7 min read

The “new normal.” It’s a term that we first started using after the Global Financial Crisis of 2007. Then again in the wake of the 2008 – 2012 global recession. And once again now, as we’re trying to make sense of life with the COVID-19 pandemic.

To labour the point – earlier this month authorities have locked down Beijing over a new COVID-19 outbreak linked to a seafood supermarket in the world’s most populous capital city. Just as the world started taking comfort in the thought that the country at the centre of the pandemic was settling into the “new normal.”

Which begs the question – is there such a thing as “normal” or is it a security blanket we convince ourselves of in an otherwise unpredictable, volatile world?

For those of us living and working on the African continent, the relativity of “normal” is constantly shifting, especially if viewed through a Western paradigm. Politically and socio-economically it’s a fluid continent, dealing with the legacy of colonialism – most countries in Africa having only gained independence after 1960.

If there’s one thing that entrepreneurship has taught us, it’s that opportunities will remain in some form or another. It’s how we evolve our organisations, our attitudes and mindsets that will allow us to identify and tap into them that’s constantly changing.

One of the big considerations when a business grows quickly, is to throw resources at the problem. It’s easy to bulk up on staff, offices and support functions and think that it will be adequate to ensure sustainability. The reality in dealing with challenges as a result of the pandemic is true however – regardless of the size of the organisation, it’s always a core team of individuals who step up and drive the reinvention and revolution of the business head-on. When irrational and fear-based decisions start impacting the business, it’s the key talent in the organisation that becomes solutions-driven, thinking not only for the business but from the perspectives of shareholders, financiers, tenants and others as well. During times like these, CEOs with a view on fast-tracking and developing especially junior talent, have a rare opportunity to gauge the ability and commitment of their teams.

Operating on the continent, teams have to have an inherent ability to approach challenges pragmatically. This disposition can be leveraged further by encouraging cross-team and cross-stakeholder collaboration to find solutions to some daunting challenges.

For example, with no deal-flow as a result of the virus, we seconded our investment team to assist with workload and offer a different perspective in other areas of the business. Similarly, our treasury team entrenched themselves with the banks, building on relationships shaped since the formation of our company. Every bank has a different risk appetite and our multi-banked strategy enabled us to match our risk appropriately, with all of our financiers assisting during this very complex stage.

The results have been simply astounding, with measurable, long-term impacts on the business. I’ve also seen unbelievable work ethic – no-one on the staff has had a “normal” life since the pandemic. Everyone is involved in scenario planning, forecasting and collaboration where ideas are tested. A lot of emphasis is placed on extending this approach to each country of operation, where it’s important for our teams on the ground to have the right support and ability to input and contribute crucial information.

During this time where retrenchments and cost cutting are commonplace, companies will do well to cultivate a culture of cost consciousness. A cost conscious culture will not only mitigate current balance sheet pressure but position organisations well for when the next inevitable crisis surfaces. Especially companies who can apply this during the good times will be more sustainable. One of the areas that will likely be negatively impacted by COVID-19 for a long time to come is travel. Travel has become too easy – it’s become a way of life. A lot of markets are now much more at ease with engaging virtually and the cost savings – from both a money and time point of view – are considerable. Placing an emphasis on cost optimisation simply by doing things more efficiently can add up to a considerable saving.

COVID-19 provides an opportunity to test the effectiveness of every part of the business, including engagement with service providers and the refinement of workstreams to optimise costs.

I don’t buy into the notion of a “new normal”. Every day we wake up to new challenges. It’s a cop-out to blame COVID and hope to return to a level of normality afterwards. Growth is sometimes painful. Personally, I think my team and I have grown more in the past three months than we did in the past three years. But you get better at dealing with the variables and surrounding yourself with teams, business partners and tenants with the same focus. It becomes a way of life.

The way we work will continue to shift and ultimately opportunity lies in the ability to consistently re-invent and revolutionise.