Why Trust and Respect is the Glue in our Client Relationships

The world of data is constantly changing and evolving. New technologies, legislations and policies pressure companies to re-examine the way they deal with data.

Developing a strategy to boost customer trust to your brand is critical to your business’s long-term success.

Due to COVID-19, every business today is in a competition for customer trust. The concept of trust is deeply hardwired in our brains. More specifically, trusting someone is associated with many positive emotions and is an amazingly persuasive force. Conversely, distrusting someone is associated with negative emotions.

How do you build trust with customers?

You earn customer trust by repeat good behaviour, and providing value to customers they can’t get anywhere else. Rather than create new customers right now, you can work on maintaining your relationships with your past customers. Today companies can do this by knowing their customers and finding ways to make customers’ lives easier and better. Like any relationship, exploit it and customers will run from the building.

In a post-coronavirus world, it could be a long haul back to business as usual. This is the time to think about your relationships and how to keep them healthy.

Customers tend to be people of habit, and many enjoy the benefits that come from being loyal to a brand. Loyalty programs used to just be for airlines and grocery stores, but now brands across all industries offer programs to reward customers for their loyalty.

Leading companies that develop a people-first approach will win in today’s digital economy, according to the latest global technology trends report from Accenture (NYSE: ACN).

As technology advancements accelerate at an unprecedented rate – dramatically disrupting the workforce – companies that equip employees, partners and consumers with new skills can fully capitalize on innovations. Those that do will have unmatched capabilities to create fresh ideas, develop cutting-edge products and services, and disrupt the status quo.

Although perceived value is a strong driver to encourage shoppers to return for future products, it has been shown by many retailers to not be the only driver and influences based around customer service, product range, stock availability and the shopping environment also have a key role in the shopper’s decision to return.

Research by HarvardBusinessReview shows that “increasing customer retention by five percent” can result in a “25-95 percent” increase in company profits.

This is unsurprising as Bain and Company found a direct correlation between the amount of time a customer has been with a retailer and the amount that customer spends. Their research revealed that “apparel shoppers purchase 67% more per order after shopping with a company for 30 months than they spent on their initial purchase”

I said back in the early 2000 era, we were all looking to deploy strategies across customer lifetime value – brand satisfaction and brand loyalty played a key part in our business survival toolbox. In today’s world customers staying loyal to companies for long periods are numbered.

The amount of trust consumers put in brands is decreasing all the time, and a typical consumer will now switch brands without hesitation if they get a better offer. The famous rule of 20% of customers accounting for 80% of the turnover has turned into more like 60/40 rule (40% of the customers generate 60% of the turnover) and it is slowly evolving towards a 50/50 rule where loyal and disloyal customers generate the same amount of income.

The conventional wisdom about competitive advantage is that successful companies pick a position, target a set of consumers, and configure activities to serve them better. The goal is to make customers repeat their purchases by matching the value proposition to their needs.

By fending off competitors through ever-evolving uniqueness and personalization, the company can achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

But the idea that purchase decisions arise from conscious choice flies in the face of much research in behavioural psychology.

The brain, it turns out, is not so much an analytical machine as a gap-filling machine: it takes noisy, incomplete information from the world and quickly fills in the missing pieces on the basis of past experience. Intuition, thoughts, opinions, and preferences that come to mind quickly and without reflection, but are strong enough to act on, is the product of this process.

This behavioural shift is putting some fundamental, established marketing tactics in doubt, but are we as marketers powerless to stop it?

Loyalty programs are an often-overlooked aspect of customer experience, but they can be vital in building relationships and loyalty with customers — when they’re done well.

So exactly what is the solution?

According to popular theory, there are two ways to escape the commodity market. On the one hand, a company can work more efficiently, making it possible to sell its products cheaper. On the other hand, you can offer a unique added value, thereby re-establishing differentiation so you can charge higher prices again.

If we look at history and look at people behaviour, historically people engaged in brand loyalty, but how do you get customers to become loyal to your brand in the first place? Here are a few suggestions:

Build targeted messages

With social media being the centre of many people’s day-to-day lives, consumers want to see that brands care about them. Consumers are constantly bombarded with ads, so yours can easily get overlooked.

How do you stand out? Try targeting your ads, using campaigns that appeal to your audience’s specific interests, and customizing your messages with a personal touch.

Develop a loyalty programme

Customer loyalty programmes are a huge factor in retaining loyal customers. 44% of customers have between 2-4 loyalty cards, and 25% have between 5-9 loyalty cards.

43% join loyalty programmes to earn rewards, and 45% say it’s a primary driver for purchasing from a brand. As you can see, loyalty programmes are a huge deal with customers, and it pays by getting them to come back to your brand whenever they decide to shop.

However, be aware that you’re more likely to retain customers through a free rewards programme. The majority of people (52%) aren’t willing to pay a membership fee.

Adopt a mobile strategy

Brand loyalty has gone mobile. Seventy-seven percent of smartphone users say that mobile offers have a positive impact on their brand loyalty, according to AccessDevelopment.com. This can include surprise points and rewards or exclusive content.

Another 66% of consumers say they’d have a more positive opinion of a loyalty programme if it was available on their smartphone or in a mobile wallet app. Furthermore, 73% of smartphone users are interested in having loyalty cards on their phones.

What happens if you fall behind your competitors and don’t offer a mobile solution to your loyalty programme? You’ll likely see a decrease in customers. 66% of companies that saw a decrease in customer loyalty in the past year didn’t have a mobile app.

Implement feedback

Another reason a brand will lose customers is because it doesn’t respond to their needs. In today’s fast-paced social landscape, customers expect brands to respond to their feedback, and quickly.

97% of customers say they’re more likely to become loyal to a company that implements their feedback. By ignoring them, you’re sending a message that their loyalty doesn’t matter, and with that, they’re likely to move on to a brand that shows them otherwise.

Although ideas about brand loyalty have shifted from generation to generation, people are still brand loyal today. However, you will have to adopt strong social and mobile strategies to retain customers who rely on the internet landscape to make buying decisions.

Let’s have a look at the customer experience and why the need for product experience management.

Truly understanding customer needs may help companies improve not only the buying experience but also their bottom line.

A company’s relationship with its customers is about much more than improving product ratings or decreasing wait times. Understanding the customer journey is about learning what customers experience from the moment they begin considering a purchase, and then working to make the journey toward buying a product or service as simple, clear, and efficient as possible.

Customer experience has become the centrepiece of most marketing strategies today. Marketers have begun to realise that it’s the biggest differentiator a brand or a retailer has in today’s overcrowded market.

A great customer experience starts with a compelling product experience. Customers have their pick of channels, so standing out among the crowd with relevant product information is imperative.

The race to own customer experience is on. Companies are recognizing the importance of delivering an experience that makes them stand out from their competition. Some are learning the hard way.

Finally, my personal opinion is that the subject of whether sustainable competitive advantage has disappeared is greatly exaggerated.

Competitive advantage is as sustainable as it has always been. What is different today is that in a world of infinite communication and innovation, many strategists seem convinced that sustainability can be delivered only by constantly making a company’s value proposition the conscious consumer’s rational or emotional first choice.

They have forgotten, or they never understood, the dominance of the subconscious mind in decision making. For fast thinkers, products and services that are easy to access and that reinforce comfortable buying habits will over time trump innovative but unfamiliar alternatives that may be harder to find and require forming new habits.

Mona K. Sutphen, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff once said:

“Most good relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.”

This powerful statement makes us understand that trust is the glue in the retail customer relationship.

Why Trust, High Standards and Outstanding People Deserve the Right Company Culture

A colleague who is an executive director in a large FMCG came down to see me for a discussion around my latest book, Purposeful Discussions.

In particular, David focused on an extract from Chapter Two;

When law firms, companies and others lay people off, the people who lose their jobs are generally the people who are ‘good’. People who are ‘outstanding’ don’t lose their jobs (or hardly ever).

Outstanding people are the ones who bring hard work, constant improvement and greatness to whatever they do. The world needs people who are outstanding and set the highest goals possible for themselves.

Everyone can be outstanding with the right standards. If you say you cannot be outstanding, you are slapping the face of your creator. There is nothing on this earth that does not have a purpose. You are in control over what happens to you and can control it by the standards you set for yourself. Life has meaning when you give it your all.

The secret lies in the standards you set for yourself and the decisions you make. What standards are you going to choose for your life?

David did continue our conversation to say what was my opinion of the current Furlough schemes and redundancies and what happens to a business that loses outstanding and good people.

As you can imagine this was quite a debate which I have written articles for several of the nationals through COVID19, I think we were both pleased that it was shared over a few glasses of wine.

It is true, some employees are more talented than others. That’s a fact of organisational life that few executives and HR managers would dispute.

The more debatable point is how to treat the people who appear to have the highest potential.

Opponents of special treatment argue that all employees are talented in some way and, therefore, all should receive equal opportunities for growth.

Devoting a disproportionate amount of energy and resources to a select few, their thinking goes, might cause you to overlook the potential contributions of the many.

But the disagreement doesn’t stop there. Some executives say that a company’s list of high potentials and the process for creating it should be a closely guarded secret. After all, why dampen motivation among the roughly 95% of employees who aren’t on the list?

Shocking research was released recently by The Gallup Group, indicating that 87% of the workforce is either not engaged (read: they are there physically but not mentally or emotionally), or totally disengaged (they actually undermine the success of an organization.)

This is the highest rate of disengagement ever measured and is in spite of the fact that over 85% of organisations have an employee recognition program (which obviously isn’t working).

Companies spend more than $100 billion every year trying to improve employee engagement in the workplace. Despite their efforts, employee engagement numbers remain under 35 percent. It’s vital for employers to understand the role employee disengagement plays in overall business success.

Let’s have a look at ten shocking facts on employee disengagement.

1. Less than three out of ten employers have an engagement strategy in place
According to a recent study by achiever.com, only 25 percent of employers have an established engagement strategy in place. As with most business processes, engagement won’t just happen overnight. It requires a comprehensive strategy that defines your company goals and develops techniques for fostering engagement throughout the workplace.

2. Only 30 percent of employees feel encouraged to grow with the company
Career growth and development is significant to today’s employees, especially millennials and Gen Z workers. In fact, the opportunity for career advancement is one of the top reasons people seek new job opportunities. Despite this fact, the latest Gallup’s State of the American Workforce shows that only three in ten employees feel that their employers are concerned about their development within the company.

3. 75 percent of employees quit because of their boss – not the company
According to a recent study, employee disengagement starts with the manager, not the company itself. This report revealed that 75 percent of workers state that they left a job because of their supervisor or manager and not necessarily the company. This statistic should be a wake-up call to companies across the globe. Employee engagement strategies must start at the top and work its way down. Only when these strategies attempt to boost engagement at all levels within the company can employers hope to deal with employee disengagement effectively.

4. Companies with higher engagement levels obtain 21 percent higher profits
Study after study shows a clear link between employee engagement and company profits. In fact, according to a study released by Forbes, companies with higher levels of employee engagement see a 21 percent increase in profits or more. This statistic alone should be enough to grab any business leader’s attention.

5. Only 11 percent of workers receive weekly recognition
There is a direct correlation between disengagement in the workplace and lack of recognition. Like everyone else, your employees want recognition for their hard work. Without consistent recognition, employee disengagement can skyrocket within your workplace. This level of disengagement can tempt even your best employees to leave. In fact, according to our recent study, nearly one in five employees stated their main reason for considering a new job was because they’re not being recognized.

6. Employee disengagement costs companies more than $450 billion a year
According to a Harvard Business Review report, employee disengagement costs employers anywhere from $450 billion to $550 billion every year. This amounts to an incredible amount of waste within the business sector. Many employers overlook most of these expenses because they fail to see the link between higher costs and low levels of employee engagement.

7. 21 percent of employees say that their employer never asks for feedback
Imagine trying to voice your opinion, and no one is listening. That is how many employees feel, and studies show that they might be right. In our recent report on disengagement in the workplace, more than 20 percent of respondents said that their employer was terrible at requesting feedback. In some cases, their employers never asked for feedback at all.

8. Only six out of 10 employees know what their job expectations are
It can be nearly impossible for employees to remain engaged in the workplace without having a clear understanding of their specific job expectations, as well as the company’s goals and missions. This fact may seem like an obvious point, but it might be just so obvious that many employers are overlooking it. According to Gallup’s report, only 60 percent of employees claim to know what their expectations are at work.

9. Higher employee engagement leads to fewer safety issues
Most employers don’t relate employee engagement with workplace safety, but maybe they should. A study of the healthcare industry showed that providers with high engagement levels have 70 percent lower safety incidents than companies with lower levels of employee engagement. This improvement in workplace safety can be attributed to enhanced employee feedback processes, comprehensive employee recognition programs, and more precise job expectations – all of which improve engagement rates.

10. Lack of inclusiveness can cause disengagement
There is good reason why 69 percent of executives surveyed by Deloitte cited diversity and inclusion as a top priority. Deloitte’s stats show that 39 percent of employees would leave their current company for one that had a more inclusive culture, and over half (53 percent) of millennials would do so.

A diverse workplace environment brings fresh perspective and it’s important to embrace diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Understand what truly engages and motivates your employees by collecting honest feedback.

We’re all familiar with the damage that can be caused by personality clashes in the workplace, but how can leaders ensure a harmonious balance between their organisation and its employees?

“Organisational culture is the sum of values and rituals which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate members of the organisation”

Building a culture of engagement, in which employees are seen (and see themselves) as stakeholders, will promote organisational harmony as well as creating additional financial benefits. A Gallup study found that companies with strong employee engagement saw higher productivity and were 22% more profitable than those with poor employee engagement. Unsurprisingly, employee retention was also significantly higher in these businesses.

“Trust is one important key to building a culture of high performance, whereby speed will go up and costs will go down.”

This statement by Stephen M. R. Covey (son of Dr Stephen R. Covey) in his book, ‘The Speed of Trust’, captures the essence of why trust (or lack thereof) is at the heart of every organisation’s culture. I refer to trust as the glue and the lubricant of culture. Trust is glue because it binds people together and converts routine work interactions into effective teamwork. Trust is also a lubricant because when it is present, as Covey suggests, things move faster with less expense. Let’s test this concept of the glue and the lubricant functions of trust.

Imagine for just a moment what your work culture would be like if there was absolutely no trust or mistrust between you and the people in your workgroup:

What if you couldn’t count on them to come to work on time or stay at their work when they were needed?

What if you feared anything you said might be reported to the media or to your competitors?

What would the day be like if you couldn’t trust anyone to do even the simplest task without making a mistake?

And what if the people in your group had absolutely no trust in you?

Stephen Covey taught a very simple but powerful metaphor of trust: the emotional bank account. This metaphor works on the same principle as a financial bank account – one can make deposits that build trust with others, and one can take withdrawals that diminish trust. You might consider the current state of your emotional bank account with important relationships.

It’s not all bad news. Boards are beginning to recognise and discuss the importance of building and maintaining a strong corporate culture, as recommended by the FRC’s report on culture and the role of boards.

But while the board itself may have a strong ethical culture, the challenge is to ensure that this “tone at the top”. and most people follow their lead. They have a duty to project and uphold the company ethos, vision and behaviours.

As the famous Tony Robbins once said:

‘Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is to raise your standards. Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.’

The Digital Boardroom is Not Always the Right Answer

Much has been written about the impact of the pandemic on our daily lives. Locked down in our homes, consumption of technology for business and leisure has reached unprecedented levels.

Many commentators have explored how this will play out post-lockdown; reduced international travel, sustained high levels of video calls and softening demand for office space are just some examples.

For technology businesses and investors, it is not what is happening in our homes that is most interesting, but the conversations happening in (virtual) boardrooms. The pandemic and resulting lockdown precipitated the biggest business continuity test imaginable. And it has not gone well. The failings of large organisations to address their technical debt have been thoroughly exposed.

“Keeping everyone involved when you don’t have those corridor conversations and that office osmosis brings a different kind of challenge,” says Andy Barratt – Managing Director, Ford of Britain and Henry Ford & Son (Cork) Ltd.

Tough times often call for tough measures. In the current environment, directors are likely to be ‘meeting’ more often than usual to discuss, take and implement significant decisions around their business’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

But with limitations on social contact and gatherings, most boards are being forced to hold these important meetings virtually.

It is important (perhaps now more than ever given the scrutiny that decisions made during this crisis may face) that directors are careful to exercise their decision-making powers in line with the company’s constitution, and also, from a practical perspective, that the virtual meetings themselves are well structured and delivered.

In general, the larger the company, the worse they have fared. Short term focus on maintaining the share price, incentives that reward maintaining the status quo and support an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, and the inertia that plagues large organisations, have left companies ill-prepared.

The ongoing wave of business disruption that is being led by many technology innovations and their resulting consequences is crashing at our shores.

Boards are concerned, and rightly so, about addressing these issues before their revenue streams, brands, share values and bottom lines are negatively affected.

Moreover, outside stakeholders from activist investors to regulators are starting to demand action and improvement in how companies manage digital risk. Whether leaders fix these deficiencies themselves or are forced to, change is widespread and unavoidable.

NTT Security’s Global Threat Intelligence Report identified a 350% increase in ransomware and called out spyware as the leading malware attack tactic, indicating that hackers are in it for the long haul — waiting for the chance that they know will come.

Boards also need to play the long game and this starts with understanding and governing technology fuelled disruption. Addressing this challenge boils down to improving boardroom digital diversity.

Corporate directors across industries can do this by introducing digital competencies into their boardroom and by actively developing the digital IQ of all of their board members.

Speed is everything in today’s tech-driven business world. In an effort to speed up even more, some so-called progressive business leaders are cancelling in-person meetings in favour of the latest high-tech solutions.

Face-to-face meetings allow for clearer communication. In addition to being able to read facial expressions, body language, and inflexion, in-person meetings often end up being more positive and considered more credible than online or virtual conversations.

Without non-verbal cues, you also run the risk of misinterpreting information. In fact, 60% of people regularly misread tone or message when communicating via email or phone, according to Entrepreneur.

Not only do in-person meetings tend to be more positive, but they also tend to be more productive. On average, an in-person meeting generates about 13.36 ideas versus a virtual meeting, which generates 10.43.

And although virtual meetings are sometimes more convenient, nearly 70% of people admit to browsing social media to pass the time during audio-only conference calls.

Even though there can be a prioritisation of speed over face time grossly underestimates the power of human interaction and the importance of face-to-face communication. If the point of business were simply to accomplish as many tasks as possible, then yes, an email would probably do. But that’s not what real leadership is about.

If you’ve ever been on the bad side of cyber miscommunication, you’ll agree that faster isn’t always better.

Managing a successful team and, consequently, a successful business requires personal connections and trust. Business is, in large part, about building relationships. Being a successful leader requires emotional intelligence as much as it requires drive, discipline and best practices.

Despite some benefits to video conferencing, studies show there is simply no substitute for the effective experience of face-to-face communications. In fact, research from Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, shows face-to-face interactions are 34 times more successful than emails.

CEOs know that trust and camaraderie build great teams, create loyalty, and are the basis of moving a business forward. Wealth and success depend on it. That success comes from, and is built through, face-to-face interactions and experiences and cannot be replaced in the same way with virtual experiences.

“People still feel they are at a disadvantage when they are remote,” said Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the technology advisory firm Enderle Group, in an article for CIO Magazine. “Side meetings, individual breakouts and even social interaction after meetings are not addressed by current video conferencing solutions.”

Technology assists us with many tasks in one way or another every single day. While technology can be an amazing and valuable tool that helps us in numerous ways, the wrong tools and apps can be incredibly frustrating. Most people think of technology as their best friend or their worst enemy. For board directors where many are at or approaching retirement, technology tends to draw more jeers than cheers.

When board directors are using the right technology, it can increase the pace of their work from a snail’s pace to that of a roadrunner. The wrong technology slows the pace of business down, exacerbates mistakes, and opens up dangerous new opportunities for risks.

Boards become vulnerable. The right board management governance software assures compliance, solves security issues, and enhances good governance principles. Boards become productive and efficient and are better able to keep pace with today’s business practices.

Essentially, the right modern governance tools set the stage for ultimate corporate success and profitability.

The Wrong Technology Creates Board Meeting Inefficiencies

The pace of corporate business is such that board directors can no longer wait for quarterly reports and updates. Corporate business happens in real-time. Without the right technology, board directors are left out of the loop and in the dark.

Board directors need the ability to stay continually connected and engaged with management and the pulse of their organizations. The wrong tools and apps can hang them up.

Routine tasks simply take too long. Manual voting processes, delayed meeting RSVPs and paper processes bog down corporate secretaries. Last-minute agenda changes can increase labour time and other costs greatly. Preparing agendas and board meeting minutes takes a lot of time to complete and get approved with manual processes.

Security Is Sorely Lacking in Boardrooms and in Board Processes

Board directors are keenly aware of the high risks of cybercrime. If it hasn’t been drilled into them enough, the media continually reminds them by reporting new instances of data breaches.

By and large, board directors find IT to be too technical and confusing for them to make good decisions about how to protect the board and the company. Cybercrime is more sophisticated than ever. Hackers are working doggedly around the clock looking for ways to penetrate multiple layers of security to make corporations vulnerable.

Nearly everyone now uses email, but once again, the media tells us that using personal and business email accounts and other electronic apps for communication lacks the necessary security to protect confidential board business. Insecure communications also pose a risk of accidentally sending disclosures to the wrong parties with no controls to prevent it.

While security is sorely lacking in the technology realm, boards that continue to use dated paper processes can’t have the assurance that their important documents are safe. Paper documents may be difficult to find if they’re stored in multiple locations, which means that it takes a long time to get the right documents or risk not being able to find them at all. What is worse is that paper is subject to natural disasters such as fire, floods and damage by vermin.

Finally, recent events, however, have identified core values that need to be revisited and enhanced.

Many businesses have, in the past, viewed face-to-face meetings as a cost center or a luxury. The residual trauma of this global experience and the absence of in-person time with one another has now reconfirmed the value of such interactions, purpose and trust.

Successful leaders know that people are their most precious resource. Now they are also realizing that those people, meeting with one another face-to-face is a critical part of business, and more important than ever before.

Regular computer systems lack the features and security to prevent employees and others from gaining access to confidential information, giving control to all the wrong people.

Tech Equipment Can Be Too Complicated to Use

While many boards need to meet more often because of the pace of the organization’s needs, the costs and scheduling can be a nightmare. The travel, food and lodging expenses of bringing on board members from various states or other countries can be quite exorbitant. It can be difficult to quickly find dates that accommodate all directors because of waiting for responses via phone and email.

Technical equipment can be complicated to set up and use. Systems may be electronically incompatible with each other. Poor audio or video quality makes for unproductive meetings. Some pieces of boardroom equipment are less secure than other pieces, setting the stage for spreading pesky viruses. If all that isn’t bad enough, cybercriminals have been known to hack into boardroom cameras, placing company business at risk.

Nokia-chairman Risto Siilasmaa shared his thoughts on why directors should open their minds and consider new ways of thinking about the future even if a company is performing exceptionally.

“When your team considers only a single plan with no alternatives, alarm bells should ring. Not preparing for alternative scenarios – even the most unlikely ones – is a guarantee of being blindsided. Thinking in alternatives is not just about identifying options to an existing situation but about constantly imagining and manufacturing alternatives. By making this mindset part of your leadership team’s culture, you automatically start to come up with a higher number and wider range of alternatives.”

I can only imagine…

I recently decided to take a road trip, with all the ‘staycation’ I have found driving to the country very therapeutic, great for introspection, reflection and thought.

It was another beautiful hot day driving through some of the back roads in Surrey and Hampshire, I started to think about purpose-driven outcomes in business, the recent changes through the pandemic, the failures and successes, and one of my key topic’s leadership and trust.

I have always believed that meaningful lives are for extraordinary people: great saints, artists, scholars, scientists, doctors, activists, explorers, national leaders…. If ever we did discover the meaning, it would – we suspect – in any case, be incomprehensible, perhaps written in Latin or in a COBOL computer code.

It wouldn’t be anything that could orient or illuminate our activities. Without always acknowledging it, we are – in the background – operating with a remarkably ungenerous perspective on the meaning of life.’

Perhaps, I could be wrong. It is conceivable that everyone on the earth plain has a meaningful life in their own way, we all make choices, we all have dreams, and we all possess the ability to see out our individual outcomes, our purpose and trusting that the choices we make drive learning, expansion and growth.

Do we lack determination, imagination, courage, and passion in today’s business world?

I watched an inspiration film recently, a true story called “I Can Only Imagine“. The story revolves around the band’s lead singer Bart Millard, who in the film’s opening scene tells fellow performer Amy Grant that he wrote the song that changed his life in only 10 minutes.

“You didn’t write this song in 10 minutes,” Amy Grant replies. “It took a lifetime.”

The story then flashes back to Bart’s unhappy childhood when he was growing up with his abusive father Arthur and a mother who left both of them when he was an adolescent.

Even as a child, Bart loved music, but his father would have none of it. “Dreams don’t pay the bills,” Arthur tells his son. It’s one of many lines Arthur utters that signify what a miserable son-of-a-bitch he is, along with such gems as “Life hits me, I hit it back harder.”

It’s no wonder Bart grew up to be a pop star. Everything his father says sounds like the title of a country song. You can also tell how mean Arthur is by his perpetual stubble. Not a beard, not five o’clock shadow, but carefully groomed stubble that’s always the same exact length. There are male models who don’t pay as much attention to their facial hair.

Bart leaned into an active imagination and his love of music as escapes from a troubled home life. As he grew older, Bart turned to football in hopes of somehow connecting with his abusive father. But a career-ending injury-combined with the vision of a teacher who saw unlimited potential set Bart on a musical pathway.

Chasing a dream while running from broken relationships with his father and Shannon, his childhood sweetheart, Bart hits the road in an old, decrepit tour bus with his new band MercyMe – named for his grandmother’s favourite expression. With the guidance of a grizzled music-industry insider, the band begins a journey none of them could ever have imagined.

I can only imagine- the heart of the film

Some of my readers will remember my first book, Freedom After the Sharks, I have always said that each of us is, to some extent or other, a reflection of the experiences of our lives.

However, whether and how we succeed is determined at least in part by how we cope with those experiences and what we learn from them.

Freedom After the Sharks is the story of a man who, despite a difficult family life and professional setbacks, developed the determination, drive and skills to create a successful business and happy life. Skills and self-motivation gave this young man the drive, determination and tenacity to continue a journey through hardship to reach self-fulfilment and, ultimately, success.

The question is do we give up at the first hurdle or do we continue with perseverance?

Every leader eventually faces difficult circumstances. In these situations, perseverance, determination and courage is a must if you are to be able to achieve your goals. Without these traits, the opportunity to succeed becomes less because you don’t have the ability to persist.

There are countless examples of courageous leaders. The one thing that each has in common is their determination to continue pushing forward, despite what others believe, or what current circumstances continue to throw up at them.

Rather than focusing on failure, and becoming discouraged from pursuing their goals, courageous leaders look at challenges as opportunities to improve. Buoyed by optimism and enthusiasm, they motivate themselves to look for meaning in each challenge and turn it to their advantage.

Like many other leadership skills, courage is a skill that can be learned and strengthened. The following tips can help you to cultivate your courage and use it to increase your success!

One thing that commonly happens when you are pursuing your goals is that suddenly you’ll hit a roadblock and all movement comes to a standstill. The first emotion you feel at these moments is fear, and then panic.

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, believed courage to be the most important quality in a man. “Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.” When we are courageous, we step outside our comfort zone of predictability and familiarity and are exposed to new ideas. We can take in new information and broaden our understanding of the world, an important tool in overcoming adversity.

Having courage enables us to stay our course when external circumstances threaten to challenge our well-being. It empowers us to confront problems head-on, even if having doubts, rather than risk experiencing fear, resignation and victimization.

Through courage, we are better able to control our destiny and honour who we are and in what we believe. We have a chance to avoid even greater problems that might have resulted had we not been courageous.

We develop a psychological muscle when we push through fear. This muscle helps us when we need the strength and resilience to overcome or avoid adversity. The more we exercise this muscle, the more our self-confidence and faith will grow. We will feel empowered to confront problems head-on and courageous in challenging times that fill us with pain and fear.

Life is meant to take challenges and overcome hurdles and obstacles instead of having reservations on challenges. Success lies in going beyond the boundaries and leaving no stone unturned for achieving your goals. One has to read between the lines that what success lies in because pain is the only thing that tells that a person is alive.

When you believe in your purpose you can work through obstacles, overcome disappointments and endure hardship.

As John Seamon Garns – American Author of Prosperity, once said: ‘Real leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determinations.’

Often in life, you make a journey that changes the meaning of life as you knew it. I believe every single person can be extraordinary for something if directed in the right way and if circumstances can take them there for the great of good, amazing things can happen.

Final thought: society cannot flourish without some sense of shared purpose and belief system, and most importantly love.

I am a firm believer in the power of curiosity and choice as the engine of fulfilment, but precisely how you arrive at your true calling is an intricate and highly individual dance of discovery.

Still, there are certain factors and certain choices on your journey of life that make it easier and more worthwhile.

Everyone has a story, despite difficulties in family life, professional setbacks and extraordinary events like COVID-19. The journey of life is the learning’s, we all possess the determination, passion, drive, creativity and skills to create a foundation.

Business professionals and individuals in the great challenges of today’s business world have renewed responsibility for what business does best: innovate, invest and grow.

We are all extraordinary people and have the ability to share and provide wealth creation and richness to our surroundings – the bigger question is how much do we want to change and to be extraordinary?

As Thomas A. Edison, American inventor and businessman, once said:

“Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be as brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!”

Guest-blog: Sharon Shahzad discusses the importance of marketing and why NOW marketing is needed more than ever

Sharon Shahzad

As we face the unprecedented social, economic and political upheaval of the Covid-19 outbreak, trust has never been more important.

Declining levels of public trust over the past decade have impacted many areas of our lives, whether that is our trust in politics, banking, finance, business more generally or, closer to home, in advertising.

With this new global crisis, the decline in the bond of trust is brought into even sharper focus. There is increasing government intervention in our economy and daily lives, coupled with media coverage of the outbreak and businesses working hard to support an anxious population. All this means we need to place our trust in those around us like never before – whether that is friends, neighbours, employers or business and political leaders.

We are trusting our politicians to do the right thing, our media to carry the correct message and our retailers to ensure we can buy the products we need as we rightly stay at home to limit the spread of the virus.

Many people will have seen adverts about coronavirus around their neighbourhoods or directly in their homes in recent days, showing that when a message needs to be delivered to people with power and clarity, advertising remains the most effective way to do this.

But the past few days will not have made up for years of declining trust in our industry. We need to do more now, and even more again after this crisis is over.

In the immediate present, brands need to demonstrate they are on the side of the consumer and the gargantuan national effort we face. Some brands are already doing this; I’m thinking of marketing and advertising activity around discounts on food for key workers at a number of food and drink chains, special opening hours at retailers for our NHS staff or the businesses that have answered the call to switch their manufacturing facilities to producing ventilators.

A bond forged in times of difficulty can be the strongest bond of all and if we want the public to trust us again, we need to demonstrate we are on their side when they need us.

Amongst all of the confusion and uncertainty in the world at the moment with COVID-19, you will be starting to ensure that your business is ready for the challenges ahead. This involves navigating the pandemic as successfully and effectively as you can, whilst thinking about both the short and long term strategy of your business.

Just as we are all hoping that the impact of the Coronavirus is only short term, you should be thinking about putting your marketing efforts into a long-term plan.

As panic arises, it might be one of people’s first thoughts to cut their marketing budget. However, when thinking and planning for the long-term performance and prosperity of a business, keeping a marketing budget right now is more important than ever.

Which reminds me of a brilliant quote by Richard Edelman – President & Chief Executive Officer of the public relations company Edelman – ‘The marketing business has been just about promoting things, but we don’t believe that anymore. There has to be a societal component, too.’

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Sharon, who is aka ‘The Marketing Guru’, Sharon is a senior marketing professional and entrepreneur with over 15 years’ experience in marketing across multiple sectors. Her flexibility and mindset attributes are leveraged into positions at established firms as well as start-ups.

Sharon’s career to date has included senior marketing roles in a variety of industry sectors, including fintech, financial services, health-technology, recruitment, education, media and publishing. Sharon has experience in acquiring and maintaining business relationships with key decision-makers, sports brands, stakeholder groups and industry-leading publications to trade associations

Sharon is going to talk to us the importance of marketing and why NOW marketing is needed more than ever.

Hello everyone and thank you, Geoff, for your introduction, I have not written a blog in a while, as I have been in strict lockdown and have been shielding.

With the latest government guidelines on easing lockdown and for the economy to start moving, I thought now was a good time to issue my next blog.

In the last two blogs, I covered how lack of marketing can get you stuck in the start-up rut and the top 10 marketing essentials. A lot has changed since my last two blogs, with a global pandemic hitting us all, and with the entire world economy pausing, hard changes and choices had to be made to keep ourselves and families safe.

Businesses have suffered, people’s pockets have got smaller, with 9m employees on furlough for some to make major adjustments on getting a lower income of £2500 per month. We all have been affected in one way or another and not to forget those who have lost loved ones, life will never be the same, for them again.

Now that we are coming out of the lockdown and the economy is beginning to take steady steps. Many businesses will resume, although not pick up from where they left, as we all have to get used to a new normal.

Many businesses will be making major changes to their business structure, strategies, and staff, making cuts to survive. Many will just disappear as the lockdown has damaged their business for good. Many employees will be made redundant, and many will just decide to quit working for someone else and start up their own business, as they have had the taste of working from home with work-life balance. We will for sure have a new landscape on the business front.

To survive these unprecedented times and to keep your head above water, there is one key ingredient needed. It is to have a resilient marketing strategy. Businesses that are looking to make cuts should think twice before culling marketing departments. Marketing will be needed more than ever.

Reaching out to your clients, keeping them engaged and motivated through your communications and marketing messages. It is now imperative to be even more relevant to your audience. Hold on tight to your already established clients, as they will need the extra, attention, love, and care to ensure they do not go elsewhere.

Marketing strategies will have to take a different shape, those marketing plans devised pre-COVID-19 will no longer be useful in this new environment. The resilient marketing strategies will have to be more cost-effective; marketers will have to think more out of the box and adapt to new methodologies for reaching out to audiences.

If you are a start-up and at a point of not knowing which direction to go, you should be thinking about marketing, your investment does not have to be too large in size, you might just need one marketing expert at hand or a cost-friendly agency that can work the magic.

Starting a new business with zero marketing strategy is not a good move. You will need that leverage to launch you into the market.

Over the years we have seen the big digital transformation take place from companies moving from offline to offer digital solutions to their clients and consumers.

Digital will prevail and will continue to be the much-needed solution for businesses to survive, as we’ve discovered the importance of online communication platforms, where companies moved their entire operations online, enabling employees to work from home using the various digital video, team collaboration tools.

If your business or service is only offline, now would be the time to think about a digital offering, supported by a robust digital acquisition marketing strategy.

You can contact Sharon Shahzad via LinkedIn or by email:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/chief-marketing-officer-cmo
sharon dot kalsi87 AT hotmail dot com (removing all the spaces)
Tel: +44 7843 470 307

Guest-blog: Nathan Evans discusses challenges in the legal profession and technology is the catalyst for disruption.

Nathan Evans

In an increasingly technological world, how can law firms use technology to facilitate human interaction?

Many firms are experiencing national and international growth, but are uncertain how to manage a firm spanning hundreds or thousands of miles and sometimes even time zones.

Some would argue that the use of technology in a more “human” manner is necessary to keep modern firms connected and unified.

The importance of the legal profession to the UK economy continues to grow as the economic fortunes of world economies stabilise and the velocity of global trade and capital flows begin to show modest signs of accelerating.

The global legal services market size was valued at USD 794.50 billion in 2018 and is expected to register a CAGR exceeding 4.1% from 2019 to 2025.

Despite recent challenges confronting the general economy, the legal sector in the UK has again demonstrated its resilience and ability to withstand adverse business conditions, and emerge stronger for the challenges presented by that experience. The UK and London in particular, continue to be a magnet for increasing investment in the legal sector.

When we describe being bold and with disruption, it was Clayton Christensen – American Academic, who once said;
“The reason why it is so difficult for existing firms to capitalize on disruptive innovations is that their processes and their business model that make them good at the existing business actually make them bad at competing for the disruption.”

The legal profession is presented with challenges today, infinitely more difficult than ever before experienced.

Information technology will be a major focus of investment for law firms in the year ahead and is seen as a significant source of competitive advantage by a majority of law firms.

New entrants to the legal sector will be a feature of the market in the year ahead. Many technologies enable lower-cost delivery, budgeting, fee analysis, rapid communication, and understanding companies and industries.

The adoption of legal technology and AI in law firms and legal agencies can go on a long way in improving their efficiency and also brings with it the promise of new clients. It creates flexible legal services, increases transparency, reduces the chance of errors in documentation, and also puts your firm on the global map

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Nathan Evans, who is a partner and head of technology at Memery Crystal LLP

Nathan is a specialist IT lawyer with expertise in complex strategic projects including systems/platform/apps builds, networking contracts, integration services, support and maintenance arrangements, agile delivery, technology consultancy, blockchain-enabled platforms and material outsourcing arrangements in financial services.

Nathan joined Memery Crystal in May 2020 from the technology and intellectual property rights specialist firm Bristows LLP.

Nathan is going to talk to us the importance of technology in today’s fast-paced world and in the legal profession.

The oldest continually operating firm of solicitors in England was founded four hundred and fifty years ago and, perhaps, the business of law has changed little since.

Lawyers are, or so it is generally thought, resistant to change, reliant on precedents, stubborn and expensive. But is this an unfair description of the modern lawyer?

The answer is, as always, “it depends”.

In my experience (in large and small firms alike), Lawyers are not pathologically resistant to change and must embrace new ways of working if it means winning more business or operating in a smarter and more efficient way.

It’s also a fact that we in the UK are lucky to have one of the world’s most innovative and progressive judiciaries and a thriving law-tech sector.

The challenge is not, therefore, deploying or challenging resistance to deploying technology in law but rather showcasing and actually benefitting from using it.

Listing tech solutions/products/innovations as line items in pitch documents isn’t always that convincing and can be quite transparent to clients:

What the Lawyer says…, but what the client thinks…
L: We have a data room
C: I’d be worried if you didn’t

L: We have a client portal
C: We already have a CRM, how does your portal work with that?

L: We have cross-referencing tools
C: Great, but we’re not paying for proof-reading

L: We have a due diligence AI
C: Is it trained to our risk profile? Supervised?

Clients are savvy and, before talking to them about law-tech, lawyers would be well-advised to consider the following questions and not to just focus on the clever stuff that their solution does:
• What positive change does the tech bring to the table?
• Are there any cost benefits directly passed through to the client?
• Can this tech help the in-house team in its day-to-day functions?
• How does this tech relieve pressure on the general counsel?
• Can this tech integrate with the client’s existing systems?
• What problem is actually being solved?
• What limitations are there (be honest about them)?
• Is the solution tailorable to the client’s specific needs?
• Does the tech require much client-effort to implement?

Bad use of legal tech is easily spotted and, with all of that in mind, what do I do? Our most valuable use of legal tech is in contract construction.

By heavily investing in the contract drafting process and coding each contract for automation we’ve been able to prepare a tool kit of tech-related contracts (large and small) for rapid and bespoke deployment to clients of all sizes and complexity.

Once up and running, the tool-kit is tailored to the client’s need and fully automated for use by their in-house teams.

What’s more, using the tech allows us to move away from an hourly model for certain types of work.

We actively manage document production, storage, and maintenance through technology. Vastly improving our (and our client’s) quality assurance controls and the overall productivity of our internal legal function and the client’s in-house team.

Our solution eradicates repeated spend for first draft documents to support busy and pressured in-house teams and delivers the following benefits:
• increased document production
• continuously updated documents
• thoroughly proof-read and tested documents
• compatibility with well-known electronic signature platforms
• inbuilt quality assurance
• eradicated repeated legal spend
• standardised risk notes and reports
• executive approvals and decision trees built-in
• in-house capacity is increased

The result is a thoughtful and appropriate use of legal tech for clients but also for lawyers.

We cannot forget that most, if not all lawyers work hard. Very hard. It’s a typical and sometimes utterly self-destructive personality trait common to the vast majority of colleagues I know.

Helping clients is, of course, a key driver but technology, adopted mindfully and with care, can bring about genuine improvements to the working life of legal professionals and that’s to be embraced!

You can contact Nathan Evans via LinkedIn or by email:
Nathan dot Evans AT memerycrystal DOT com (removing all the spaces)
linkedin.com/in/nathanmevans
website: memerycrystal.com
Tel: +44 (0) 207400 3256

Guest-blog: Salma El-Shurafa discusses 6 obstacles that can prevent you from becoming an effective leader

Salma El-Shurafa

Today’s business leaders are faced with an ever-growing list of challenges, with each one adding a layer of complexity to the day-to-day running of their business.

Traditional issues such as dealing with competition, change management, and staff development have been joined by more complex, current matters such as cybersecurity and digital transformation.

For a lot of modern businesses, this means looking outside their organisation to access the necessary guidance and skills to help drive their business forward, such as the recruitment of an experienced executive coach.

Confucius sums up the need for excellence in one of his quotes when he stated: ‘The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.’

One of the best ways to better company performance is to improve the impact of an organisation’s leaders and managers, but as the coronavirus pandemic has shown us, leadership is getting harder.

There is most likely no going back to the old normal after this crisis and this leaves us in a predicament. Our leaders are having to dig deeper, find new ways of working, grapple with new skills and make sense of what is a complex and challenging time.

COVID-19 has fired a warning shot that crises and uncertainty are going to be common events in the future and that means we need to find better ways of equipping our leaders to cope with change.

This is not driven by ambition, but by necessity. COVID-19 offers us a sizable opportunity to transform our leadership styles, philosophy and leadership development programmes so that in the longer term, our leaders and businesses will be more resilient, will recover more quickly and that the aftershock to the economy will be lessened.

If we are going to do this right, then the natural starting point is to refine key learning blocks built into many of our leadership development programmes.

Historically excellent for focusing on the strategy, business continuity and operations, some leadership development initiatives are not always as far-reaching when it comes to how to get the best out of yourself and your people.

Leadership development needs to be sharpened up so it is more relevant to the new era of work with a reinforced emphasis placed on developing people skills, building the right competencies and behaviours to lead others with confidence and embedding learning through more practical application.

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Salma El-Shurafa, who is an executive coach and confidant, facilitator and speaker.

Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project, which focuses on providing leadership development and executive coaching. TPP was born as a vessel, focused on guiding the region’s talents.

Through TPP, she was able to apply her professional experience to support emerging leaders in the Middle East on their own journeys to self-discovery.

Salma draws on 15 years of extensive experience as an HR professional, entrepreneur, coach and facilitator. She has coached hundreds of professionals, teams and groups across the Middle East, Asia and Europe, ranging from C-Suite executives to mid-level managers.

Working with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and leading organizations in the region.

She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and a graduate of CTI’s Co-Active Leadership program.

Salma is going to talk to us the importance of executive coaching in today’s fast-paced world and why.

Being a leader means building traits and skills that make you stand out from the rest. These competencies and qualities include adaptability, time management, empathy, open-mindedness, self-awareness, and being results-oriented.

However, if you want to be a successful leader, you shouldn’t be spending all your free time developing these skills. You also need to work on overcoming obstacles that can prevent you from harnessing and maximizing your full leadership potential.

Leadership Barriers to Overcome

As a long-time executive and business coach, I have mentored and worked with numerous clients aiming to be the best leader they can be. I have taken notes of the common obstacles that my clients say have been the biggest hurdles they faced as they climbed up the leadership ladder.

Below are the top six challenges you have to overcome as you strive to be an effective leader:

1. Taking on the roles of manager and leader

Managers and leaders have different roles and mindsets.

For instance, managers create goals, direct and build processes and systems. Leaders, on the other hand, set visions, coach, and create relationships.

Although you are aiming to be a leader, being proficient in these two roles will help you a lot. After all, you need to be a visionary but, at the same, manage people and duties. Due to this reason, you have to learn and sharpen both your leadership and managerial skills.

To overcome your doubts about taking on both roles, you have to know the importance of using your managerial know-how to lead effectively. This means learning to stay on top of all your and your team’s day-to-day activities. And this is where becoming a manager will help you.

2. Developing employees and teams

The happiness and growth of employees impact the potential success of any business. Leaders often have to shoulder the huge responsibility of motivating their staff to ensure they are always being productive and performing well in the workplace.

Additionally, you can’t only focus on individual members. You also have to build and coach teams: you have to guide them as they learn to work together to achieve all goals. Your failure to inspire and lead these groups will affect the productivity of the organization, as well.

Building, coaching, and leading individuals and teams won’t be easy, especially if you have several people under you. As such, this is one of the toughest hurdles you have to overcome.

Proper time management and dividing your attention equally with each team and member can help you support employees better and encourage them to stay motivated. Avoid playing favorites; guide every employee to be the best worker they can be.

Even if you are looking for your possible replacement and want to mentor him or her, do not ignore the others. Try to spend an equal amount of time with every one of your employees and teams.

3. Losing confidence in your employees

Once you become a leader, your desire to get things done right away and perfectly may increase. Because of this, you may end up taking everything on your shoulders, which can lead to mediocre results and frustration.

Moreover, you will start losing the trust and confidence in your employees. This will lead to other problems that can be difficult to resolve.

To overcome this hurdle, you have to work on and allow your trust in others to grow. Continue assigning regular or new work to your employees or team and avoid interfering with their tasks or processes unless they ask for your assistance.

Also, do not be embarrassed to ask your employees for help. When you are swamped with work or need to take on other jobs, have someone take some tasks off your plate.

Open and constant communication is crucial for building trust. Schedule regular meetings and encourage everyone to speak up. Whether you want their input on a new project or know if they are having difficulties with some areas or processes, allow them to say what is on their mind.

4. Creating and maintaining genuine relationships in the workplace

Once you become a leader, your interactions with your employees may be reduced. After all, you have the huge responsibility of looking at the bigger picture while your managers and workers handle the daily operations.

Due to this reason, you will start feeling isolated and lose connection with your team. You may have difficulty starting new relationships in the workplace.

Constant communication with your team members can help you maintain your good relationship with them. Moreover, you need to be intentional when connecting with other people in your workplace.

Also, don’t forget to keep and strengthen your relationships with your peers. Whether you are working with them or they are part of other organizations, you will feel less lonely and have people you can turn to for help when you need it.

5. Staying humble and open-minded

Being at the top can increase your confidence a hundredfold. Although being self-assured and assertive can help you in various ways, you need to keep a check on these traits, too.

Having an extremely high sense of self-confidence can impact the way you work with others. Losing trust in your employees is only one possible effect; you may also have difficulty collaborating with and getting feedback from other people.

Being humble can be challenging, but simple practices can help you cultivate humility. Show respect to everyone, regardless of their position, work, or background.

Always help your employees so they know they can still rely on your assistance or guidance, even if, say, you advanced from being a simple line manager into one of the company’s VPs.

Also, stay open-minded. Be open to feedback and collaboration so you can earn the respect of the people around you and learn new things that can help you become a better leader.

6. Managing changes

Change is ever-present and affects how a company functions. As a leader, you need to anticipate these transformations and stay on top of them.

Moreover, you have to guide the organization to weather these changes and overcome any obstacles along the way.

Being aware of the current and expected trends in your industry can help you avoid problems in the future. Moreover, staying updated with industry trends will enable you to define them and articulate any challenges to your team effectively.

With these strategies in place, you will also be able to set goals and create a plan that will allow you and your organization to deal with these changes successfully.

When you are aware of these six obstacles and know how to deal with them, you can become an even better leader — someone that others can look up to, and one you can be truly proud of being.

You can contact Salma El-Shurafa via LinkedIn or by email:
salma dot AT pathwayproject dot ae (removing all the spaces)
linkedin.com/in/salmaelshurafa
website: pathwayproject.ae
Tel: +971 50 462 5698

The importance of post era newfound entrepreneurial spirit

While small businesses are becoming increasingly purpose-driven, it looks like businesses are also becoming increasingly digital, and embracing agile business models that allow them to quickly adapt to new environments.

Throughout human history, crises have been pivotal in developing our societies.

Pandemics have helped advance health-care systems, wars have fuelled technological innovations and the global financial crisis helped advance tech companies. The present coronavirus pandemic will arguably not be an exception; entrepreneurs can be expected to rise to the challenge.

The pandemic has accelerated the process of digital transformation across almost all sectors. As the world slowly but steadily shifts to the recovery stage, we have also seen that the pandemic has brought on changes to consumer behaviour that is likely to stay for good. The question then becomes how we can empower entrepreneurs to leverage digital tools and innovations while navigating the pandemic.

Entrepreneurs help bolster economic development, create jobs, and invent products or services that can make the world a better place.

Being a successful entrepreneur requires outside-the-box thinking and larger-than-life ideas. Anyone can come up with a new idea, but building a successful business around it is the entrepreneurial challenge. The entrepreneurial mindset is unique in that one must be creative, communicative, and highly motivated to succeed, yet open to risk and failure.

The global pandemic and associated policies restricting people’s movements have caused major disruptions to many businesses. We’ve already observed major shifts in business practices. Working from home is the new norm, while many personal meetings and conferences have been replaced by video meetings and other virtual forms of communication.

Many firms have initially responded to the crisis not only by cutting costs but by engaging in new entrepreneurial activities.

Around the world, we see many examples of resourceful responses to the crisis with companies changing their strategy to produce hand sanitizers, protective gear, gowns and other supplies for hospitals, staff retrained to help out in hospitals, ventilators and life-saving medical devices, the list goes on.

The crisis created opportunities for businesses to become more innovative. Facing external pressures, some business leaders are stepping out of their routines and comfort zones to become creative problem-solvers. Along the way, they rediscovered their entrepreneurial spirit.

Beyond existing firms, some sectors of the economy are likely to grow. New technologies can offer numerous opportunities as the crisis transforms the products or services they can offer. Service businesses in particular are likely to see a lot of innovation in how services are created, packaged and sold.

Recent trends in China offer a glimpse of what is feasible for businesses. For example, online shopping and entertainment received a major boost during the coronavirus shutdown via online platforms like Alibaba, WeChat and their associated ecosystems.

In the health-care sector, health-related smartphone apps are proliferating. Artificial intelligence is helping hospital emergency rooms, while virtual reality has moved from an entertainment tool to a valuable resource for technical training and maintenance.

Companies that become competent and move quickly in these areas during the crisis will have a strategic advantage over their competitors in the post-pandemic economy.

These five key tech-subsectors are likely to benefit the most, both passively and actively – from COVID19:

1. Health tech
As an emerging discipline that combines big data analysis and AI with methods from biology, medicine and statistics to understand and predict the spread of a virus, digital epidemiology, a health tech development, has seen an unprecedented number of new applications in recent months.

2. Autonomous vehicles – drones
Drones have been another protagonist of governments’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Used to spray disinfectants and pesticides, or to transport both medical samples and normal deliveries, they help to significantly reduce human contact, speed up the process, and perhaps even be more efficient.

3. Delivery and mobility platforms
Gig economy platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo have often been at the forefront of Europe’s regulatory debates over the past few years, especially in terms of their business model and categorisation of workers. Uber and its new peer-to-peer delivery service, Uber Connect, is but one of many examples.

4. Immersive tech
Among the regulatory challenges traditionally faced by immersive technologies are content regulation, including health and safety concerns, data management and protection, and questions around the protection of IP rights and liability obligations. While these issues are likely to remain the subject of future legislative proposals, the COVID-19 crisis might help regulators see these technologies under a different light.

5. Fintech
The spike in contactless and mobile payments, branchless banking and crowdfunding platforms are some examples of how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the fintech sector. The same could be said for the opposite: a number of financial companies and start-ups have been rolling out new tools and/or open banking technologies to support self-employed workers, sell vouchers to customers, and provide supplementary credit cards to give friends and family to use on people’s behalf while isolating.

The digital economy represents a departure from the traditional zero-sum-game business model with its focus on shared value creation.

The digital services that people relied on during the outbreak like online marketplaces, cashless payment, contactless delivery and live streaming will almost certainly become ubiquitous now. In building an ecosystem, entrepreneurs need to adopt a platform approach that can enable multiple players to solve issues together.

The ability to build new systems from the ground up could accelerate the rise of SMEs and entrepreneurs from emerging markets and put them in a more advantageous position in economic recovery post-COVID-19. This presents enormous opportunities for entrepreneurs across these markets.

The benefits of the digital economy will also see mass entrepreneurship spur on social mobility, and there will be greater economic participation from marginalized populations.

SMEs are the backbone of any society for job creation and economic contribution. They are the pathfinders during the journey to economic recovery. Those among them who can pivot their venture and team to adopt digital technologies and enable their customers, partners and the local community will have the best opportunity to survive and thrive in the long term.

Finally, it’s clear the post-pandemic future will be different. What’s happened during the crisis will have a lasting impact on society. Current signs of entrepreneurial initiative and goodwill give us some cause for optimism. The future I envision post-COVID is one where people and businesses are prepared and enabled through technology.

Whether it is to continue business operations or maintain access to essential needs, the digital economy will play a crucial role in all aspects of our lives. This is the brave new world we will have to create together, and now is the time to empower and work with entrepreneurs to help build it.

As Brian A. Wong – Vice President, Alibaba quoted by saying:

“SMEs are the backbone of any society for job creation and economic contribution. They are the pathfinders during the journey to economic recovery.”

The Company Culture Maze

The coronavirus has created a moment of truth for every company. Work-life has been utterly transformed during the Covid-19 lockdown. Bustling workplaces have been emptied out, replaced by home offices, dining-room tables or even bedrooms, and it is increasingly clear many of these changes will be lasting. The ‘new normal’ poses major challenges for trust, corporate culture and conduct… but also some opportunities.

Leaders are rightly asking themselves: Are our choices and actions right now reflecting our culture, purpose and the values that define us?

It is a key time for leaders to step up to the changes. However, a research report that my company commissioned, provided by DataPad, of 2,100 employees in the UK has revealed that a huge 69% of people don’t fully trust their CEO’s or line manager.

The study was unveiled to mark the launch of my last best-selling business book, Purposeful Discussions.

I believe executives in the great challenges of today’s new business world now have renewed responsibility to their leadership teams, employees, customers and stakeholders for what business does best; innovate, invest and grow.

Many people wait until circumstances force change and transformation, that can be radical and painful to all concerned.

I have always maintained, ‘we need Purpose and a positive culture to help us reconnect, going beyond our egos and our fears to build trust, strong relationships, communities, networks and organisations, so that through collaboration we can begin to co-create a more sustainable future’.

An organisation’s culture is its behaviour at scale, words, actions and defined outcomes. Culture is guided by purpose and values. And it will be put to the test by any crisis, as is happening right now with Covid-19.

Research by Bain and Company Inc tell us that among the values exhibited by strong cultures are collaboration, agility, integrity, people-centricity, innovation, accountability and ambition.

Companies that demonstrate a strong purpose and culture, have a strong internal compass and inspire their employees on a clear vision, which is found, 3.7 times more likely to be business performance leaders.

Culture is your company’s internal compass, informing actions to take in a time of crisis.

Positive thinking is one of the fundamental attributes which can have an effect on both our mental and physical well-being. With it, we can overcome serious obstacles in life, learn to live with chronic conditions or improve our work and personal lives. Without it, we run the risk of failing at every turn and never realizing our full potential.

Many entrepreneurs try to maintain their initial organisational structure despite stark growth or industry or a crisis event shift within the company.

Your structure is only as good as the people operating within it and how well they’re matched to their roles and responsibilities

As your business grows, it’s important to monitor the wellbeing of your people, by providing purposeful leadership that encourages growth, encouraging checks and balances between departments, maintaining strategic adaptations to changing business structures, and matching the ideal person for the ideal job, you are primed and ready to succeed in your business.

Business leaders can improve both their performance and that of their employees in reviewing the wellbeing and fitness of the business and emotional state of mind:

1. Anticipate the barriers
Confidence is vital – and the key to true confidence lies in rigorous planning that considers every likely obstacle to achieving a given goal.

2. Address your stress
Preparation, adaptation and recovery are vital parts of psychological resilience to stress. The first step is to understand your own capacity. Ask yourself: what triggers send me into a state of stress and what can I do that will truly minimise these and/or their impact on my performance?

3. Adopt a team mentality
Teams are built on mutual respect and the absolute conviction that you are a part of an outstanding group that perform their assigned roles effectively. Ensure that everyone understands both their own and others’ roles in achieving the clear business goals that have been agreed. Openly declaring a commitment to your own role will boost accountability and build trust.

4. Optimise your regime
Building in crisis recovery is vital for maximising performance in business. Ask yourself: when is the next critical moment approaching and how can I ensure that I’m physically and mentally ready for it? Planning to finish a difficult meeting before a lunch break, for instance, will give you scope to recover and gather your thoughts before you need to do any further important work.
All leaders should audit how they are spending their time. This will help you to determine whether you are devoting too much to reactive work rather than more strategic, value-adding tasks.

5. Encapsulate your values in a mantra
Ask yourself: why do we do what we do as an organisation? Articulating the meaning behind your enterprise unites employees in a common cause, boosting engagement and performance.
Business leaders have to demonstrate the stated values through their own behaviour if they expect others to adopt them. While most firms have developed collective values at some point, many fail to live by them, so authentic role models at the top of the organisation are crucial.

6. Adopt winning routines
Positive habit formation is a method that successful athletes have tried and tested. It entails identifying what behaviour is required to achieve a win and establishing a routine to reinforce this.

To apply it in business, ask yourself: what consistent actions do I need to start taking that would improve my overall performance? For instance, if meetings with a certain colleague often overrun, it’s worth considering how that time is being used, adopting a more efficient format and then embedding this through repetition.

Great performance is as much about the purpose and culture of the organisation. These beliefs are found in the vision, ethos and values, leadership, the strategy and plans, in people, and importantly that people are trusted to make things happen.

Reconnecting with your purpose and values will make it possible, when this crisis has passed, to look back with pride at how your company responded. Culture always matters, but it matters now more than ever.

If these core attributes are applied to the business then high-performance leaders must have an overwhelming desire to lead and that the desire to lead must be for the right reasons. It is only through having this overwhelming desire that they will have the emotional energy, enthusiasm, stamina and drive to undertake the unremitting pressure and sustained hard work required to turn an average organisation into a high performing one.

Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our world and the way that we work in an extraordinarily short time. It is becoming increasingly evident that we will have to live with and adapt to these changes for a long time and it is far from certain that we will ever return to life exactly as it was before the pandemic.

These changes bring with them great challenges and risks. These are uncharted and difficult waters to navigate. However, in our view there are also great opportunities, and these challenges can be met where leaders are able to move from a crisis management mindset to thinking about how to run their businesses differently, with a strong focus on culture.

Firms that get this wrong run the risk of poor conduct, low staff morale and ultimately, weak future performance.

However, those that find ways to nudge behaviours in the right direction have the chance to build business models and resilient cultures that adapt to the new circumstances with positive outcomes for customers, employees and investors.

It was Stephen R. Covey who once stated:

“Trust is central to an economy that works.”

Human challenges in a post-pandemic era

In the wake of this once-in-a-century pandemic, COVID-19 has turned into a global crisis, evolving at unprecedented speed and scale. It is creating a universal imperative for governments and organizations to take immediate action to protect their people.

It is now the biggest global event—and challenge—of our lifetimes. As such, it is changing human attitudes and behaviors today and forcing organizations to respond.

As the immediate impact of the coronavirus shock becomes clear, we will inevitably turn to the question: what long-term changes will this bring about and how will all of us be affected?

COVID-19 has forever changed the experience of being a customer, an employee, a citizen and a human. Expect to see behavior change at scale for some time to come.

What will have changed in the way we think? How will that affect the way we design, communicate, build and run the experiences that people need and want? The answers to these questions will lie in the way people react and how individuals, families and social groups all sources of creative innovation hack new ways to live. Every organization must become a listener sharpening their sensitivity to signals in real-time in order to respond immediately.

We are witnessing massive behavior change at a scale and speed that we’ve never seen before, sparked by fear, proselytised by social media, encouraged by the government. Such change includes frequent handwashing, working from home and discouraging bad behavior such as toilet paper hoarding.

This goes way beyond “nudge” techniques, though some are being used, and extends to the outright insistence that is either working naturally or enforced. Twitter even launched a handwashing emoji.

The science of behavior change had already become a known subject of study and an increasingly important tool for design over the past ten years. Leading companies had already instituted tools and practices to monitor, collect, analyse and act on a mix of digital surveys, behavioral signals, listening and sentiment.

Now, the need for these capabilities will become foundational to experience creation, and the speed at which companies can and, increasingly must respond to them will become sources of competitive advantage.

The coronavirus pandemic is fundamentally shifting how we live and do business and will accelerate the Fourth Industrial Revolution, fuelled by smart technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and mobile supercomputing.

The formula is to listen, empathy, learn, execute reassess and execute again, using kaizen as a continual performance measure to everything we do.

Evidence-based research suggests that 20% of the world’s population is currently under lockdown due to the current pandemic. Those that are not in full lockdown are likely experiencing significant disruption to their usual routine. For the vast majority of us, these are strange and unprecedented times.

Isaac Newton was forced to practice the early-modern equivalent of social-distancing twice during his time as a Cambridge undergraduate. Like many others in Cambridge during the Great Plague of 1665-6, Newton retreated to the countryside to escape the disease-ridden city and spent two extended periods at his family home in rural Lincolnshire, Woolsthorpe Manor.

While many of us are struggling to adapt to the new and uncertain challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak, Newton thrived in his period of isolation, and later described it as one of the most productive times in his life. Freed from the limits of the Cambridge curriculum, and from the rigor and bustle of university life, Newton found that he had the breathing space to reflect on and develop his theories on optics, calculus, and the laws of motion and gravity.

Another world event was the financial crisis of 2008, we saw cloud computing kicked into high gear and started to become a pervasive, transformational technology. The current COVID-19 crisis could provide a similar inflexion point for AI applications. While the implications of AI continue to be debated on the world stage, the rapid onset of a global health crisis and concomitant recession will accelerate its impact.

Times of crisis bring rapid change. Efforts to harness AI technologies to discover new drugs – either vaccine or treatment – have kicked into hyperdrive. Start-ups are racing to find solutions and established companies are forming partnerships with academia to find a cure.

Other companies are researching existing drugs for their potential applicability. AI is proving a useful tool for dramatically reducing the time needed to identify potential drug candidates, possibly saving years of research. AI uses already put into action are screening for COVID-19 symptoms, decision support for CT scans, and automating hospital operations. A variety of healthcare functions have started to be performed by robots, from diagnosis to temperature monitoring.

The time to act is now. Below I have set out 5 simple steps to support in the new era:

Trust
The erosion of trust will make purpose more important than ever before. This will necessitate a “trust multiplier” action that, to be effective, rebuilds trust quickly and credibly. Focus will be on purpose-building through every channel.

Justifiable optimism will sell well. All of this may change the nature of what we regard as premium products and services.

The online world
The enforced shift during the worst of the pandemic to virtual working, consuming and socialising will fuel a massive and further shift to online activity for anything and everything. Anything that can be done online will be.
Winners will be those who test and explore all of the associated creative possibilities and necessitate steps to protect and secure their IT infrastructure, irrespective of micro, small, medium or large users.

Your health and wellbeing is everything
The concerns about health amplified during the crisis will not ebb after it is over. Rather, health will dominate. A health economy will emerge with opportunities for all to plug into. Every business will need to understand how it can be part of a new health and wellbeing ecosystem that will dominate citizen thinking.

Innovative isolation
The desire for isolation at home, along with opportunities for those with creative strategies to enable it, will move center-stage for the same reason. Winners will be those who zero their sights on the home. At the height of the crisis, many workers, especially are spending more time at home. After, this pattern will endure with meaningfulness and comfort carrying a price premium.

A purposeful authority
A reinvention of a purposeful authority is likely after the effect of travel limitations, self-isolation and lockdown officially mandated by many governments. This is likely to be the trickiest of the five human implications as its impact could go one of two ways.
If governments get their handling of the crisis broadly right, expect top-down control to be back in fashion; if not, the reverse. This is likely to vary by geography. What role will companies play and how will this be implemented?

Another perspective….
All attempts to predict the future could famously turn out to be completely wrong. “A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere,” claimed the New York Times in 1936, three decades before man landed on the Moon. Last year, the Economist magazine predicted that the 2020 Olympics would be a great success. Anyway, Mayo’s prediction is extreme; in the end, most people will return to the status quo.

Much science fiction has proved to be uncannily accurate. In George Orwell’s 1984, “telescreens” meant public and private spaces were filled with cameras. Today, CCTV and video calls mean we are constantly on screen. And people worldwide have been captivated by Dean Koontz’s 1981 novel about a virus called Wuhan-400. Maybe Mayo’s vision is not as outlandish as it seems.

My thoughts on the matter……
Covid-19 has triggered such an immense wave of social experiments that some change seems inevitable. But which experiments will we want to continue and which should we discard? Some, such as homeschooling, will be enthusiastically abandoned, while others, like virtual working, we might wish to keep at least in part.

We have already experimented with new ways of living and working on a vast scale, yet as we face the current crisis as a society, we must resolve the competing values of protecting health while also ensuring privacy and liberty.

And we must find a balance between business viability and protecting the ability of people to earn a reasonable living. There is no going back; we’re heading into a new normal. Immediately, the focus will have to be on managing the crisis with the best available tools.

This period could be 12-24 months until there is enough herd immunity, treatment therapies, and an effective vaccine.

During this time, governments will need to do everything possible to provide a social safety net, at least until business can resume and employment levels approach pre-crisis levels.

Concurrently, people should realize there will be new rules in the new normal, especially those who work in fields where automation is likely. They should use this period to learn new skills such as systems analysis and evaluation, problem-solving, ideation, and leadership. Many companies, from Shell to Amazon have announced plans to re-skill large segments of their workforce. More will need to do so.

Protecting privacy and liberty is perhaps even more challenging. Once surveillance technology is used in response to an immediate crisis, it is difficult to reverse. Surveillance does not need to be our manifest destiny.

One proposal out of Europe would limit the retention of collected data for only 14 days, the period of possible virus transmission. The only effective means to reasonably protect privacy is to require that surveillance powers assumed during a crisis expire when the crisis ends.

COVID-19 will accelerate the trend towards corporate-purpose made visible through experiences and corporations standing for something bigger than their core output. The legacy effect on the sustainability debate will be profound.

It will be interesting to see if, among the majority of customers locked down who have been forced to think for many weeks about their priorities, there is an accelerated shift to “conscious consumption” – buying only what matters and what they really need. Will life’s little luxuries rebound fiercely as everyday life resumes? Or will luxury be redefined?

A culture may emerge that’s far more sensitive to ostentatious displays of exclusivity. Brands now trading off luxury will face a choice. Should they embrace and communicate meaningful values that benefit the greater society? Or should they become an “invisible luxury” brand that eschews materialistic ostentation in favor of discreet experiences, for example, or relationships, and understated signifiers? This would not just change what these brands sell, but how they market and sell it.

Finally, the subject of EQ is not new, we all need to understand behavior: honing your emotional intelligence to better understand your customers’ and employees’ behaviors new, changed or those left unchanged. Be ready to draw on all three sources of data: big data, thick data (deep insights on people), and broad data (contextual and market trends). Ensure that all data sources are constantly updated and utilised across the organisation.

As the effects of COVID19 pan out we will have to wait and see exactly what takes place for the good of change.

Maris Popova, a successful Bulgarian writer once said:

“On the precipice of any great change, we can see with terrifying clarity the familiar firm footing we stand to lose, but we fill the abyss of the unfamiliar before us with dread at the potential loss rather than jubilation over the potential gain of gladnesses and gratifications we fail to envision because we haven’t yet experienced them.”