there. History has taught us that this is the case. Research from McKinsey shows that, in the wake of the 2008 recession, companies that shifted gear sooner into a proactive, growth mode emerged from the downturn stronger. Plus, this upward trajectory stayed with them for up to 10 years. Similarly, the health crisis has already demonstrated a K-shaped recovery curve, with the gap between the winners and losers growing.

For instance, it is astonishing that more than two years of pandemic later, there are still retailers that have no, or only a rudimentary, e-commerce offering. Even with access to easy-to-deploy online shopping cart technology and payments gateways, these companies presumably decided it was better to maintain a highly defensive posture, and not spend the time and money needed to shift to an e-commerce offering. Or, take the air travel industry, which, it seems, was caught entirely off-guard by the (entirely predictable to the rest of us) renewed enthusiasm for jumping on a plane for a warm-weather holiday as soon as travel restrictions allowed. I know that I am over-simplifying, as there are multiple factors at play here, but my general point remains: if you don’t look for the opportunities, they’ll pass you by. Just like your boarding time when you are still trying to get through airport security after a four-hour queue.

What does this mean for business leaders then? I would suggest it starts with keeping a focus on what you do well and celebrating the victories, even if they feel small, that moves you forward. Then, don’t forget your people. While never glossing over the fact that times are tough, celebrate the personal wins of your team too. This will also help build morale and team spirit after years of remote working. These small business and personal wins will start adding up to bigger and bigger wins, improving morale, build cohesion and ensuring business and personal alignment.

While reactionary, short-term thinking is tempting, it can only deliver short-term goals and frequently can provide an obstacle to the achievement of long-term strategies. For instance, the FP&A Trends Survey 2021 showed that 35% of companies surveyed could not justify the ROI on FP&A technology investment spending versus shorter-term sales and marketing spending. A further 28% said FP&A was not considered a strategic investment area in their organisation. And yet few will debate the absolute necessity of financial planning and analysis and the key role these disciplines have played in supporting management with hard data during challenging economic times and beyond.

So, while you are looking for those opportunities, don’t fill up on the metaphorical hors d’oeuvres, as delicious and welcome as they might be after a long pandemic. This could leave you content, still out on the balcony, and ill-prepared and positioned for the main courses when they arrive. And it’s the main courses, not the starters, that provide the sustenance to see you through to the other side and provide the platform for building your business up and on to the next level.


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