The pandemic has shaken us from our reverie. Business leaders across the globe are grappling with this new reality, trying to keep their business afloat in whatever way possible. All this points to a gaping flaw in our business systems – we are not prepared to handle a crisis, let alone a pandemic.
In the words of Bill Gates,
“And as you look at what went on, the problem wasn’t that there was a system that didn’t work well enough, the problem was that we didn’t have a system at all. In fact, there’s some pretty obvious key missing pieces.”
If experts are to be believed, such pandemics will appear time and again in our world, with much more frequency than we’d like. According to the World Economic Forum :
“As Coronavirus spreads, so does the sobering reality that epidemics will become more common with our increasingly connected age.”
The point is, are we prepared? As business leaders, do we have a crisis management plan that can help our businesses remain sustainable?
In my experience working with dozens of businesses across the globe, I truly believe we can mitigate the risks if only we implement flexible business operation models that can be modified as per the situation. Therefore, if you’re planning to create a crisis management plan to cope with this pandemic and possibly the many more after it, here are a few key things you should incorporate.
- Leverage on Digital Technology as Much as You Can: To be honest, we’re living in profitable times. Digital technology has empowered us in unimaginable ways. You can have entire call centers operated online without the need for any physical location. You can have staff from across the globe working on a project without the need for ever boarding a flight. There are hundreds of tools at your disposal to carry out a range of communication, collaboration, project management tasks.For many organizations though, it’s not the lack of technology that is a hindrance – it’s the restrictive mindset that prevents them from having a fluid, flexible work model. Moreover, their idea of digital technology is fancy new data centers and workstations, which does nothing to empower employees, customers or the business model itself.When we talk about digital transformation, we’re aiming for:> Automation tools that can get the mundane, unnecessary tasks done, leaving your employee time to think and perform strategically.
> A digital ecosystem that caters to the whole workforce process. Within this ecosystem, you should have solutions for every functional department of your organization. For example, your sales, marketing and support should be connected on one central platform such as Jira, HubSpot or Zoho. You can then further break down your teams into subdomains with each having their own goal, task and project management systems. Randomly purchasing apps and solutions without truly defining and creating a plan or a blueprint of this ecosystem will create chaos and make it impossible to maintain a functional model when there is a crisis.
- Creating a Hybrid Operational Model: An extension of the point above, a hybrid model is a flexible operational model that can be operated online or offline. Take for example, a local store with a strong online presence. During times of a pandemic, although the physical store may be closed, it can still operate and maintain sales online. Employees still get to keep their jobs and the business can remain sustainable, if not profitable. To make the model successful you will need to define:
- Remote or work-from-home policies
- Team collaboration protocols
- Weekly achievements and task lists
- Tools or solutions to help employees perform
- New performance metrics and goals
- Keeping a Contingency Plan in Place: In the event of a disaster or a pandemic, what should your employees and customers be expecting? We can no longer live in denial. We can no longer think that ‘everything’s going to be alright.’ Unlike individuals, businesses cannot attempt to live in the moment – it needs to be prepared for the unexpected. Your contingency plan should include:
- A financial plan that can cover employee salaries, severance pays (in case of layoffs), and other expenses that will be required to keep the business going.
- A customer retention plan that will include any sales+marketing strategy to keep customers engaged during a crisis.
- An operational plan (refer to point 1 and 2)
- Any government assistance or program that would be required
- Redefining Company Goals and Strategy: ROI and increased yearly profits are regular business goals. In a crisis though, the focus shifts from ROI to survivability. This focus changes the strategy of all departments involved.Communication + marketing will require more promotion, but one that is carefully planned and not come across as tone-deaf or capitalist. Sales and support will be more focused on helping customers and pacifying them. Business goals will be redefined to keeping as many employees employed and as many customers engaged as possible.
- A Business Re-Launch Plan: Sometimes, despite all our planning and best practices, it may be hard to save a business. In this pandemic, for example, businesses in the food and hospitality industry, in the health and fitness industry, malls and local businesses will find it extremely hard to survive. There may be closures and businesses may come to a standstill, but it’s critical to think long-term. You can still re-launch a business 6 months or a year from now. It may be difficult, profit may not be high, but it is only a matter of time before you can find your footing again.
Your business relaunch plan can include:
- Loan programs that you can lean on to get you started
- Marketing and promotional activities that you can do to attract old and new customers
- Workforce model that you will be following
- A strong financial plan that will help you get through the first 6 months of the business
- Expenses that you now realize were luxuries and not necessities
- Reduction of unnecessary activities
- Plan for the long-term
It’s easy to be a victim to panic and short-term fear during this crazy time, but if history shows anything – it’s man’s ability to come rising out of any adversity that life throws at him. This pandemic may have taught us to think differently and will probably help us adopt a new form of operational efficiency that we had not thought about before. It will redefine how the world does business and those who adapt to this new definition will be coming out of it as winners.