Preparing your Business for the Future: Advice from 3 Business Leaders

How will the business world be post COVID-19? How can we ensure our people are prepared and remain engaged in a post-pandemic world? And ultimately how can we ensure businesses remain afloat and that are employees are safe?

As Ireland and the world prepares to return to work and a “new normal” all these questions and many more arise.

To help you prepare your business for the future and get an insight into what other leaders in Ireland are doing to minimise risk I spoke to Catherine Moroney, Head of Business Banking Market at AIB Bank and Chairman & Non-Executive Director of AIB Corporate Finance, Ian Talbot, CEO of Chambers Ireland and Dónal Clancy, Managing Director of Laya Healthcare about how their businesses are managing and their advice on how to prepare for the future.

Catherine Moroney, Head of Business Banking Market at AIB Bank and Chairman & Non-Executive Director of AIB Corporate Finance

Head of Business Banking Market at AIB Bank and Chairman & Non-Executive Director of AIB Corporate Finance, Catherine is also a Board Member and  President of Dublin Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Advisory Board of DCU Centre for Family Business, a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers and a founding member of LIFT, a not-for-profit organisation formed to help lift Ireland’s future ‘values based’ leadership capability across business, education and public life.

Planning for the Future

We have never seen such a swift and deep ‘about face turn’ domestically and internationally in all facets of our lives – business, our health, and especially our human interactions and dynamics. This has caused an immediate need to react right now without knowing the full scale of what we are dealing with or before we start to plan for ‘what’s next’.

Accepting this and working from there is the first main element. In all my years of working with businesses of all sizes in all sectors I am struck by how quickly they (and Government) have stepped up to deal with the COVID crisis.  That said, the key part of this crisis has yet to play out and how we deal with the next phase is critical.

Catherine’s thoughts on preparing for the future

Start with now – this is essential

Before we can plan into the future, there are two critical resources in every business that have to be your top priority focus – your team and your cashflow.

Your Team – because they are so critical to your success. If they understand & buy into your business’ ‘purpose’ and your ‘why we exist’ they will step up and help resolve every issue you encounter.

Communicating openly with them, keeping them informed of exactly where you are, both the tough negative concerns and the opportunities and resolutions, will help ensure stay the pace and have as many, if not more, brilliant ideas than you to help you trade through this.

If you haven’t done this before with your team, now is a really good time to do so. They will astonish you with how they will help and with the level of discretionary effort they will put into the outcomes once you ask.

Your Cashflow – Businesses rarely fail due to a ‘bad idea’, most businesses fail when they run out of cash (or credit). Focus completely in the early stages on managing inflows, outflows and where you can on keeping revenue flowing.

We have had so many customers in the most impacted sectors ask us for either Loan Deferrals (to preserve their existing cash flow), or for new Credit (especially where they are pivoting), to help them trade through this.

An equal focus on your cash flow inwards from customers and cashflow outward is also needed daily right now. The Government Supports available for COVID are also well worth reviewing and assessing if you qualify (your bank or your accountant can also help with this).

Planning beyond the now

I believe a really good question to ask yourself is ‘What would I do with my business if I had unlimited resources?’ Allow yourself (and ideally your team), to really run with this.

Throw out all the ideas first, the ‘What if we did this?’ Then assess them afterwards to see what would most likely be successful, transformative, revenue; cash; or customer generative. If all the ideas are brilliant – well, you have a nice prioritisation challenge on your hands.

Then focus on building and scaling that relative to the resources you have, seek to expand the resources as you go (be that talent & skill set needs; cashflow needs; market & customer access needs or technology/machinery upgrades – be specific).

Do this with an unreserved level of optimism (followed only then by realism on delivery), this type of exercise almost always generates a fantastic new geography, sector, customer cohort, proposition or market gap you can address or pivot to.

Remain confident

Most of all keep your confidence in your own capability to come through this with your team. That is the most important focus you will bring as the leader of your business – leading yourself & your team through this.

Take time for yourself too and where you can give your brain a complete rest, whether its crosswords, a walk, cycling or yoga – you need to get off the treadmill to be able to think afresh tomorrow.

Ian Talbot CEO, Chambers Ireland

Ian has been Chief Executive of Chambers Ireland since 2008 and is currently Deputy President of Eurochambres. Prior to that, he was a Director of Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase in Ireland.

Chambers Ireland is the umbrella group for 40 affiliated Chambers of Commerce, representing businesses of all sizes and sectors across the whole island.

Ian’s thoughts on preparing for the future

There has never been a more important time to think about the future and how the world and how individual behaviours will respond to the new challenges we all face. Knowing that it is inherent in most of us to be wary of change too makes this a particularly interesting period.

Staying relevant

Perhaps the two biggest things Chambers does as a network are lobbying and networking. Until March 2020 that was all about meeting people. That traditional route is now closed for the time being.

Companies are adapting fast. Staying in touch with members and clients is now critical to understanding what their changing needs are and devise new solutions to meet them.

Most of our Chambers have invested heavily in CRM systems in the last couple of years and this has now proven particularly timely to manage that engagement process.

Allocation of our time

COVID-19 has led to an enormous surge in video conferencing use with improving platforms and increasingly resilient broadband. We have now been forced to conduct types of meetings online that we would never have dreamed of doing before.

Many of you will have seen that Minister Donohoe even managed to have a virtual Trade Mission to Washington DC without leaving Merrion Street! For those of us that would normally travel frequently, we have found that with a common will, almost as much can be achieved by a video conference.

We have gained the opportunity for significant savings in time and expense by reduced travel. However, we have lost the opportunities to read participants’ body language, solve the sticky issues during a coffee break and really build personal relationships.

We will need to think carefully about the right mix of increased videoconferencing versus travelling to meetings when more normal times resume.

People & policies

Demands on staff have changed significantly particularly those working remotely with a minimum of preparation time. As a result, they are probably spending even more “screen time” than usual because meetings have now become more eye-straining visual events.

If we are to increase the frequency of remote working, it will need to be accompanied by strong policies in areas such as Health & Safety and Employee Welfare. In the immediate term we are:

  • Ensuring that managers conduct team meetings as normal, or even more frequently, by video conference
  • Ensuring active engagement by all
  • Introducing a new HR App to improve connections and improve monitoring of things like holidays taken
  • We have also continuously highlighted the availability of our Employee Assistance Program

Dónal Clancy, Managing Director, Laya Healthcare

Dónal Clancy is Managing Director of Laya Healthcare and has led the team through significant periods of transformational change over the past 25 years. In 2011, Dónal steered the business through a management-led buyout culminating in the launch of Laya Healthcare in 2012 and its subsequent partnership with global insurer, AIG, in 2015.

Dónal is Chair of the Health Insurance Council and is a board member of Insurance Ireland. He also sits on the UCC Business Information Systems Advisory Board and is a member of the National Clinical Effectiveness Committee (NCEC).

Before taking on his role as Managing Director 12 years ago, Dónal’s worked with BUPA Ireland where he held the roles of Director for Customer Service, IT Director and Operations Director. He also served as Director for Customer Service & Operations for BUPA, UK.

Planning for the future

The Irish healthcare market in which Laya healthcare operates has been fundamentally impacted by COVID-19. Many of the market assumptions that underpinned our business plan for 2020 have been upended.

However, we are following a three-year business strategy and the major trendlines that are driving that strategy – digital health, telemedicine, personalisation – are more relevant and in-demand today as a result of Covid-19 than ever before.

Agility is key in business planning and enabling a team who have the confidence and know-how to pivot and adapt quickly when required.

The Health & Wellbeing arm of our business is a timely example. We are the largest corporate Health & Wellbeing provider in Ireland. Just before the lockdown came into force, we had about 400 wellbeing events booked to take place on-site with clients in the months ahead.

When the restrictions were introduced, clients were keen to postpone. Our Health & Wellbeing team, supported by our healthcare partners, moved to an exclusively digital strategy in a matter of days.

They moved our Health & Wellbeing events online and widened the offering so there were more live educational seminars and events to cater for increased demand as employees worked remotely from home.

We now have over 700 events booked in by over 120 companies, so in the eye of a crisis the team were able to almost double the number of events by leveraging technology and being responsive to changing client needs.

So far, parenting support, resilience training and ergonomics for remote working have proved hugely popular.

All this culminated in us hosting Ireland’s first-ever Virtual Health & Wellbeing Festival last month, with over 12,000 employees from over 700 companies registering to attend. It’s been such a steep learning curve, but an exhilarating and rewarding one when you see the phenomenal response from our members.

Dónal’s thoughts on preparing for the future

Create a long-term plan

While it’s important to adapt to fundamental shifts in market forces like COVID-19 has provoked, every business needs a long-term plan to help them see beyond the horizon and establish a roadmap for their business.

Involve your team, interrogate where you want to go and how your business is positioned for future success. Challenge yourself, your team, your business. How will customer needs change in two, five, 10 years, and how will your business serve those changing needs?

Prove your relevance

The impact of COVID on the macro environment will be felt for a long time to come. For example, private health insurance is a function of employment, so Ireland’s record high unemployment will impact on our business into the future.

Proving relevance and value to our members will be critical. In recent years, we have become more than a health insurer to our members, we have become a true health partner to them, empowering their health and wellbeing through our benefits and services.

This is where our differentiation and success lie into the future, showing the value of health insurance beyond the basics of hospital cover.

President John F. Kennedy said that there is both danger and opportunity in a crisis, and by having a long-term business strategy in place, we’re very much focused on the latter.

Thank you to Catherine, Ian & Dónal for sharing their thoughts and ideas. If you have any queries regarding hiring or managing a team during the COVID-19 crisis you can download our guide or get in touch – we’d be delighted to help.