During lockdown, Zac caught up with Westpac’s CFO — Ian Hankin — on their podcast to help NZ businesses, called Back to Business. The theme of the talk was “Getting off on the right foot” and subjects included growing market share, advice re restructuring, company morale, leadership and why face to face matters. Watch the video HERE or read the full transcript below):
Ian: I’m Ian Hankin, CFO, Westpac New Zealand. And today I’m joined by Zac de Silva from Business Changing. He’s been a business coach for a number of years and helped businesses through good times and bad times so we thought we’d pick his brains on how to get through the current crisis that we’re facing as an economy. So Zac, welcome. Great to have you here.
Zac: Thanks. Good to be able to chat to you guys.
Ian: Fantastic. Let’s just start with your thoughts on how businesses have thought through the last two months — what are the things that have worked and what are some of the tips you’ve provided to your clients?
Zac: There’s a few obvious things. First of all, they’ve obviously been very mindful of their cashflow. That’s a pretty obvious one. And then hopefully they’ve been proactive and talked to the likes of Westpac if they need to. I think companies have been doing a lot more meetings than normal and have been a lot more proactive with communications. In times like these, you can’t overcommunicate — you actually need to keep your staff in the loop of what’s happening.
I think something else that’s really key that I’m sharing with clients and something I’ve seen customers doing is this: talk to your customers, a lot. And what I mean by that is your customers’ needs have highly likely changed in recent times. So if you’re not aware of the changes, then potentially you might even lose them as a customer. So you can’t be too proactive with a customer. The more you check on them, the better — be really aware of where they’re going and what their needs are. And then you obviously need to react.
And I guess that ties into that lovely word that we’ve heard so much of lately which is that word ‘pivot’. A lot of my clients are considering how might they pivot… If you want a definition of what pivot means, in my opinion, it’s about looking at what your future customer is going to need and that’s the direction you need to go in — that’s what you need to pivot towards. So it’s all about the future needs of your customers. That’s what companies I’ve been talking to have been doing and what I’ve been sharing that they should be doing as well.
Ian: Fantastic. And you’re right; that pivot comment is just so critical for businesses of all sizes actually. As we look ahead, you mentioned communications — have businesses thought differently about how to communicate and what different channels they should be using to reach some of those customers in different ways?
Zac: With customers, you can’t really beat the old face-to-face — obviously it hasn’t been that possible over lockdown, but I guess that’s Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Skype or whatever. So I think the face to face with customers is still a great thing to be doing. Worst case you’d talk to them on the phone or over email. It’s actually a lot faster to actually just make a phone call or to chat on Zoom or Microsoft Teams and also customers will probably think you actually care more about them if you actually pick up the phone rather than just sending an email.
Back into your communication point, the other thing is obviously communicating internally with your teams. Obviously, you know, Zoom and Microsoft Teams has really come into play. But again, that’s the whole face-to-face thing, effectively — you can actually see their faces. I think what we’ve seen through Covid times, be it from a customer perspective or from an internal company perspective, is that phone and face-to-face meeting (even in a digital way) are just so much more effective than email. I think that’s one of the big learnings — I’m hoping that post these times people might send a few less emails and actually get on the phone or go on a Zoom call or maybe even go face to face with a customer or an employee.
Ian: Yeah, wouldn’t that be great, just to see some of those trends continue in that communication space? For us, we’ve had similar success with our clients and our staff, just using those different channels to reach out. So, as you know, one of the things you immediately think about when you’re in a situation like this is how do you cut costs and get your cashflow working again? But once you go to move beyond that, what are some of the ideas that you’re sharing with your clients on how you set your business up for future success?
Zac: I guess one of the key things is you really need to do is tighten your focus. What I mean by that is in the past, especially when times are good, you can actually dabble in some things and if they didn’t work particularly well, it probably didn’t really matter much because obviously other things in your business were still going well, which made you financially successful. So I think it’s a real key to actually tighten your focus and just focus on those things that actually are giving you a really good ROI, especially when you consider the effort that you’re putting into these things. So definitely be doing that.
I think you need to be doing anything you can to actually stand out and step ahead of your competition. How can you truly show that you are the number one, the go-to in your industry, because that’s going to be hugely important as well.
Also, you need to be really proactive with sales now. I appreciate that most people think naturally that they’re proactive with sales, but I’d hazard a guess that most companies actually could be so much more proactive with sales. Let’s say that the economy does shrink 15%, for argument’s sake. And let’s say that your industry actually shrinks 15% as well. Well, you need to be super proactive sales-wise because obviously you don’t want to shrink 15%. You want to at least stay the same and preferably grow. So you’ve got to take market share. The only way that’s going to happen is actually being really proactive, with having a really strong pipeline — stronger than normal. How can you drive more leads? And how can you actually convert better than normal as well?
Some other things I’d be doing is making sure that your team is all on the same page. No doubt you’ve been communicating a lot within your company but I’d almost be calling a bit of a State of the Nation and sharing where things at and where things are going.
Another thing is a few businesses have to restructure, of course. We’re hopeful that as few companies as possible restructure, because it’s obviously not good for the economy, but if you have to restructure, I’d be cutting deep and I’d be cutting once. What I’m trying to say is, don’t make someone redundant this week and then the week after someone else — do it fast because you want to get morale back on track for your business. You’ve got to have a really good think about that. That’s the thing about a crisis: you actually are able to do things in your company that you never thought possible before so that’s something to ponder.
I think the last thing I’d be doing is getting the company all very focused on a 90 day plan. What I mean by that is I’d be taking a 90-day plan at a company level, but I’d also be taking it to an individual team level, and then also down to an individual level. If you have everyone working to the same 90-day plan, in theory you’re going to have a good chance of getting on the front foot and hopefully doing better than the competition because you’re going to be way more focused than the average company in your industry.
Ian: Yeah, that’s right. I think whole idea of not wasting a crisis is a really critical point. And in breaking that down into actionable plans; I think that’s a really great bit of advice, Zac. I think one of the things with business owners is it can be pretty lonely. What advice would you give them on people that they can reach out to, whether it’s coaches or of other professionals? What kinds of tips and advice can you give business owners around that?
Zac: I think the first thing is, as a business owner, you’ve got to try your best to have a growth mindset. You know, some human beings are naturally not receptive to feedback, not receptive to new ideas. So I guess the first part of that answering your question is you’ve actually got to have an open mindset that some of these external people — be they coaches, accountants, lawyers, bankers, whomever — they actually do have some great specialist expertise. And if they can add 2% to your business, then that’s 2% you didn’t have otherwise. And that 2% is actually what could help to set you either in good stead going forward or even help you to be differentiated versus your competitors. All I’d say is, in these harder times — obviously we are going to be in some recessionary times for a while — the more help you can get the better. So you’ve got to have that growth mindset, which means acknowledging that actually everything in your business is not perfect, that it totally can improve to be close to world-class, but that sometimes you don’t have the answers internally.
If you’re trying to make a choice on who you should take advice from, make sure you do your due diligence because there are obviously a lot of people out there who say that they’re gurus — it’s up to you to truly check that they actually are the best in their field because you want to make sure that the money you’re investing in external advice is actually going to get you the best bang for your buck.
I’d certainly say in today’s times that the best companies in the world all profess to having someone else that they’re accountable to, whether it’s a mentor, a coach, a banker, or their husband or their wife or whatever. You’ve got to have someone that you can have as a sounding board, but you also want that accountability to make sure that you’re doing the right things.
Ian: Again, that’s really great advice. And I think that point around doing your due diligence and seeing what else is out there and talking to other business owners about partners is a great way to think about it. Zac, you mentioned looking after your team — that would obviously be a pretty common theme for all businesses at the moment. How are businesses thinking about that at the moment and what advice would you give them?
Zac: The biggest thing is that your team probably wants some certainty because it’s a very uncertain world that we’re living in. So back to my earlier point about if you are going to have to restructure, in my opinion, the sooner you do it, the better because your staff wants surety, they want certainty. I guess that’s probably the biggest thing: how can you give your staff some certainty that their future is well looked after, that effectively they do have a future?
I think it’s all just back to the usual stuff that you were doing pre Covid as well because the reality is, even in a recession, things that you were doing to have your team engaged are actually the same whether the times are good or not. So I’d be saying you want to definitely make sure you’re doing plenty of one on ones with your team. That’s really, really key. And I can’t say what the right time timeframe is — it’s just dependent on each person — but I’d say at least somewhere between monthly and quarterly you should have a proper one-on-one and make it a two-way conversation. You know, you want to be a bit vulnerable as a leader or manager as well. You also want to make sure that there’s really good upwards communication chains within your business. I was talking recently to Dame Roseanne Mayo, who’s the chairperson of Briscoes, and she was telling me in the last few weeks Briscoes are having daily meetings and doing some really great sharing amongst their entire business. The one thing they’ve put a lot of time into is making sure that people at the coalface can actually get upward communication and feedback — so definitely make sure you’ve got a good feedback loop in your business as well.
I’d also make sure that your team is very much across your short term goals. We talked earlier about the 90 day focus. As part of that, sit with your team and talk about what 90-day success actually looks like as a company, but also as a team and an individual, because that will actually help them not just know what they need to work towards over the 90 days, but actually give them like a sense of accomplishment. You want to have things to celebrate still. I remember when I was running companies back because in the olden days in the last recession, we still found things to celebrate and recognize even in bad times or average times — there’s still good news. To keep your staff engaged as a leader or manager, you need to look that little bit harder to actually find, ‘Hey, there’s still some good news in our business’. Find that, and do something proactively about it. But I think the big thing is give some certainty in the medium term.
Ian: It’s such a critical part having your team help you define that success as well, right? So getting them engaged in the initiatives that are going to help the business succeed is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Zac: I think the big thing there is the power of the team is way more than you as the boss or the owner or the leader or whatever. The power of 2, 10, 100 people — your team are going to have some fantastic ideas. And, you know, the more engaged people are, the better your culture is, the better ideas they have so it’s certainly a good reason to have a great culture. It’s totally all about the brain power of the greater collective to make you way more powerful as a company.
Ian: That’s brilliant. I really appreciate it. Zac, really appreciate the insights and the tips that you’ve provided today. Are there any kind of parting comments that you want to provide any of those businesses out there that are looking for that edge?
Zac: There’s probably a handful of things to say in closing. I guess one of the first things is, what’s your most critical limited resource? It’s probably highly likely your own personal time. So I think as a business owner or a leader or manager in your business, you’ve got to have a really good look at what you’re putting your time into and how can you actually free your time up to put into the more important things. Have a good look at your time.
I’d also say that you want to make sure that you’re very clear on what your top, say, 5 things are to always be done. So always know what your 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 things are, because we’re human beings, and it’s always easier to instead do number 30, number 37, and number 98 on the list. So make sure you really, really know what your priorities are.
I think it’s time to love your customers even more than you have in the past. Your customers want to see that you’re going out of your way to actually help them to be more successful, to help them be happier, so definitely love your customers even more.
I’d also look at how you can stand out in your industry because you need to grow market share. It’s highly likely your industry is probably going to shrink a little bit so you need to grow market share. How can you stand out as being the best?
I’d also create a list of all the hard questions that you ultimately want to answer over the next six months. As they say, never waste a good crisis; it’s actually like an opportunity so you can do things that you never thought you could do before. So I’d be making a list of all those hard questions that you never really wanted to ask because they were maybe too hard, but now you have the opportunity to actually ask them and to answer them.
In summary, be the best that you can be as both a company and as a leader or manager. And then it’s highly likely you’ll end up doing the best that you can. Have a very good critique of yourself and of your own performance as a leader, because you’re far from perfect — we can all improve. Have a really good list of those things that, if you could work on them, they’d make a really big difference to both your company and yourself as a leader or manager.
Ian: Those are fantastic things. That’s a good place to end up: love your customer, get out there and love the customer. Really appreciate your time. Thanks very much.