The five issues keeping me awake at night

Written by Philip Walter FCMI Tuesday 17 August 2021
A top chief operating officer shares his post-lockdown, post-Brexit concerns

The Covid-19 situation appears to be easing and the UK is acclimatising to life outside the EU. But concerns and considerations for the average COO don’t ever lift – they just shift.

The many matters on my radar – at this very positive point in the fight against the pandemic – will no doubt resonate with fellow COOs and leaders across different organisations and sectors. Here are my top five, in no particular order.

1. When will our customers find their new normal?

Perhaps customers don’t need the same supplies or services, or have put a complete pause on day-to-day work. It’s often still hard to tell when things will reliably pick up. We have to wait and see. So much in the past 18 months has been about waiting and seeing – now more than ever.

In the meantime, we can talk to customers to better understand what is going on for them – and use their insights and projections to help formulate our own roadmap, including providing goods and services as sustainably as possible.

2. Staff retention: will we hang onto our people?

No-one leaves a ship in a storm – and colleagues are unlikely to search for a new role or career change in such uncertain times. But as we emerge from the pandemic, will people be keen to go back to their old job in their old workplace?

For many, it’s been a time of reflection, a chance to think: “What do I want out of life?” And the answer might well be a new start or at least something a little different.

Therefore, as part of wider re-onboarding efforts, the pressure is on for COOs to make their company premises as inviting as possible – from new, clean décor to comfortable meeting areas and convenient car parking.

3. How can we control our costs?

I mentioned the need to ‘wait and see’ and the same may go for big expenditure. While caution can stifle innovation, each company’s situation is different. Speak to the experts around you to gauge insight and expertise.

For many, it could be wise to hold off before committing to big purchases in such fast-changing times. Now may be a time to ‘sweat the assets’ – to get another year out of that IT estate, with the help of an extended warranty, or make the most of the cloud service you have invested in by exploring its full functionality.

This is a tricky balancing act. Take the idea of freshening up and reconfiguring buildings. Is it the right moment to buy beautiful new desks – sustainably sourced, of course – when it’s still uncertain how many you will need, and whether you will stay in that particular building?

Whatever financial decisions you take, they must combine the need for stability without compromising on progress.

4. Will our suppliers survive?

If we’re worried about customers, the same goes for suppliers. Have you audited yours recently? There are many firms that will struggle to survive once the safety net of the government’s furlough scheme has been removed.

Many leaders are now looking seriously at the resilience of their supply chains and rethinking old systems in the light of the new post-Brexit business landscape – as well as increasing the urgency to improve environmental considerations in procurement decisions.

5. Where does the future of data lie?

On top of considerations over people, equipment and buildings, there is the matter of data and legislation, which is still moving apace.

The restrictions of GDPR are now well established, understood and adhered to. But, now that the UK has left the EU, an adequacy agreement must be established to allow UK businesses to process EU data – including perhaps that of customers.

This agreement is still pending – and we must keep up to date with developments on this and other matters, in order to comply with new rules or risk hefty fines.

It’s a complex web of issues – but these are the challenges that drive and define us. Good luck for 2021/22 and beyond.


What are your top five management challenges and what are you doing to meet them? We’d love to hear from you.

For more articles exploring the impact of Brexit, visit our hub. For other stories exploring the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on managers worldwide, click here.

Philip Walter FCMI is chief operating officer of Leeds-headquartered Bailie Group.

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