Managing in COVID-19 times: Where did the status quo go?
We are all wise after the fact. There has never been a more apt saying than the often quoted “The only certainty in life is change.”
We continuously hear “Things will never be the same again”. Innovative companies thrive on creating change in their industries and within their own organisations. Entrepreneurs are characterised by doing things differently. Management gurus will advise organisations to become rule breakers, others will encourage companies to become rule makers, whilst some enterprises just keep to the rules and operate efficiently within the culture and traditions of the past.
COVID-19 has brought about a sudden shift in the way we do things. The baking industry will never be the same again. Very few consumers are going to be better off and the markets of the future are going to be populated by customers who are going to demand more for their shrinking rand. For some baking industry participants COVID-19 has had tragic consequences. Others are struggling to make ends meet. Those that had prepared for a rainy day, are able to continue operating living off reserves. In terms of industry attractiveness many people considered the baking industry to be a rather dull industry. Yet, it is in times such as these, that those unattractive industries keep going. When marginal disposable income shrinks, people prioritise bread on the table (= food security) above non-essential luxuries. And it is in times such as those we are living in now that staple foodstuffs, so often taken for granted, move to the top of the shopping list.
The baking industry plays an important role in the socio-economic fabric of the country. When poverty is described by journalists covering the distribution of food parcels they describe destitute people as being so poor that they do not have money for bread. In rural areas, when the bread delivery truck does not arrive, they know there is something wrong.
So in these times of turmoil, baking industry leaders and managers have to be fleet-footed and adapt to an environment that they never knew existed just over four months ago! For an industry that has been in existence for more than 4 000 years, four months is like a second on our smart watches.
More than ever, industry leaders have an obligation and an opportunity to serve their fellow man. To play their role in supporting today’s fragile social fabric they need firstly to stay in business. They need to ensure that the bakery truck arrives on schedule in the deep rural areas delivering that important loaf of daily bread. They need to ensure that the supermarket shelves are well-stocked. They need to ensure that the informal traders never run out of bread. They need to support hunger alleviation projects (of which there is no shortage) in the areas they serve. No household in our country should ever not have “bread on the table”.
Domestically, baking industry leaders, need to “lead”. They need to inspire confidence and are a beacon of hope to their employees and their families. Baking industry leaders and managers need to acknowledge that if they become despondent, their employees, customers and suppliers, will become despondent. Leaders play a huge role in the lives of their staff and their families. The manager is often quoted in the homes of employees, is viewed as an authority. So, the manager has a responsibility and a duty to provide his or her employees with hope and optimism, whilst never losing sight of reality.
We have all become COVID-19 experts. Just six months ago we had never heard the words “corona- virus” or COVID-19. Most of us did not know where Wuhan was. Now we are all participating in webinars like never before, engaging in discussions around the merits of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, hosting and participating in virtual meetings, working and managing people who work remotely and recognising staff and customers from behind their masks! And we follow the COVID-19 updates from around the globe – infection rates, recoveries and deaths are part of our daily intake of news. The day may not be far off when baking industry leaders and managers will be having to comfort grieving employees and their families on a daily basis!
We have our own internal COVID-19 task teams, we are formulating workplace plans based on entirely new risk assessments and parameters, and we are re-budgeting on business models we do not quite understand. The world has shifted dramatically and we do not have a clear idea of what this world will look like in twelve months from now. Long-term has been replaced by “immediate-term” in management’s vocabulary. If this is difficult for leaders to digest, one must have a massive amount of sympathy for those more removed from the action, those whose source of information may be the other masked taxi commuters. It is not easy to manage in this “status quo-free world”. Managing encompasses many diverse activities. Depending on the issues of the day, planning may be more important than organising, and communicating may take precedence over measuring and controlling. But, motivating and leading will always be on the top of any manager’s ongoing “to-do list”.
In these difficult times it may just be useful to break down the function of leading into a few easy-to-remember components which can be applied each day:
L = Listen and Learn
E = Empathise and be Ethical
A = Acquaint oneself with facts and Act
D = Decide and Do.
To lead effectively, mangers and leaders need to be informed. Good sources of information in these times are government departments:
Department of Trade Industry and Competition and its BizPortal (DtiC)
Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA)
Department of Labour
Department of Health
Department of Agriculture Land Reform and Development (DALRD)
In addition the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) and its Food Safety Initiative (CGC-FSI) provide regular updates on COVID-19 developments that affects its members.
There is a plethora of opinion, a sudden surplus of would-be virologists in South Africa, and there is no shortage of expert information. But beware of fake news. Organisations such as SAAFoST, CGC-FSI, Institute of Directors of SA and Food Focus hold regular webinars which can provide baking industry leaders and their teams with valuable insights. The BakerSA is also a credible and reliable source of information. It is essential for company leadership to continuously communicate with their own teams and to ensure that they keep their organisations focused on the things that matter. Each one of us is having to absorb and digest a lot of data and convert it into practical and understandable information.
The SA Chamber of Baking provides its members directly with relevant information as well as updates of legislative and regulatory changes. The Chamber participates in a number of structures that have been established by Government to address the COVID-19 pandemic in our country and is a member of the COVID-19 Task Team and the Economy Workstream of the DALRD.
The baking industry has been served by the South African Chamber of Baking for 82 years. Stored in its institutional memory are a few economic depressions and disruptions, a world war and other global conflicts, economic sanctions and isolation, government control and decontrol of the food industry, droughts, various governments and political systems and changes, a number of economic crises such as the financial melt-down in 2008, and the transition to democracy at the end of the last century.
We can be confident that the SA Chamber of Baking will continue to serve the baking industry through the current crisis and will evolve proactively to meet the needs of its members well into the future.
The Chamber too, is adapting quickly to the changed status quo-free environment and its personnel are staying safe and working from home whenever possible. As with every other organisation, the Chamber’s schedule of meetings and events has to be reorganised. Its flagship event, the Annual General Meeting, will take place towards the end of July and will be a virtual event. Committee meetings will be taking place “virtually”. The examinations for the Chamber’s Certificates for the Basics and Theory of Breadmaking will also be rescheduled. Members will be informed of new dates as soon as they are confirmed and will be updated in respect of any Chamber office arrangement changes.
Currently the Chamber’s management can be contacted as follows:
Chamber office: Tel: 012 663 1600/1
Geoff Penny (Executive Director) Cell: 083 643 9383
Isobel van Schalkwyk (Desk Manager) Cell: 082 871 3843
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