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We're all in this together - so let's work together to come through it

Alan O'Neill


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'In ordinary times, we are hard-wired to be competitive. Consequently, we often miss opportunities to see the potential in collaborating with others, even our competitors' (stock photo)

'In ordinary times, we are hard-wired to be competitive. Consequently, we often miss opportunities to see the potential in collaborating with others, even our competitors' (stock photo)

'In ordinary times, we are hard-wired to be competitive. Consequently, we often miss opportunities to see the potential in collaborating with others, even our competitors' (stock photo)

In a previous life, I had a shop in a suburban Dublin shopping centre. Being quite young at the time and also very naive, I used to take comfort from hearing when other retailers were not busy. It prevented me from blaming myself if my business was going through a rough patch. However, simply knowing that my close competitors were also finding it tough didn't pay my shop rent, my suppliers, insurance or my mortgage. It was a false sense of security.

But naivety isn't just for 24-year-olds. During the global financial crisis, which is not that long ago, Ireland was classified as one of the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain). We were the pariahs of Europe, having overstretched ourselves before the crash. Once again, some Irish businesses comforted themselves at that time with similar reassurances, rather than taking control of what they could control.

Here we are today, faced with the greatest challenge of our careers. Like you, I'm sure, I can't count the number of times I've heard the same expression in the media and on every Zoom call that I've participated in: "We're all in this together." There is of course no denying that, and this time the whole world is affected by the crisis.

What concerns me is that some people are falling into the "we're all in this together" trap. I have presented more webinars than I've had hot dinners recently and I'm quite concerned at the number of comments I hear, with some people challenging the lethargy of Government regarding clarity on subsidies, or others complaining about their industry federations not lobbying hard enough for more support.

That said, I am also greatly encouraged by the community of voices wearing the green jersey, encouraging shoppers to buy Irish or holidaymakers to stay at home.

It is genuinely heart-warming as we are all indeed in this together. But please don't sit back and wait. There is so much that you can control and I'd like to explore some ideas here. One of them is internal collaboration and the second is external collaboration.

1. Internal collaboration

The Connacht Hotel group is a Galway-based group of three hotels and three pubs, including the Hyde Bar on Forster Street. Before Covid-19, it employed more than 400 people. After the first two weeks of lockdown, the management team, headed by Wayne Neilon, kept in regular contact with the wider team.

Rather than succumbing to the temptation to cut all costs across the board, the company continued to provide an employee assistance programme to its people. Discarding that throughout the lockdown was not an option. Neilon is a passionate advocate of having a strong people- and customer-centric culture and, by default, is highly protective of its strong employer brand.

In advance of its recent return to work, collaboration and inclusion resumed. With an open mindset as a key ingredient, the management team consulted and brainstormed with the wider team to collectively build a strong welcome-back for guests.

2. External collaboration

In ordinary times, we are hard-wired to be competitive. Consequently, we often miss opportunities to see the potential in collaborating with others, even our competitors. Here is an encouraging example of great collaboration, through breaking down old walls and thinking outside the box.

Irish hoteliers have great skills in marketing primarily their own properties. They also use the services of international travel agents to secure in-bound bookings. Those agents are very innovative and have great skills in creating group packages for golf breaks, walking, fishing or food trail travel holidays. That of course also ties in with the great destinations developed by Fáilte Ireland. But, of course, those international agents won't be selling Ireland this year, due to our quarantine rules.

Irish travel agents, on the other hand, are on their knees right now. Their business is built mainly on out-bound traffic, but their customer base is being asked to stay at home this year. Like their international counterparts, Irish agents also have a great 'destination-focused' mindset and skill-set.

Neilon and his team recently reached out to a specialist Irish golf group promoter, whose focus is normally outbound. Both organisations are now collaborating and have built group packages for staycationers. And since hearing that, I'm aware of several other hoteliers and agents having similar discussions.

That is very impressive. It's collaborating with a competitor, and it's wearing the green jersey all in one. But it's also taking control of what can be controlled.

The last word

Perhaps we should all take inspiration from our new coalition Government.

Regardless of your political persuasion, you can see the merit in each party breaking down the walls of past thinking and embracing a new reality.

In a crisis, your culture is tested every day. If you already have a strong people-focused and customer-centric culture that is clearly defined, articulated and embedded, it will stand to you at this time.

It will guide your decision-making. The Connacht Group has all of that and collaboration at its heart. I have no doubt it will inspire others to think collaboratively.

Sunday Indo Business