Business Values and Priorities in the Post-Covid World

In a series of articles, CEO Andy Steele will be looking at how the current crisis will affect the way we do business, and whether it will foster new thinking and new ways of working to help the construction industry address its deep rooted challenges on productivity and value.

Before the Covid-19 crisis, businesses talked a lot about purpose and values. I recognise that this is easier to do when times are good and revenue is rolling in at a steady rate. But whether it is at a personal or corporate level, extreme pressures put our values to the test.

My belief is that we are defined by how we act. Never more so than when our normal world is thrown into turmoil and when we seem beset by threats we cannot quantify or fully comprehend. Somebody recently likened character to a tube of toothpaste – what comes out when you squeeze it is who you really are.

I doubt you would ever find a company that did not claim to put its customers and its people first. When the chips were down, the commitments that were paper-thin were exposed for all to see.

Like many, I looked on in dismay at holiday companies that put every possible barrier in the way of refunding customers for holidays they could not take. I also wonder about retail brands that have cranked up their online selling without seemingly asking themselves whether they were able to fulfill and service the orders that came in. I believe there will be a reckoning for all of this.

I am all too aware of the business and cash flow issues that drive these decisions. But you have to cling to your values like a life raft in a storm. In many cases it was the needs and interests of owners and shareholders that took precedence over everything else – including customers and their own people.

I have also seen large and well known brands whose knee-jerk response to the lockdown was to immediately lay people off and suggest they go and work at a supermarket. As a CEO I have had to make some difficult decisions along with my board colleagues. I can promise you this was done with a heavy heart. The lack of taking the rough with the smooth shown by some businesses was breathtaking.

Customers or Shareholders?

In a less stark and prominent way, the battle between the interests of customers and shareholders has been rumbling on for years. In the corporate world, it is almost always the shareholder that wins. While the conflict was a series of skirmishes it maybe did not attract that much attention. The pressure has now increased many-fold.

As we work our way out of the lockdown and things slowly return to something like normal, the pressures will not disappear. Businesses have had a major economic shock. Values, purpose and priorities will continue to be exposed through our behaviours as we seek to rebuild our balance sheets.

Leading a privately owned business has many advantages. For one thing I can say that putting the customer first and keeping our staff safe are our priorities – and mean it! Collectively, we can then manage the consequences that flow from those commitments with consistency and shared purpose.

Naturally, projects have been delayed because it simply was not possible to carry on working. As we come out of lockdown, my priority will be enabling our teams to do all we can to get projects back on track and deliver our commitments as efficiently as possible.

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