COMMENT: From chaos to continuity

Chaotic scenes in supermarkets, tension and even brawls on public transport over mask-wearing and coughing, fake news, fake remedies, and alarming headlines around the stockpiling and resale of PPE at exorbitant prices all characterise the darker side of what can happen when people are faced with a pandemic.

These headlines were counterbalanced with news of powerful acts of generosity, solidarity and commitment by companies and individuals to pursue the greater good – from restaurants making and delivering free food for frontline staff, entire production lines switching from making their usual products to manufacturing masks and other protective equipment, to shop workers putting themselves in danger to feed locals, and communities coming together to reach out and look after those in need.

Weeks later, and the focus has shifted to when lockdown may end. Already there are signs that it is working in the UK, with the virus’ peak expected in the coming weeks. But it is not over yet, and until it is, the focus remains on getting organisations through the crisis.

Some excellent examples of these efforts have been compiled in one of the first reports on the business response to the crisis. Researched by global management consultancy, Arthur D. Little, the report details the actions and reactions among global CEOs in the telecoms, transport and utility industries delivering critical infrastructure services in Asia and Italy during the early spread of the virus, and is recommended reading for risk professionals leading or involved in any element of their companies’ own response.

The insights are from leaders who maintained effective operations through the worst of the pandemic and are now preparing to rebuild. The first area of focus was found to be the need to move fast, assume the worst, be comprehensive, and secure employee safety first and operational continuity next.

The second focuses on accepting that you may spend “most of your time” on employee communications – keeping up positivity and morale, and, importantly, listening as well as talking. A common theme throughout the crisis has been the value of separate A and B teams for critical operations, support suppliers and ecosystem partners. The ADL report goes further, urging innovation in cash management, and collaboration with authorities and communities.

The final key insight was to start realistically planning for recovery now, despite the difficulties of maintaining a positive attitude in the depths of a crisis. “All the business leaders emphasised the importance of positivity, in terms of both maintaining morale and ensuring the best – and fastest – recovery possible following the crisis,” the report reads. “This does not mean false optimism and denying realities, but rather, acknowledging that although the crisis may not be over quickly, it will not last forever. In practical terms, our leaders acknowledged that in the early stages of the crisis, and especially if companies were damaged and focusing on survival, there might be little enthusiasm for working on recovery. Setting up separate teams to focus on this is one way to make progress.”

The respondents to ADL’s research also recognised that the post-crisis business environment would present a raft of new opportunities. Among them were the creation of efficiencies, increased productivity, and further ‘smart working’ practices; greater automation and more flexible working; step changes in customer adoption of online services, including potential for new remote products and services, such as diagnostics and testing; and M&A opportunities arising from shake-out and consolidation.

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