Written by Dr J.P. Nel, D. Com, D. Phil, Owner of Mentornet (Pty) Ltd
As much as I understand and sympathise with the pleas of businesspeople who wish to be allowed to do business without lockdowns, I do have a different stance to this terrible dilemma in which we find ourselves.
I am deeply concerned about businesses and business leaders who think that they will be able to carry on like before COVID-19. We need to accept change and we need to adapt to it. If we do not, most businesses will discover that doing business now will leave them drifting like the oil tankers on the oceans – empty.
Management of change can buy time and time is the scarcest and most expensive commodity on earth. For example, most governments, including the South African government, decided to follow a lockdown policy in order to delay the rate at which people contracted and perished because of the COVID-19 virus.
No government can stop the virus now. Therefore, no government can help us to do business and to earn a living. But government has a little bit of money (for now) with which to provide food to those in need, and they are rapidly growing in numbers. The point is this – government can play for time in the hope that a vaccine for the virus is found, but government cannot rekindle the markets that used to be.
Many financial experts believe the lockdown system will cost more lives than if the virus is allowed to run its natural course. They argue that the damage to the economies of countries and industries would lead to escalating unemployment, poverty, social unrest and crime, with the result that more lives will be lost than would otherwise have been lost through the virus.
Businesspersons believe that it is only the vulnerable that perish because of the virus. They should redo their homework – the virus no longer discriminates, and the businesspersons who think they can do business as before might well become the victims of the virus if the lockdown is lifted too soon, which is what is happening right now. Just look at what is happening in the USA at the moment, if you need a case study to learn from.
Strategic management of change rests on the premises that you should never just let things run its natural cause. You always, and as rapidly as possible, need to take steps to eradicate the threat. Nobody knows when a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus will be discovered and made available, especially to “unimportant” countries like South Africa. People would have died because of the virus, regardless of whether lockdowns were instituted or not. Only, they would have perished much faster if nothing were done to gain at least some control over the spread of the disease.
Delaying the pandemic would give medical scientist time to seek a solution. If the pandemic is allowed to continue unchecked many people who might have been saved if they were given more time, will perish. It would have been easier for government to gain some control over unrest and hunger because these are known factors to us. They currently have no control over COVID-19.
One of the fiercest enemies of business is procrastination. Military people would say that a static tank is a dead tank. Also, in business you need to move if you are to survive. A true and committed entrepreneur would use the time to plan, improve, position the business strategically, close new agreements, get rid of old and inefficient agreements and procedures.
Anything that you can do to bring your business closer to your vision is a step in the right direction. Lockdown is a step in the right direction, even if it is a detour. In fact, this is the time when entrepreneurs should review their visions and missions for their business. This is the time to adapt to change, and lockdown gives you the time and opportunity to do so.
In closing, regardless of whether we lockdown or not, the end result of this pandemic will be terrible. The best we can do is to hope and work for a solution and to position ourselves for a completely new world and business environment. Those who can adapt will survive, those who resist change will not.