The news regarding the novel Coronavirus (now named as Covid19) started to filter out of China in January. However, the threat of a possible pandemic has been on the radar for a number of years, in fact it has appeared as high on the UK’s National Risk Register for a number of rounds of risk assessment. A number of both Public and Private Sector organisations have documented plans and previously carried out desktop exercises to help to ensure continuity of service in the event of a pandemic. However, this level of resilience planning is not widespread across all organisations and businesses.
Social media videos had emerged in January of Wuhan on lock-down, a city of around 11 million people and hardly a soul moving around. (Have a quick look at the drone footage video below).
We are now in March and it seems that many businesses are only now waking up to the potentially disruptive impact that the virus and attempts to control it are bringing.
The 7 P’s – ( Prior Planning and Preparedness Prevents P### Poor Performance)
I have worked with businesses and have help them to prepared for this type of eventuality (as well as many other business disruption scenarios), they have carried out the Business Continuity planning work (prior to), determined their key products/services and activities, determined their Maximum Tolerable Period of Disruption and built plans/procedures and ensured staff awareness in place. The Maximum Tolerable Period is basically, how long your business can withstand a disruption. The more prepared businesses have a process for testing and exercising their plans on a regular basis. At the first hint of an issues, they increased their stock levels, carried out the preparatory work which has allowed them to focus on running their businesses (and looking for opportunities) rather than trying to plan on the hoof and making catastrophic mistakes.
“It’s OK we will wing it!”
I have been watching with interest business owners posts and blogs on social media (via various networking groups). I have witnessed what appears to be many going through the various stages of loss, from denial, anger, bargaining, depression and sometimes acceptance. Having facilitated Business Continuity Workshops across a myriad of business types, often some of the attendees will say “we will be fine, we will just wing it”, at the end of the sessions they soon realize why the ‘wing it’ approach really isn’t a suitable solution for a professional organisation that wants to survive and thrive during and following a major disruption. Many still seem to be in the denial stage, with their heads firmly in the sand, when they do raise their heads it may well be too late for their business.
Whilst others are now changing their business models; others have turned their OPEN signs to CLOSED for the last time.
Is it too late?
Apart from the obvious around cash-flow, stock levels, supply chain management, availability of key staff etc, as long as your business can survive then there are steps you can still take. If you haven’t already done so, map your risks, identify your key products, services and activities. This may sound obvious, but many a time business owners try to focus on everything rather than focusing on what really matters in order to keep them going during a disruption. Don’t forget to tap into the knowledge and experience of your staff. Get your communications in order, how you respond to your staff, customers and key stakeholders can make a real difference and help to reduce the workload/damage caused by poor communication.
It may mean spending a little money to ensure that your staff have the necessary tools to make it easier for them to carry out their roles (say for example working from home, IT capabilities such as laptops, VOIP, VPN’s, Zoom packages etc). I know not all businesses can work from home but often there are alternatives they can do to still be productive.
Remember that the virus has yet to run its course and key staff are likely to become effected. Ensure that you determine the communication lines (also bearing in mind potential absence of key people in the structure), also make sure you have identified those responsible for updating and running the response plans. For example, at a couple of businesses I have previously dealt with they relied on a single person for signing off purchases over a certain amount, this is obviously a weakness in light of the potential for staff illness. Not withstanding the ability to respond may require agile spending on equipment or for example the rapid hiring of additional temporary staff.
Capture the Learning
Once the dust has settled and the infection rates drop, the human tendency is to move on and forget what has happened (some businesses could well not survive), the majority who do survive need to capture the lessons learned and apply them to their business processes to ensure that they enhance their Organisational Resilience. As this is just an extreme example of what could happen to their business in the future, whether it be denial of access to their premises, issues with their supply chain, loss of key staff in the future etc.
It may seem a little grim at the moment, but do try to look for the positives and future opportunities.
If you want to have a chat about your business then feel free to drop me a line.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and I welcome your comments.
(Warren Pickstone, MBA, MBCI, MIFireE)
What is Business Continuity?
Business continuity is the key discipline that sits at the heart of the building and improving the resilience of organisations.
It is a tried and tested methodology that an organisation should adopt as part of its overall approach to managing risks and threats. Business continuity management identifies an organisation’s priorities and prepares solutions to address disruptive threats. An effective business continuity program supports the strategic objectives of the organization and proactively builds the capability to continue business operations in the event of a disruption. The programme includes the identification of risks and threats, the creation of response structures and plans to address incidents and crises, and promotes validation and continuous improvement.