When Life Gives You Lemons…

It’s a cliché, and I personally prefer the version I saw outside a café once which read “When life gives you lemons, give them back and say you wanted coffee”. Either way, at the moment, we have all been given a lot of lemons. So, is it possible for us to make lemonade?

Business owners the world over must adapt, and adapt quickly, to this new landscape, which will hopefully be relatively temporary. Schools are closed in many countries with students taking classes from home by video-conference and in many businesses, people who have worked closely together as a team are also working from home with meetings being conducted online. They are the lucky ones. Others have been laid off or need to risk manning the checkouts in grocery stores and supermarkets. Big questions have no immediate answer; How long will this last? Will governments implement suitable support packages for businesses? Will banks defer loan repayments? And so on.

Organisations around the world find themselves having to manage in the face of uncertainty. It might seem scary but managers always face uncertainty. We are now more aware of it and it can seem daunting but the same leadership organisations rely on every day can help them through the days ahead.

I know of one group of people who went to school together in the 80’s who have agreed to offer the services of their businesses to each other at significant discounts to help each other out if needed. I also know of a business that rents a premises in Dublin, Ireland, which was consumer facing and so saw its business dry up. They spoke to the landlord on March 18 about it, and they agreed, without hesitation, to reduce their rent significantly for the next few months. In doing so, the landlord demonstrated that he values the tenant and he has also helped ensure the business remains viable, so he has a tenant in future months. In this win-win situation, both the landlord and the tenant are making lemonade.

Elsewhere, we work with one business that has decided to offer to pay all its people full pay for two weeks if they need to self-isolate and, if the company is forced to close its factory, is prepared to keep everyone on half pay.

These are small examples of organisations taking care of their stakeholders, a core tenet of The Business Excellence Institute’s approach to running an organisation. So, what else can be done to make lemonade? If your organisation finds itself with less work than normal, why not work on some of those things that you have thought about doing for years, but couldn’t find the time? The important but not urgent stuff like strategy, team building, process improvement, leadership development or the professional development of your people with, for example, lean six sigma or communications skills training. These are just some examples of areas that will help improve your organisation and help it become more robust so that it can not only survive, but thrive, in difficult times.

Aircold Testimonial

Andrew Coyne, Managing Director of Aircold Panel Solutions – a family business now in its second generation – on working with the Business Excellence Institute.

The Pragmatic Manager

For the best part of two decades I worked in an organization as a manager, first of a department of one just managing processes, then in a department with staff; culminating in a role as Operations Manager. Outside of a BA in Psychology I had no formal management training. My training was of the ‘learn-as-you-go’ variety. I believe that this is a very common experience that is all too familiar.

The organization was not a pro-active one with regard to best practice and had no idea about business excellence. For example, my direct boss for a number of years was of the mind that all the motivation staff needed was ‘a pay cheque’; governance was thin on the ground; there was no formal strategy in place, and staff development was unheard of. I was, however, advised that in order to advance within the organization to board level I would need to obtain an MBA.


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This was a path I did not wish to take and, given the writings of Henry Mintzberg, and the current research indicating that those who have Arts (or Engineering) degrees, and do not also have an MBA, often out-perform typical MBAs and accountants as CEOs and managers, I am quite glad I did not pursue one. What I did do, however, is to learn about best practice. When I became Operations Manager, I brought in a consultant to help with the introduction of performance reviews, one-to-one meetings and to give some general guidance on how to improve our processes and operations (suffice to say, my old boss was no longer on the scene).

Short story: everything improved, including profits. Unfortunately, the effects of 15 years of sub-optimal management and the Financial Crisis hit the business badly and it shut down in 2011. I often look back and think of all that could have been done to keep that business active and to keep the company’s 85 or so people in their jobs. By exploring the principles of business excellence, I have learnt about many simple and practical lessons that leading organizations have used and that academics have known and made available for decades.

These lessons are not simply the remit of multi-national corporations or of MBAs. They are lessons that any manager can benefit from learning about. It might be the case that you have found yourself in a management position, in a small to medium sized organization, possibly a family business (a significantly underserved segment of the business community); with no formal training. That was the position I found myself in. Although I did my best my job would have been significantly easier if I had known what I know now. That is why I suggested we develop The Pragmatic Manager Development Program. I often wish it had been available back then for me; as a valid alternative to an MBA. It may just have helped save a business.