Mon | May 25, 2020

Cordell Williams Graham | Not so novel business practices MSMEs should try to catch

Published:Wednesday | April 8, 2020 | 10:30 AM
Cordell Williams Graham
Cordell Williams Graham

As the threat of a large-scale negative health and economic impact of the coronavirus continues to loom large over the Jamaican landscape, many business people are taking the necessary precautions to protect their employees from COVID-19 and safeguard their business from complete extinction.

However, there are many things that businesses, particularly MSMEs – micro, small and medium enterprises – should want to take away from the coronavirus experience.

After dodging several hurricanes, storms and the recent 7.7 magnitude earthquake, the strain that the coronavirus could potentially place on the sustainability of small businesses should not seem so novel to MSMEs after all. To many small businesses, the coronavirus should be viewed as yet another call to begin to integrate business practices and methodologies that, due to limited financial and human resource capacity, are often viewed as non-priority or unaffordable.

Here are six business practices that businesses cannot afford not to catch and keep long after the coronavirus has passed.

Risk management and business continuity planning:

At present, all businesses are being forced to evaluate and adjust their business processes to ensure continuity.

Long after COVID-19, small businesses should continue to conduct what-if scenarios for every aspect of the business, and in response, ensure that the business has in place the requisite tools, inputs, systems, and people to continue to serve customers and remain secure and sustained no matter what. This planning should be done in collaboration with distributors and suppliers of raw materials and information. Companies should ensure that all their employees are trained in the use of the business continuity plan.

Human resource management:

Businesses should also look into establishing a flexible working arrangement policy to cover, in particular, telecommuting or work-from-home arrangements and expand the parameters of employee leave policies and employee contracts to address work from home considerations.

These practices can result in greater work-life balance, improved employee wellness and ensure that all employees and the business are protected against any eventualities.

Already many companies are realising that they may not really need as many workers to be physically present in their establishments. This may allow for a reduction in rental costs in the long run and also free up space which can be used to generate rental income.

Business process efficiency reviews and automation:

Businesses right across the island are currently reviewing much of their processes and have eliminated some of the stupid rules and erroneous requirements in order to stimulate continued patronage. Making business process coronavirus compliant may lead many companies to discover that much of their mandatory practices are redundant and replaceable by technological alternatives. These alternatives, including web-based applications (many are free), can help to improve service delivery and reduce processing time and costs.

Operational health and safety:

While some elements of the business can be automated, many businesses today still depend heavily on people. Companies have put much emphasis on ensuring that the necessary tools are in place to ensure that employees remain safe from the coronavirus. This should be extended beyond providing sanitisers, gloves and masks.

Ensuring that employees have things like safety gears, health and safety assurance processes and insurance coverage is a critical ingredient in maintaining the continuity of a business, minimising health-related costs such as employee insurance payments, and also legal costs that may ensue from employee lawsuits.

Business innovation:

During this time and beyond, many businesses have to be exploring ways of diversifying their product offerings just to stay afloat. For the long haul, small businesses should foster an environment and operational framework that challenges employees to consistently evaluate, redefine and develop new and improved product and service offerings.

This should be reflected in the way companies recruit employees as well. Ensuring an employee base of innovative and creative individuals will ensure that the business remains consistently competitive, relevant, sustainable and responsive to market dynamics.

Formalisation and association:

Entrepreneurship and business can often be a lonely road. This road can get even lonelier in the face of business crisis, especially at this time where it is unavoidably every entity to itself.

Becoming a part of the formal sector by registering and joining a business association can help MSMEs fill this loneliness gap by providing the support and community that businesses need to thrive, develop and survive business and economic shocks.

Associations are known for enabling access to information, advocating for member organisation and facilitating training, group procurement and increased access to markets and other benefits.

As the novel coronavirus continues to take aim on the sustainability of businesses across the island, many small businesses are catching on to these not-so-novel business practices.

Long after the virus passes, it is hoped that these practices will no longer be seen by MSMEs as practices that they cannot afford to take on, but ones that they cannot afford not to do and keep on doing if they want to keep on doing business for the long haul.

Cordell Williams Graham is CEO of Transformational Life Solutions and president of the Young Entrepreneurs