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Roller Coasters Go Up as Well as Down

Roller Coasters Go Up as Well as Down

By Mark McGready

A year ago we were watching footage of people fighting over toilet paper, as if it was to become the new currency in a world with Covid. For years we thought we’d be trading in gold and silver if society fell — turns out hand wipes and 2-ply were the smart long term investments.

Recently Disney announced it was opening up Disney World once again so children could once again live out their dreams and spend enough money to fund their first year of college. And they will have all the toilet paper they could need. Life is returning to normal.

Or more accurately, the new normal.

The change this last year is the most any of us have had to deal with in our lifetimes. Overnight we changed the way our workplaces functioned, we changed how we communicated with each other, we changed how we bought and sold. Staff changed and roles changed and expectations changed. We lived with constant uncertainty, and dealt with stress not only at work but at home too. It’s been a wearing year. Under the specter of this terrible pandemic we became a new normal, counting down the days until we could return once again to the everydayness we’d known all our lives. What’s great is that we adapted to the situation, and adapted quickly. That swift innovation and intuition once again proved that we have the will to change when needed, and new methods can take root and work successfully. In the future when a company gets concerned about a new process or system and how long it may take for everyone to get on board, remember 2020 and how change can come when everyone understands the need.

The return to normalcy is fast approaching. Vaccines are rolling out, cases are dropping, Covid’s days seem to be coming to a close. A triumph for ingenuity and innovation that proves once again the U.S. leads the world when it needs to. Summer 2021 should be a happy one. We’ll look back on 2020 with a mix of pride and sadness, regret that the world can throw us curveballs, and pride that we still knew how to hit them out of the park.

The question now is simple – what’s next? What’s the next change?

I think most agree that the world will be different post Covid. Not in a fundamental way, but in a hundred small ways. We’ll be more aware of our surroundings. More aware of the precious time we spend with friends and family. We’ll go back to restaurants, but take out might become more frequent. We might travel more, but we might also appreciate the comfort of home more. You’re going to notice coughs and sneezes a lot more than you used to. Work wise there’s some things that can’t be put back in the box. Working from home will become a new norm for an awful lot of people. More video meetings and less flying visits. More remote collaboration – an embrace of these new tools that will redefine how we do things like email and cell phones swept over workplaces 25 years ago. Get used to zoom calls in your pajamas.

2021 isn’t going to be like 2019. 2022 isn’t going to be like 2018. We’re in world anew, where year over year won’t really matter as the playing fields have changed. So what’s most important is understanding this new world. Taking stock of what our companies have become, what our customers now look like and what they may need. In times of great change movement happens, and if you’re blind to the movements around you then that’s how you quickly get lost. And chances are the next 18 months are going to be as wild as the last 18 months.

There’s an awful lot of projects out there that had to be put on hold. A huge amount of investments, or upgrades, or rebuilds and new facilities that had their plans put on the back burner as we all waited Covid out. And they’re coming like a speeding bullet. Add on to that government promises of an infrastructure bill and an aligned Congress and Presidency that has the ability to get things passed, a sudden jobs boom when industries return to full capacity and a release of the pent up frustration of having to pause for a whole year, and we’re in for a different kind of rollercoaster—one that’s going up and not down.

When you’re hurtling at 80 miles an hour with the wind rushing in your face, going up and down both feel the same!

So what do we need to do? The truth is you’ll have to make a thousand decisions, responding and reacting to situations out of nowhere, with the hope that you get to make some plans and see them through. I believe now more than ever using data to keep on top of all aspects of your business is critical. When a space shuttle takes off they monitor everything. When it lands they monitor everything. When it’s in orbit and drifting around the Earth everyone relaxes a little. Our trouble is there’s no shortage of data. In fact, there’s usually information overload. And with so much coming at you it can be hard to make sense of it all. That’s why it’s critical to identify the key metrics, those sets of numbers that help you ensure all aspects of your business are working together. All businesses are finely tuned machines, this dance of operations, sales, finance, logistics, marketing and strategy. When one cog gets misaligned, the whole system can start to fail. Just ask all the manufacturers facing production and supply issues right now. You need to understand those key measures, and your teams do too. Only then can you continue to align everyone, and ensure everyone understands the current needs.

There’s one other element worth considering. If all your data is generated internally, you’re not getting the full picture. You only know yourself, but you don’t know if you’re keeping up with everyone else. We can all get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and think ‘for someone of my age I’m doing pretty good’. However, you don’t know if that’s really true. Until you visit the doctor and he says ‘you know, for someone of your age, and I’ve seen a lot of them, you’re doing pretty good – except here, here and here. Now eat more healthy food!’

NAED has a Market Data program that’s intended to help its members track where they stand against their peers. It’s a simple idea and only one NAED could do, but the resulting analysis is as critical as any internal metric you might monitor. In smooth years there’s less instability, so where you stand might be relatively consistent. In turbulent years you just don’t know where you stand. And that’s what’s coming for the next year or two—turbulence—the good kind we hope, just a mirror reflection of what we went through in the past. Your company needs external measures just as much as it needs internal measures, because in truth that’s the only way you can truly keep the pulse of what’s happening with your business.

We’ve waited and waited for the next few weeks to arrive – a return to normalcy, no mentions of second or third waves, no fears that this pandemic might never end. Thanks to the scientific community this trial is almost over. But that doesn’t mean we’re off the rollercoaster yet – the next phase may not be as scary, but it’s sure to be as head spinning and stomach churning as what we’ve faced already.

Hold on tight!

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