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Managing the Unknown

Stirling Murray, Managing Director of The Red Tree, gives his thoughts on the current climate and his 7 tips for managing the unknown:

There is no one who could have predicted the surreal and at times frightening world that is now our reality.

We are facing the unknown with an intensity like never before. The Corona Virus has shattered our thinking that life always runs in a linear fashion. Maybe it never has. It’s just that our way of comprehending life was built on a foundation that after A came B and then C and D and so on. Even more so in business where we may find that Covid-19 is the biggest disruptor of all.

This crisis has taught us – if we didn’t know this before – that we have no control over most of what happens. Yet the things we can control – our reaction to events –  needs to step up big time.

So 7 thoughts on how to manage the unknown.


Plan for the future but take each day at a time.

It’s a balancing act that asks you to think long term but demands you place attention on making sure that each day you move your business forward. Standing still and waiting for events to unfold is not an option. You need to keep advancing – with baby steps if necessary.


Think deeply about what your target market really needs.

Does your product offer meet this and, if not, what changes can you make to become ever closer to your customers? Look at your products with a fresh eye. Ask yourself if you would purchase every SKU in your range? Answer honestly and if your range needs to be edited then plan to do so. NPD should reflect your new critical thinking. How will new products provide an impetus to growth? Do they add value to your brand portfolio? If not, why are you wasting effort and money in introducing them?


Use this strangest of times to develop a sense of urgency in how you look at your business.

What can you change for the better quickly? What would do if you were starting afresh? What’s your time line to make more demanding changes and how will you tackle those changes?


Are you communicating in the most creative way you can?

Your words should be genuine and inspiring. All of us are creative – it’s just that we become cowered in the face of those who dedicate their lives to creating art, music, writing and so on. Read more, speak more, inspire more, create more! Your business can only benefit from this.


All things must pass and this will too so plan for that now!

Your business needs to come out of this at full speed – what we call “RaceFit”, our programme for getting brands racing fit. Waiting for normality to return is too late to think about how you are going to drive your business forward. In these times planning positively for the future (see point 1) can never start too early.


I am uncertain who said this first but “sales is vanity, profit sanity and cash is king” are the wisest words you need to follow and never more so than now.

Conserve cash, make sure you are reviewing the financial metrics of your business every week, and take advantage of every piece of help the Government is offering. If the future for your business looks bleak then however difficult, discuss this with everyone you can. Help may come in the most unexpected way. In these circumstances there is nothing to be ashamed of but if you clam up nothing will happen.


Your team is the most important asset you have.

Make sure the priorities of the business are clear. Keep everyone informed, motivated and inspired. When you talk with your team don’t just focus on business. The Red Tree team has a daily catch up call at 9:00 – our water-cooler moment – where the first conversations are never to do with our business. That’s part of our normal culture so why stop that just because we are working remotely. Leading when facing the unknown is not easy but leaders provide direction, clarity and most importantly hope.

For any business at this time, the unknown is frightening and random but it’s a mistake if you choose helplessness over action, resignation over positivity and despair over hope. Each of these are two sides of the same coins.  I hope this helps in choosing the right side of each coin. I wish you continued success.

Your team is the most important asset you have.

The Red Tree is the UK’s leading international beauty brand consultancy and a powerhouse of ideas, insight and inspiration. For an informal discussion on how we might help you, please contact us.

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