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Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, decision-making seems to have become a constant demonstration of a trial and error approach, because, barring a very few above the age of 100, none of us who are alive today have ever seen a health and economic problem this big.
However, the big worry is that we may end up accepting laxity and low quality results as the norm. Because of a pandemic of global proportions, as consumers, we keep on reminding ourselves that we must be patient, believing that companies and organizations are trying hard and must be doing their best. However, when we start to look a little bit deeper do we realize that several companies, organizations, stores, online delivery platforms are not exactly doing their best. There seems to be an undercurrent where delays, poor service, inability to make legitimate payments, sacking of employees, are all being put down to COVID-19.
The first area which has literally fallen off the cliff is firing employees. Even relatively stable organizations which may end up making less for a year or more, after having decades of a good run, are firing employees lock, stock, and barrel. At the same time, at a more holistic level, the same organizations are waiting for the demand of their products, services, commodities to pick up. The question is how, barring in mind that the two philosophies are working at cross purposes.
Yet, there are a few really ethical pearls that are clearly visible today. Those are the examples when the senior management proposes a salary reduction, cutting employee numbers, and the elderly owner thinks about it for a few days, and orders that there will be no cost cuts, no employee reductions. Actually, this is a true story. The owner clearly stated that a large number of people who are working in his organization have helped him when things were rough with his business, and that the COVID-19 crisis was his time to reciprocate and to show his commitment to the very same people who stood by him during his own difficult days.
Such gems also exist. Same is the case of a huge retailing giant which, upon realizing that brick and mortar retail slumped badly during the lockdown, shifted a few thousands of their employees to assist in speeding up their online business model. And they succeeded very well. Yet another gem.
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Another area which has literally fallen off the cliff relates to online deliveries and promised schedules. My wife has been ordering various items from one or two prestigious online retailers. Interestingly, over the entire last few months, whatever has been ordered in one single bill, without fail, it has delivered in three, sometimes four lots, and all at odd hours of the day, and in unduly large packaging that must be costing a lot and also causing huge environmental problems. On several occasions, the retailer has missed out delivering some items due to non-availability of stocks, but the money has already been credited to their account. This, of course, started our process of how to get the refund back, or how to get something totally unwanted in exchange.
Receivables is another thorny issue. Rich and influential organizations and very well-to-do individuals are using this pandemic as an excuse to either delay payments, or shave off large amounts for no reason. The result is that lawyers, courts, and arbitration processes are overburdened, unnecessarily. And most of them still mostly work online. Another thorny area is the manner in which employees who are asked to exit are handled. Treating the employees who exit well and maintaining their honor and dignity is an attribute which needs to be ingrained in the DNA of every good, future-thinking organization. This reaps huge intangible rewards for the future, especially when some of the same employees may be required back as things improve.
The COVID-19 crisis need not be used as an excuse to write off all the successes of this phenomenal country whose rulers have taken decades to create such a globally iconic brand. Some rationalization of budgets is absolutely essential. The focus must absolutely increase on cutting costs when demand is likely to take a long time to build up. However, what we see in many cases is a serious reduction in the quality of services, thereby deteriorating the organization as an asset.
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We are seeing this not only in the traditional trading and distribution businesses, but also in the real estate side of the business. Reductions in real estate prices tend to squeeze developer margins. This leads to a new cycle of renegotiation of contracts. This starts cascading downstream, often compromising the quality of the asset. Sadly, when problems do arise sometime in the future, a chunk of current decision makers would have exited the system, leaving the issues with the newer generation, who may be ill experienced to manage the complexities.
The UAE and Dubai and its businesses have faced challenges in the past, and each time there has been an adjustment period, after which a good period of growth has followed. This has always been the hallmark of this city and the UAE. A quality of bouncing back, no matter what. It is extremely important to realize that, as the business community collectively faces the longest and harshest period of health and business problems, enough care needs to be taken by all the stakeholders to ensure that the binding glue used is strong enough to wait out this period and to take us to a higher level of professional and personal success in the period which is sure to follow.
Then, the question is: are we all putting our best foot forward? It is quite visible that the crisis has definitely brought out the best in some. It is equally visible that, for quite a few, it seems to have affected their decision making health in several ways.
Some food for thought.
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