We’re in a world of U-turns

Nor more U-turns please

A reversal of tactics is typically known as a U-turn and in politics it is regarded as a very bad move as it signifies flawed initial thinking. It is not generally regarded as quite as bad in the world of business because a change of direction can obviously be a sensible thing financially if it is based on new intelligence.

However, we should not be quite so lenient with business leaders if their initial decisions are horrifically awful. Sadly we’ve seen rather a lot of U-turns over recent weeks as a result of companies making seriously poor decisions as they seek to navigate the Coronavirus.

Mike Ashley has been a very prominent U-turner as he argued the case for keeping Sports Direct stores open as it was supposedly an ‘essential retailer’. This poor, money-motivated decision was immediately reversed when he was told by the government to shut it.

Serial offender Tim Martin, founder of JD Wetherspoon, did a couple of U-turns after he had argued the case that any enforced closure of pubs would be an “over the top” move, and then there was also some poor communication over him possibly not paying his employees when he suggested they should get a job with Tesco while the Wetherspoon pubs remained closed.

We’ve also had U-turns from some fashion companies including H&M that said it would be cancelling all its existing orders with suppliers. It has since backtracked. And there have been instances of luxury groups Kering and LVMH initially telling staff they would be placed on an emergency government assistance scheme before they reversed these ill-judged moves on the back of public outcry.

In Germany Adidas made a rapid U-turn, as well as making an apology, after it initially said it was to take advantage of the country’s eviction freeze in order to avoid paying rents on its stores in April. This went down very badly indeed and the sports firm has since been mending bridges with politicians and the nation.

In the world of sport Liverpool made a U-turn on its decision to place 200 non-playing staff on the governments furlough scheme. It recognised this was a very poor move at a time when there are heated negotiations taking place over the continued paying of full wages to premier league stars.

Such examples show how decisions made on a purely financial basis are likely to be shot down in flames in the current climate and result in the proverbial U-turn. People want to see businesses thinking more holistically and having more purpose-driven imperatives. Will this translate into the post-Covid-19 world or will we all do a U-turn on this new mindset.

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider