Adrian Ashton is a business consultant based in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. He has been an #ORBMember for over 7 years and is also an auditor for the Responsible Business Standard. Adrian has won many awards and accolades for the service he provides. We love him because not only does he help his clients embed ethics and values at their core of their operations, he also:

  • Has the grassroots business experience that enables him to fully understand the small business culture;
  • Walks the talk as can be seen by his own Social Value Impact Reports

Unfortunately, many consultants are ‘old school’ as per the example in one of our earlier blogs: Oh oh! Here comes the consultant! and do not understand that operating ethically is not only the morally correct thing to do but can also help ensure their clients’ businesses are more profitable and sustainable for the longer term. Needless to say, that type of consultant would not be accepted as an #ORBMember! Adrian believes staying a responsible business is easy, even during these challenging times. Here he tells us why:

How the experience of being flooded has taught me that following the advice of ‘business leaders’ in this pandemic is the wrong thing to do

Adrian Ashton – 13 May 2020  

The current pandemic is having lots of unexpected ‘side effects’:

  • we feel simultaneously relieved that the government is offering support to sustain wages, whilst at the same time panicking about if we’ll have any customers to trade with as we emerge into the strange new world that comes after lockdown…
  • when we’re out for our exercise, we want to show solidarity with our fellow human beings whilst at the same time viewing them with mistrust (after all – they may have the virus!)
  • and then we see large firms turning over their manufacturing to start to produce much needed medical equipment and supplies, and food chains offering free meals to NHS nurses; which makes us wonder if we should try and do the same, but are paralysed from the uncertainty over how we would pay for that, when all of our order book has been wiped out, and suppliers are all shut down.

… is it any wonder we feel constantly tired, confused, and anxious? The good news is that this is entirely rational and normal – think about ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’:

Maslow states that we can’t progress to our ‘next level’ until the one below it is satisfied – and in times like these, when we’re constantly fearful for our safety and psychological well-being (Will I get the virus? How will my business survive?), it’s surely to be expected that we wouldn’t have the motivation to be more altruistic. But the bad news (because Maslow isn’t your ‘get out clause’) is that it doesn’t have to be this way – we can choose to be otherwise:

Floods in West Yorkshire Christmas 2015

Let me take you back about 5 years to the Christmas of 2015, when I was living in the Calder Valley. That year there was a LOT of rain. And there was a LOT of flooding

No home. No office. No support.

Short version = my family home was washed out (needing rebuilding from the foundations up); we were technically homeless for 4 months (and when we did get back into the house, works carried on around us for another 4 months); my home office got destroyed; there was no government support for us freelancers; all the retail business in the area suffered as no-one came into the valley because people thought nothing would be open; the specter of recession loomed large (which no-one wanted to talk about); and somehow there was an assumption that we’d all miraculously just be able to carry on with our businesses as if nothing had happened after a few weeks of ‘mopping out and cleaning up’ .

How could I maintain my values?

Now, I could have taken the approach the Maslow would have expected: focus only on my and my family’s immediate personal concerns – which no-one would have had a problem with in the face of such adversity and crisis.

But instead, I chose to take a different approach: how could I maintain my values in the face of such crisis, (which includes recognising I’m part of a wider community and economy, on which my future successes are co-dependent)?

And so here is what I did to meet the challenge of staying responsible:

  • I lobbied with others for a fairer treatment of all enterprises affected by the flooding, not just those that paid business rates or had employees (which went far beyond the now traditional ‘click to sign’ email petitions)
  • I tried to connect businesses with each other to encourage and facilitate mutual aid between us all
  • I got involved in the world’s first collective crowdfunding campaign (even though I knew I wouldn’t receive any financial benefit or support from it)

But most importantly, I didn’t try and stockpile what cash I had at the start .

Smoke and mirrors of a recession

Our economies are based on ‘smoke and mirrors’ – and recessions are caused when we feel nervous that people aren’t spending. Which means in turn, we spend less, which causes others to feel that they have to spend less… (you get the idea).

Now put a recession against the backdrop of a wider crisis event (widespread flooding, or global pandemic), and you quickly get the idea that recessions are very easy to be accidentally created. So, we can try and avoid them by helping each other remain confident in our futures – and how do we do that? By keeping orders placed with our suppliers; by bringing forward investment plans to help others keep their businesses going; and by not trying to find the cheapest price, but the price that will either help support the livelihoods or will most help our local business community to keep going. Which in turn, means they can better sustain jobs, and so on, and so on…

Logically this makes sense, but it flies in the face of ‘accepted wisdom’ of business experts who are all telling us to tighten our belts and avoid spending money where we can.

Being responsible and ethical as a business can be challenging at the best of times. In a pandemic it’s even harder. But as someone who’s had a little practice in this, take it from me – it doesn’t have to be that hard. You don’t even need to be any more courageous than you already are, or anyone else is.

You just need to be braver for 5 minutes longer…