Though the COVID-19 crisis is far from over, it’s never too early for companies to start preparing for the next one. While we won’t know the full extent of the fallout of the current situation for some time, there are some valuable lessons from the past few months that can help companies respond more effectively to future crises.
Update intelligence regularly
New information about COVID-19 continues to emerge on an almost daily basis. What may be true in January of 2020 will not necessarily be true today, and what may be true today could be debunked by next week. Gathering up-to-date information is, therefore, an essential daily activity.
It’s important to note, however, that expert opinions on critical topics like economic impact and ideal containment strategies may differ, so it would be best to consult multiple sources. It’s also important to think critically about where the information is coming from before acting on it.
Communication is key
These days, employees have easy access to many sources of information. This may cause some employers to incorrectly assume that they don’t need to do anything else. However, creating and sharing a summary of facts can be extremely helpful as it allows you to avoid losing precious time debating them. This summary should be presented in the form of a timestamped living digital document. Moreover, the responsibility of editing and updating this document should be entrusted to a small team to avoid getting bogged down in red tape.
Have a balanced response
A company’s crisis response must be balanced across these dimensions:
- Proper communication: Companies must keep employees well-informed at all times. Company policies, such as those regarding remote work and business travel, must be communicated clearly, promptly, and fairly.
- Attending to employees’ needs: Social distancing and stay-at-home orders in case of another pandemic will trigger employees’ concerns regarding access to healthcare, daily provisions, and other essential needs. Companies must anticipate these concerns and develop solutions to address them.
- Supply chain stabilization: Companies must use safety stocks and substitute sources and work closely with suppliers to solve bottlenecks and stabilize supply chains. When quick fixes are not possible, alternative solutions must be implemented. All relevant stakeholders must also be informed of all plans.
- Reporting and forecasting: Companies need to put in place rapid-reporting cycles to better understand how the business is being affected, what forms of risk mitigation would be appropriate, and how quickly the company’s operations are improving. Performance management is necessary, even in times of crisis. Eventually, a company will be judged based on how well it tackled its business problems.
- Contributing to the greater good: Companies must consider how their business can contribute to the supply chain, industry, community, and local government. Companies should zero in on the intersection between their capabilities and society’s needs and then do what they can to help.
In times of crisis, companies need to demonstrate resilience – the ability to recover from or adjust easily to a difficult situation. Companies should ensure they have additional manufacturing capacity to stabilize the supply chain. Systems must be flexible enough to accommodate ever-changing requirements. Companies must also look at all possible worst-case scenarios and develop responses to combat them. Finally, companies should have a cognitively-diverse team that has the ability to come up with multiple approaches to address crisis situations.
A great example comes from Bauer, a New Hampshire-based manufacturer of hockey equipment. Bauer switched from making helmets to mass-producing face shields for medical workers on short notice when the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US increased in March of 2020. When the company became inundated with orders, they began publishing their design and manufacturing procedures online so that other manufacturers could help out.
Prepare for the future
COVID-19 likely won’t be the last major global crisis that companies will ever face. Having a well-thought-out crisis response plan will be more effective than any ad hoc solution. Companies must ensure that their responses to this current crisis are documented so that these can be reviewed and revised at a later time. A war room set-up with a small, dedicated crisis management team is ideal. Companies should also remember that businesses and society have been changed by this pandemic in profound ways. They must know how these changes will affect them and reflect on all that they have learned so that they can plan accordingly.