Guiding principles for founders in times of uncertainty

Below is an excerpt of the letter we sent to Giant Leap founders last week, in response to the escalating COVID-19 crisis. We realise that market conditions are changing at an unprecedented pace, but we trust the guiding principles will be relevant to founders throughout present and future periods of uncertainty.

We hope you and your families are keeping safe and well.

The Giant Leap Team

Dear Founders,

We’ve already fielded a number of questions from founders about what COVID-19 could mean for growing their startup.

Our commitment to you is that we’ll be empathetic and understanding as we all navigate this complex and uncertain phase together. As a testament to that, we wanted to put out an FAQ to give founders some certainty and reassurance.

It is important to first acknowledge that this situation is unprecedented and as such it is impossible to know the correct course of action. There is a spectrum between being prudent and alarmist. It is more important than ever to show compassion and ensure we take care of each other.

This isn’t an exhaustive “what to do about COVID-19” note (your market and business will undoubtedly have specific characteristics and nuances).

We feel Australia is fortunate in being an island nation, currently with warmer weather than more affected countries and with a strong healthcare system so we can be positive in our outlook.

However, to help dampen the curve of the spread of COVID-19 we feel it appropriate to have a plan based on current facts and to take swift action.

We may update this as the situation evolves, but above all, we’ll be taking care of one another, and hopefully helping you do the same.

How should I manage my team during the COVID-19 outbreak?

We suggest founders adopt the following principles during this period.

  • Be calm, compassionate and adaptive.
  • Set up a risk-based plan separating all operating assumptions into three categories: truth, what you think is true, and what is speculation.
  • This can then inform a Business Continuity Plan so that you and your team have something to refer to when making decisions. Not all will go according to plan during this period, and that is OK. But having a plan to refer to will help provide certainty.
  • Be wary that your staff may have to choose between work and caring for loved ones during this period. Where possible, do not make this a difficult choice. Have conversations now about what is expected and acceptable, including changing expectations on working from home or meeting with clients and staff via video conferencing rather than in person. Revisit leave policies if people need to look after children who are not in childcare or school and whether that would constitute annual leave or carer’s leave.
  • Be wary of a drop in productivity, but also recognise that this is an opportunity to transform culture and bolster camaraderie within your organisation. Your team can save time commuting and learn about having more effective meetings.
  • Create conditions for the team that bolster success. Provide them with the tools they need to work from home effectively such as remote dial-ins, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and collaboration software like Slack, Trello and Zoom. Listen to their feedback on remote working and improve as you go.
  • In times of uncertainty, it is important to keep up morale. If your approach is to work from home, then it is really important to create new norms around having fun together and maintaining a strong social connection.

What should I do if COVID-19 affects my ability to do business?

COVID-19 is likely to affect every business — big or small. Below we’ve included some general advice.

  • Again, and we can’t stress this enough, place all operating assumptions in a risk-based rubric to help you determine what factors you actually need to account for. Here is a link to an example rubric that you can use as a template.
  • All businesses are likely to have a slowdown in productivity so we recommend reviewing budgets including procurement and hiring decisions.
  • Do not make decisions based on fear. In this sense, be wary of all the advice you may receive over this period, and pull it back to what you know about the situation.
  • As always, plan for the medium to long term. Your goal should be to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger, rather than on the backfoot.

On reflection the COVID-19 outbreak like the Australian bushfires demonstrates the interconnected fabric of the society that we live in and to have a resilient economy we need to build and support strong environmentally and socially resilient local communities.

Through adversity comes opportunity.

This story was originally published on the Giant Leap blog.



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