Preparing Your Business for Another Business Interruption


By Dale Lawrence

While not all businesses have emerged from the current fire-fighting mode after the first shock of the Black Swan pandemic, many companies are assessing the impacts to their business and clients. While there are also some recent signs some organizations are preparing for some sort of normal, it is really the time to prepare for another disruption. As a leader, it is more important than ever to conduct Business Recovery Planning sessions, review your strategy, make adjustments and prepare for another business interruption. Coronavirus will likely hit us again and the effort to prepare is needed.
Experts have long shared that pandemics often come in three waves and typically can last up to three months. What is unclear is how long in-between each wave will take. Being prepared is critical.

First, Take Stock of Your Situation

You are likely already in some sort of recovery planning and your leadership team is currently assessing financial position, client orders, receivables and staffing. Each business area is probably doing a self-analysis and reporting up. Beware, as some of your organization’s data may have experienced noise during the hasty shift to remote work. Both processes and people have experienced a strain so you may need your leaders to personally assess accuracy of the information to ensure you can make good decisions.

At the best of times, processes break, bend and snap but during business disruptions and massive change, things change in very unexpected ways. Impacts are like my previous blog’s analogy of the Rubik’s Cube; when you change one side, it has repercussions on the other dimensions. Imagine how much change happened during the few weeks after the first impact from the pandemic and then image what your ‘company’ Rubik’s Cube now looks like. These are not normal times so expect unexpected and abnormal process and people changes. Some of these changes can cause very serious problems.

Second, Understand What Went Well and What Didn’t

While most companies had contingency plans for natural disasters and economic downturn, most probably did plan (outside of healthcare) for a pandemic. Historians will look back at the warning signs in late 2019 and early 2020 with wonder at how unprepared our society was, especially in the information age. But with a number of recent heath scares, most companies and governments ignored the signs and really were not ready. However, we have the opportunity to be ready for the next wave.

Human Resources: While many HR teams have a mix of electronic and paper-based documents, it is critical to build in redundancies. This includes employee records (contact, physical addresses, leave etc.), company hierarchy, and partner information (payroll, benefit providers, emergency contacts etc.). Most existing contingency planning was built around your company being disrupted, not every company, every-where being disrupted. This meant not only you but all of your partners, suppliers and customers were impacted. Also, review employee movement during the pandemic to understand who worked remote and which roles didn’t. Work with your safety resources to review workplace hygiene as your employees may have anxiety of returning to work. HR leaders must now assess the early results and activities to ensure they are ready for the next wave of Coronavirus.
Operations: Obviously one of the highest priority areas but be sure the lens you use is not pre-pandemic one. Keep in mind that your processes, systems and people were coordinated in a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Everything from the task, activity, procedure, policy and processes need to be assessed at a high-level to determine where breaks occurred. Your people will have experienced many of these frustrations and are a wealth of knowledge. Pay special attention to workers who never have worked remotely before. Also review any disruptions to essential service suppliers such as telecommunications, utilities and transportation and build a plan for the next wave of the Coronavirus.
Supply Chain: A subset of your operations but needs additional consideration. How your procurement, suppliers, fulfilment, inventory, bottlenecks or constraints reacted to the disruption should be evaluated. Did you lose any suppliers? How healthy are they? What about parts or maintenance? Then look at your output to your customers. Were there any lost customers or ongoing issues as these could have serious repercussions? Any unfulfilled orders? How is your inventory? How was the impact to your distribution network? I suspect there are unfulfilled orders sitting in warehouses around the world.
Security: There are a number of angles when discussing security and the pandemic has exposed gaps in many organizations. A leader I recently talked to shared that prior to Coronavirus, almost no employees had a laptop or capabilities to log into the secure internal systems from outside of the company office. The impact was that everyone had to come into the office every day and shut their office doors (if they had them) or avoid contact for those workers in cubicles. This was a serious problem as it exposed both a health issue and gaps in internal capabilities. While the technical barriers for remote work aren’t enormous, any company in a similar position must immediately make remote access a priority in the next few months. Some companies may have done some panic technology purchases (much like toilet paper in the consumer mindset) and now must evaluate which ones have potential. Another problem that many companies found was that in the rush to work remotely, employees looked for free or obvious tools to overcome business gaps. Video chat platforms became widely popular but have also exposed security flaws. In addition to technical security, physical security of both the employees and the facilities must be considered for future planning. In a world of social distancing, basic security may be a challenge and commercial break-ins was a problem.
Legal and Financial counsel: During the disruption, a number of companies found themselves looking for cost reductions and this often centered on a business lease, agreements with partners and suppliers, government regulations, operating costs and capital spending. Whether you have in-house or external partners, a review of their remote access and capabilities will be important when further virus impacts occur.
Communications: Obviously many of your normal communications plans experienced disruption and these resources may have also worked remotely. This added some delay to messaging and that is a challenge when the overall culture was experiencing anxiety and confusion. However, there are some benefits to this change as you probably are far more accessible than ever before. It is a double-edged sword though as the missing filter can introduce additional gaps. As a leader, it is important to see the big-picture and not be influenced only by the people who have your attention. I recommend that the communications resources review their capabilities to become far more agile as we have seen the nature of this pandemic is things change rapidly. Our messaging needs to adjust just as fast.

Overall, you should immediately leverage the key resources involved in these six areas and form a Pandemic Risk Committee that will sit for the next twelve months. Ensure representation and select people who are creative and knowledgeable. This is not the time for bureaucracy so avoid the normal business politics. Focus on status updates and look forward to the next month. Leverage reliable medical knowledge and keep a constant feedback look to functional leaders. Work with process improvement resources only if they are also focused on moving fast.