The Year of Hard Learning – Part Two

A few days back I posted what 2020 had taught me personally. With the break almost over, it is invariably a time to reflect on the observations of 2020 from a SME perspective.

A few days back I posted what 2020 had taught me personally. With the break almost over, it is invariably a time to reflect on the observations of 2020 from a SME perspective.

I’ve been working financially with SMEs for almost 20 years. With the benefit of perspective (and a whole lot more sleep), this is what working with SMEs that made the best of 2020 taught me and what we, at BBB, are taking forward into 2021:

1.    Great teams leaned in further towards each other. They understood that it was going to be uncertain, totally absorbing of their time and exhausting, but they did it anyway. These teams were also totally free of blame (and any phrases with the word ‘should’ in them).

2.    Crisis amplified the situation. If an organisation had strong, unified leadership before Feb 2020, it kicked in loud and clear for the rest of the year (from hell). My observations were not that the year was easier for great leadership, just that they spent less time thinking and talking about it, and more time doing something and less time shocked to the spot.

3.    They saw the crisis as an opportunity. They didn’t just talk about it, they did something about it. 2020 was the year of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It was an honour (and an education) to work alongside companies and individuals who were wobbling around internally (and were brave enough to admit it) but did two things: were genuinely vulnerable to their teams, and admitted they didn’t have all the answers.

4.    They simplified and focussed on their strengths. Sounds a lot easier than it is but whilst everyone else was diversifying (usually the most prudent approach in uncertainty), they cut their losses on products and customers where they weren’t getting cut-through and doubled down on where they had depth. They went deep whilst everyone else went broad.

5.    Actions were consistent and disciplined. Boring I know but with the drama all around, they made the space to work out what small actions moved the needle and then they did them. Over and over and over and over.

6.    They kept moving forward. This I found the most surprising thing about 2020. They kept making bold, positive, full-of-hope decisions without market certainty. Not with fake bravado but with the quiet confidence of people who knew their place in their world and had confidence that this too would pass.

7.    They didn’t rely on Government assistance. They used it to stabilise and shore up their position for the year ahead. Many didn’t get it at all. 2021 is not going to be better than 2020, it’s going to be different. And without the crutch.

8.    They risked communication overload. They talked about what they needed to do, why they were doing to do it, how they were going to do it, who was going to do it and when done, what the impact was. Repeat.

9.    They were not shy about providing feedback to their team and others. The clarity of the message was deafening in great teams last year. News – good, bad and indifferent was delivered clearly, with respect, but delivered in any case, on a short, sharp and shiny basis. There was no shying away from anything that needed to be said with the understanding that 2020 was not an excuse to slip into mediocracy.

10. They called in external knowledge as needed. They didn’t shy away from recognising the areas that needed deeper experience or expertise from their external networks, and called it in, seeing the spend as the necessary investment for the years post-COVID.

I’ve used the lessons above to learn from the people I loved working with last year to step into 2021 with a renewed sense of hope and renewal.

I wish everyone a sure-footed step forward into 2021.

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