Humanity is the Most Valuable Metric in the Middle of a Pandemic

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The quote, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” is attributed to renown management thinker, Peter Drucker. What that statement means is that you cannot tell if you are doing well or not, unless you define success and track it.

However, measurement, in and of itself holds no value if the right things are not being measured.

Additionally, what needs to be measured is in itself, not static. As the business environment remains in a constant state of flux, so also do we need to adapt what we measure, to ensure that we are pursuing the right metrics.

At no time has the need to measure the right metrics been more glaring than in this pandemic that has pressed the reset button on many economies. What was worth measuring in your business less than a year ago may just be counterproductive in the new reality.

For example, it may have made sense to be focused on sales and revenue growth month over month in the past. In the current reality, however, a realignment of perspectives is needed if the morale, mental health and long-term sustainability of your business are to be safeguarded.

That kind of single-minded focus on sales may have influenced Ticketmaster’s decision not to make refunds for concert tickets after concerts were cancelled as a result of the pandemic. Of course, after a severe backlash from the customers, negative press that included a New York Times report, and even formal inquiries from members of Congress, the company backtracked and made refunds.

What a facepalm moment that was! None of us wants to have companies that blunder that badly in handling issues in the crisis. However, if you focus too much on traditional metrics amid the pandemic, a facepalm moment might just stealth in on you.

COVID-19 calls for a different set of rules

One thing business owners have to keep close in mind is that COVID-19 is unlike what anyone has experienced. While the pandemic shares a lot of similarities with major natural disasters, it is clearly in a category of its own.

One core differentiator between the pandemic and other disasters is that it affects everyone. Unlike tornadoes, floods and earthquakes, no one is safe, while watching sad images of human suffering relayed on TV. Unlike droughts and famines, no socio-economic class is immune to the impact of this pandemic. Some have the means to isolate for more extended periods than others, but in this pandemic, we are all feeling the bite.

Another difference between the pandemic and whatever experiences we collectively have is the fact that no one can tell when the pandemic is ending. Some have predicted that we may even be dealing with the pandemic in a year. This uncertainty as to how long we shall have to move on idle speed is diametrically different from the typical economic recessions that we have that are followed by relatively predictable recovery timelines nudged by changes in monetary policy. Here, we are flying blind and have almost zero precedences to rely on. Worse, while there are a couple of hopefuls, we are yet to have a vaccine.

In the midst of all this, no one can blame businesses for being obsessed about survival.

However, an undue emphasis on short term optimizations can put your brand at a significant disadvantage in the eyes of customers and employees. This is especially so where you have competitors who are more customer aware and willing to bear some of the brunts of the uncertainties to make the lives of their customers better within the pandemic.

And that is Why Your Valuable Metrics Need to Change

At times like this, business leadership is not defined by the monetary value of the bottom-line, but by the depth of humanity in the business. It is important that in interactions with your business, customers come out at the other side with trust that you place more value on them than on your bottom-line.

There are lots of African companies doing this right. Recently, we recognized some champions who have not only given out significant sums to fight this pandemic but have also made sweeping changes to make this easier for their customers and employees.

However, permit me to make an example out of retailer Patagonia. At the early days of the pandemic, they posted a memo on their website announcing a complete closure of all their stores and, surprisingly, their website.

Their thinking was that processing orders, even online, would expose their employees to danger. Since their store sold sporting goods, there was no stretch where those were essential supplies for the pandemic. In their words: “the scale of impact is still unknown, and we want to do our part to protect our community especially while testing availability is unknown.”

Be Honest, and Be Safe

Everyone knows that the pandemic is supply chains are not so 100 percent efficiency. It won’t be a death blow to your business to be candid with your customers and let them know just how badly you are impacted and how that will impact service delivery.

For example, Nigeria’s Corporate Affairs Commission updated its website to alert customers to the fact that they were operating at a skeletal level and that the usual 24-hour turnaround time for services was no longer feasible. That was very thoughtful.

While it may be frustrating to admit that things cannot go as fast as you have earned a reputation for, be assured that your customers will be happy to know in advance just how slowly things go. As your new timelines become obvious, communicate this to customers – before, during and after-sales.

Chew bite-size chunks

It is tempting to try to do too much by taking on too many challenges at the same time. This is especially likely if your business is suffering, and you are eager to make corrections. However, doing too much can be counterproductive as the overwhelm that will occur as a result may leave your people at a poor place mentally – incapable learning enough from the moment and of coping with the challenge of the pandemic. Your customers and employees will acknowledge your humanity. And as things slowly move back to normal, the sacrifices that were made in the middle of the pandemic will not be forgotten in a hurry.

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