05 May 2020

Stand up New Zealand, you deserve a huge round of applause

Covid-19 has certainly caused a massive change in our worlds this last month or so, hasn’t it? Who would have thought heading into 2020 we would experience such a shift in how we run our businesses, how we work, and how we keep afloat during a crisis? Many of us had to make changes that we never planned to make – from closing long-established businesses, letting staff go who over time have become like family and halting all previous trading patterns. Aside from the global financial crisis in 2009, I have never experienced anything like this in my 50 plus years on Earth.

As I write this column, New Zealand has just moved to Level 3 in the pandemic. Many employees and employers are tenuously starting back on the journey of working for the first time in four weeks. Other essential workers and businesses having been slogging it out and keeping us fed and healthy during this time. The hysteria of the first week seems to have calmed down and we have created new patterns and behaviours that ideally will serve us well as we move forward. Yes, we are still in the early stages of Covid-19 response in New Zealand but right now – we all deserve a huge pat on the back and acknowledgement of the exceptionally hard work everyone in the country has contributed. Nice work Kiwis!

But as I reflect on the past month, I am also saddened by some of the deep pain I have seen employees and employers experience. Mums and dads both losing their incomes, kids and teens losing their social connections and essential workers put under immense pressure by the selfish actions of some idiots. Large tourism and hospitality businesses folding and small business owners taking on night work to keep their staff employed. The grief we have all experienced is palpable.

As business owners that have been through such massive change in a short period of time, how do we take on board those experiences and move on? How do I lead from the front and ensure my team are engaged and understand what we are trying to achieve? How do I remain positive and optimistic when I may not be feeling positive and optimistic? So, here are some tips from my period of reflection as a leader, business owners, chair of the Waikato Chamber and trustee in a not-for-profit. Firstly – every single person in New Zealand has been impacted one way or another by this virus. No matter how low or despondent you are feeling right now, chances are someone in your team will have felt the same in the last month. It is OK to show vulnerability and it is normal to have bad days. Secondly, communicate, communicate and communicate. Talk to your team, talk to other leaders, talk to your advisers and get help if you need it. If you have not done it already, make a plan. Then show your team that you have a plan. Take time out for yourself and give yourself some thinking space. Acknowledge the days and things that have gone well for you and your team – celebrating those small wins is even more right now! Be humble and be kind. I think we have all learned that from our Prime Minister, right?

Lastly, we are all in this together – we will get through this and while you might experience more bad days than good, that soon will change. Reach out to others who are running small businesses to see if you can support them in any way too – buy local, support local and think about what you really want to do differently in your business and at home. Now is the perfect time for a sea-change that none of us really planned for or even expected – perhaps that is a sign we just cannot ignore? Kia Kaha New Zealand.