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Business leaders must offer a hand by setting positive priorities once lockdown ends

Sinead Donovan Sinead Donovan

A question of Who Are We has probably never been so stark as in the current crisis?

Am I a mother who is primarily safeguarding my children (whilst trying to home-school them!)?

Am I a daughter who is concerned about my father in a nursing home and how best to connect with him?

Am I an individual who is trying to look after her own health? 

Or am I a business leader who needs to effectively lead her team to ensure that, not only are they safe, but also have jobs to stay in and come back to when this crisis is over?

Whilst the obvious answer is we are ALL OF THE ABOVE, there is a risk that our role as business leaders at this point in time may seem inconsequential and not important. 

In times of danger we know that we kick into the fight or flight mode and by necessity we will look after our nearest, our dearest and ourselves. 

HOWEVER, I do urge business leaders around the country and around the globe to remember that when the immediate medical danger is over; when the self-isolation and quarantine phase is over, the medics, the frontline staff and the politicians will step back and take a much earned hiatus and it is at that stage that the business leaders will need to step up and will need to be the leaders that we are. 

For me though the question is “what direction do we want to lead Ireland INC?” 

Obviously it is crucial that we maintain and ensure the viability and stability of businesses and I know that for many SME’s in today’s environment that is becoming increasingly more difficult. I admire and respect the lengths to which business owners are trying to reinvent themselves to keep viable.   For them it is the government and the politicians that they need to help them in their immediate need. But longer term, it is likely to be larger businesses, the international companies, the multinationals that will be looked to, to frame what our new businesses environment may look like.

Ireland INC has been pushed into the digital era overnight and something that we as a profession of accountants planned to develop over the next number of years has become reality. We are all grappling with working remotely. We are all identifying new ways of doing business.   

We are being forced to remove personal contact and I am witnessing this meaning that group decisions and consultation is becoming less and less. The art of negotiation is diminishing day by day and the vital importance of body language and physical connection, which is so vital to many aspects of business is almost disappeared. Whilst this has been arterially escalated my question to us all as business leaders is, what do we want the new normal to look like when we exit

Is there a risk that our drive for how we do business; that our drive for how we are successful, in this current period, will overtake basic human needs? Basic human necessities? Basic human values? 

They are the values of social interaction, the values of feeling needed, the values of being wanted the values of being important. There is a risk that as we move quicker and quicker into this digital era in business, we could forget these values and become obsessed with the obvious benefits of working remotely. The increased time efficiency, the ability to deflect conflict easier, the lack of facilities costs – I could go on. I personally fear that this is a route that we could quite easily find ourselves head long on and be unable to turn the train quickly. 

Therefore, my call to us today, as business leaders, is yes, in the short term look after the profitability, look after the viability of your business, keep it going so that people have a job.  However, keep in mind what is important to us going forward? 

Is it that we keep the human values of empathy, of negotiation, of debate, of effective decision making or is it that we move to a faceless, heartless and remote way of working? 

There is room for both but without positive intervention or without deliberate direction, there is a risk that we will be pushed down the route of least resistance which could be one of diminished human intervention and I would fear that that would not be good for society and would not be good for the next generation who would lose the art of debate, decision making, empathy and negotiations.

So business leaders as a whole, please in this current crisis, have two goals. 

Your short term goal and your long term goal and it may be that we need to come together to agree and try to devise what the long term goal looks like and what business in the second half of 2020 and going forward will look like.