“The best actions are those that ‘create the greatest good for the greatest number.'” – Jeremy Bentham
There are different kinds of fear. There is the “there is a lion in the room” type of fear, which is very real, tangible, and immediate. You see that lion, and you are out of there as fast as possible. Then there is the Coronavirus kind of fear. It is not immediate; it not tangible, but it is very real. You don’t know whether to run much less in what direction.
The core of the fear comes from the constant reminder of one’s mortality. The people who get it seem so random (Harvey Weinstein, Boris Johnson, Chris Cuomo, and the guy in the next building). Even a tiger at the Bronx Zoo has come down with Coronavirus (I sure wouldn’t want to be the person who has to hook up that ventilator).
With that in mind, I think it is a time, particularly for smaller companies, to be cautious in the moves we make. I was recently informed about a toy company that, to survive, has let all its reps go and will not be paying any commissions on orders coming from the accounts covered by those salespeople.
That may well save the barn from burning down, but it could destroy the farm. Sales reps need to survive as well as toy companies, and a every man for himself outlook may get you on the lifeboat, but survivors are going to remember. Many retailers have deep, personal relationships with their salespeople and will not take kindly to a toy company throwing them overboard. Sales representatives, when things get back to normal or the new normal, will be reluctant to represent a company that walked away from them when things got tough.
It doesn’t have to be that way. A company can collaborate with its sales reps so that everyone hurts, but everyone survives. Perhaps commissions can be delayed or broken into more digestible segments. A plan that involves all the constituents is a plan that creates a long-lasting comradery that pays dividends over the long-haul.
Toy companies are, of course, not the only ones struggling with how to survive. New York Times writer, Paul Sullivan, has written an article, “For Small-Business Owners, Hard Decisions Become Personal.” He writes about the stress currently on companies that do not have the deep pockets, much less the access to lawyers and money managers that larger companies do. He writes: “For small-business owners, keeping everyone employed may not be possible. But they will also have to determine what it would take for the company to endure the economic slowdown and emerge after the crisis as a viable business.”
Sullivan points out the importance of thinking through the long-term results, some unintended, from making decisions that have not been thoroughly vetted. “He says: If they survive in the short run, but their decisions put them in a bad position, it doesn’t matter,” he said. For example, “if you push off paying your suppliers, will they still be in business in six months from now? Many people haven’t thought through that.”
Jeremy Bentham was an 18th and 19th-century economist and philosopher who developed the ethical concept of Utilitarianism. At its most basic, Utilitarianism preaches that the best actions are those that “create the greatest good for the greatest number.” That sounds like an excellent thought to keep in mind as we as make our way through these troubled times.