Clinging To the Past Can Sink Your Business, Innovating Can Save It
Michael DeVenney
December 6, 2021

How well are Atlantic Canadian businesses positioned for what lies ahead?

Not where they could be.

That is not just my opinion, but one supported by what I am hearing from business leaders themselves.

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Leaders seem to be searching for something the same as what they had before. There is a fixation around protection and preservation, which was fine at the beginning of the pandemic to provide financial stability. At this point, though, leaders should be moving proactively to take advantage of the openness to change and innovation.

What I see is innovation around what businesses already have, rather than making moves to explore new models and be open to opportunity. Incremental changes are stopgaps–not what we need to lead competitively. I think leaders need to stop being ‘busy’ and look up to get a new perspective. It’s that old adage that leaders need to spend less time working in their business and more time working on it.

While we may be in a bubble, the turbulence and upheaval in the world around us creates a thick fog of ambiguity. Trying to forecast is useless, undermining business owners’ confidence in their ability to determine which direction to take and what decision to make. So, how ready are Atlantic Canadian businesses to face the future?

That is what we set out to measure, through a series of questions to East Coast business owners, entrepreneurs, and leaders over the four weeks in August and September.

The degree of confidence business leaders have for their companies to compete today is 71 percent, although responses varied so widely that the number is a simple average and not a sign of overall moderate confidence. Leaders are not putting deliberate attention to opportunities that require change. Change is tough, I know – but some East Coast leaders are doing it, giving them the edge. Those that do provide leadership by communicating a clear and consistent message and seeking collaboration with other businesses and organizations to build top-line growth.

How can businesses in Atlantic Canada take the steps needed to outperform?  

At times of crisis, only about 12 percent of companies will outperform. They look into the mess and mire, determining a way forward. What do they do differently? While other companies stall, lag, or fall, the leaders of outperforming businesses win by taking a different approach. We surveyed leaders in Atlantic Canada to find the actions being taken to position businesses for success.  

We found anxiety is increasing and feelings of resiliency are diminishing, just at the time when we need business leaders to keep their eyes open, be adaptive and deliberate. Our work with companies shows that the uncertainty has made stress feel more harmful to people now than six months ago, believing these sources of stress will last longer, and being less able to cope. At this point in the pandemic, more than 50 percent of the workforce does not feel they have the resilience to manage what is to come.  

Stress does not help as it puts us in the classic fight, flight or freeze mentality. The cult of ‘busyness’ is flourishing. In interviews, we heard “we are in the thick of it”, “we have our heads down, we can’t take our eyes off things right now”, or “we are so busy, we don’t have time to think”. Busy maybe, most of the busyness is inaction disguised, burying our heads hoping old times will return. It will not–so do something!

In the toughest times, opportunities are all around us if we make the choice to see.  

Clarity is the first step. Being clear on what is most important provides confidence, enabling companies to align around a shared view of direction, making decisions consistent to the purpose.

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Working with the Saltwire Network, we wanted to bring Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs together to grab the right opportunities to grow. In measuring the confidence of business owners, and sharing where effort and energy are creating results, we can create a framework for success that all companies can use. Together, we can bring clarity to winning in this time of turmoil.  

The ability of companies to outperform brings focus to revenue generation, innovation, and productivity. Agility is key to making the right moves to keep top-line revenues increasing, while investment in continued innovation gives vitality for businesses to renew and find new growth. Building the resiliency of employees through consistent direction yields productive energy. The foundation is leadership – a message of realistic optimism that aligns everyone to working well together.

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