My father was 18 months old when his dad, then 32 years old, died from the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. Grandfather William Horton’s untimely death left our family impoverished and set us for hardship lasting through the Great Depression all the way through to World War II. My dad, with his brother and mom Emma, faced a daunting post-World War I world without a provider and without the comfort of a father and husband. All this changed the trajectory of our family’s future for two generations.
That’s the impact of a pandemic. These are life and society-altering events raising challenges and obstacles we never could imagine. Suddenly, our assumptions about life and business and “the rules of the game” are turned on their heads and, where we used to have answers, we now have mostly questions.
The U.S. has been tangled with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and social distancing and all the personal protective equipment paraphernalia for four months. We re-jiggered our companies to allow office staff to work from home. We’ve social distanced our crews. Some have had to cease field operations for weeks or months, others have been able to continue, but with restrictions and all the productivity friction working with masks and reduced crew sizes entail.
And I believe we’ve pretty much made it to the other side. All of America is “opening up.” Restaurants, stores and workplaces are firing back up, albeit with the frustrating restrictions like masks and occupancy limits. Diligence and continuing reengineering of our operations are required to both limit disease and preserve profitability. We’re in an existential balancing act. We must take all steps to ensure employee and client safety, yet we must also remain profitable.
Now, we’re increasingly hearing of new “hot spots” spiking up all over the country. Some cities have floated the need to lock down again. You, me, our industry and America are weary of it all, and we want it to just go away. But if deaths skyrocket, as scientists say could happen, local governments will again drop the hammer.
My grandfather died in October 1918. He was a “second-waver.” Far more deadly than the Spanish Flu’s initial slaughter from early 1918, the “second wave” hit in late summer and took down hundreds of thousands of Americans rapidly. Yet, then came a third wave late in the year, and again a fourth in 1919. By the end, nearly 750,000 Americans died. And through each of the four waves people thought it was over.
It appears with COVID-19, we don’t know what we don’t know. We do know 2020 will be a year unlike any other, and it’s our job as business managers to navigate the unknowns ahead.
This is a landscape column. Why so much on the COVID-19 virus?
My grandmother’s family had to tough it through their own virus-impacted lives. For years, they were forced to adapt, improvise, do with less, make new plans and gut it out until finally they emerged with sustainable, “normal” lives.
In our businesses we’re facing something similar.
We need to develop business resiliency and toughness to navigate this. Our companies must be reengineered to be adaptable to the unknown, (as odd as that sounds) and quick to respond to change.
Resiliency is the key word. Our policies, our practices and our employees must be bolstered and made resilient against the unknowns that may come our way. Now’s the time to write up contingency plans for enhanced PPE, for further social distancing, for potential lockdowns. It’s the time to stash up cash, to tighten up spending, to plug margin leaks, to search out every potential efficiency.
If we’re lucky, after all our planning and finetuning, 2020 will end quietly, the virus will retreat and maybe a vaccine will come along. That would be lovely.
Quite possible, however, are potential second and third waves. They could come with a vengeance, truly alarming the public and politicians and resulting in outcomes we still only imagine.
Are you prepared for shock-change? Good advice is to build your resiliency now and get prepared. The worst that could happen if waves don’t come is that you’ve built a tighter, more efficient company.
Gary Horton, MBA, is CEO of Landscape Development Inc., a green industry leader for over 35 years with offices throughout California and Nevada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.