Understanding “anticipatory grief” to restructure your business

Posted by Flux on 

10 July 2020

Having passed the milestone of 100 days in lockdown, businesses are not only assessing the damage the pandemic is leaving in its wake, but also trying to pick up whatever pieces are left and restructure their businesses. 

The sense of unease is growing because it is starting to dawn on all of us that this fractured state is going to last well into 2021. The realities and challenges of adapting to the much touted “new normal” is sinking in. You can’t blaze new trails without hacking through established undergrowth and you kick up more dust in the process. And the curve balls keep coming.

Many businesses are struggling to manage some of their workforce in a new, physical distancing office environment, while simultaneously managing another part of their workforce remotely. In between the challenges of unforeseen costs this all brings, is the harsh reality that more staff are starting to test positive for COVID-19. This then complicates things further and adds to already mounting costs to an already diminished cash flow.

It feels like moving two steps forward and then three steps back, which is why at Flux we call this period of extended uncertainty the Great Staggering.

Besides recalibrating your business there is now the added challenge of fitting your business into a very changed mindset, not only of your employees but also your customers. While in lockdown, each one of us has experienced an existential crisis of sorts. Employees are now not only concerned about physical wellbeing but are also anxious about mental and financial wellbeing. If you extend this changed mindset to your customers, re-starting your business is becoming less about simply reviving it, but considering very carefully, how (and more importantly, if) your original business model fits into a changed and radically altered societal mindset.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Scott Berinato penned an article: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief which will offer business owners some insight and context into navigating their business through the Great Staggering.

Berinato unpacks the concept of “anticipatory grief”, which usually is associated with death: for example, a diagnosis of a terminal disease. In terms of this pandemic our minds are bracing for a deadly virus, which even if you survive, is now leading to other long-term health complications, as recoverees of all ages are now discovering. 

Our sense of safety has been broken. It is a collective sense of loss, which is new, as is the open-endedness of it all. We simply do not have a clear sense of how long our lives will be in limbo and that enhances our sense of anticipatory grief.

Steering a business through this extended period of uncertainty means formulating multiple short-term strategies: another new way of running a business. Nothing can be set in stone and everything is in a state of flux. The Great Staggering is a period of trial and error. Make peace with that.

It also requires a very different skills set in terms of management. You’re dealing with a workforce that is not physically cohesive but also mentally scattered. An entirely new management style is now required: one that empathises with anticipatory grief, in whatever form that manifests itself. And it will manifest itself in unexpected ways.

Before the pandemic, most companies were preoccupied with the 4IR, while consumer mindset was beginning to focus on sustainability. These issues will return – more pressing and urgent than before – but for now the focus is on the Great Staggering. How you handle the Great Staggering will determine the trajectory of your post-pandemic business model.

By Dion Chang founder of Flux Trends

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