The corona virus. It's all everybody is talking about. Meanwhile, crisis management manuals have been brought back to the table, risk management policies have been tightened up and possible scenarios have been discussed. As is often the case, people's behavior determines the extend of whether a crisis is dealt with successfully. Soft controls are intangible factors that influence behavior within organizations and should therefore not be overlooked. The eight soft controls below, which are based on scientific research, can serve as guidance when implementing antivirus policies.
Communication is top priority for effective crisis management. This starts with creating clarity about the communication itself. Who is responsible? And how and when will this be communicated? It should be clear to employees on what they are and what they are not allowed to do. If the office is only open for 'critical' activities, then what are these activities? And who should decide that? In addition, it is necessary to have clarity about the different scenaros so that it is clear when to escalate or when to go back to the normal process. A 'Q&A' and a 'Factsheet' about the current events will help to inform employees.
Policy helps to create an outline, but ultimately employees will experience all kinds of dilemmas: should I go to that wedding in Brabant? Should I follow up on the client's demand to only work there or at home while there are also other client appointments? An accessible channel where these dilemmas can be laid down and discussed should help and increase the clarity and understanding of the measures taken.
Visible compliance, by those in charge, with the policy towards employees and clients should emphasize the necessity of the measures that are required of everyone. Giving instructions is good, but only to a certain extent. Instructions require guidance but also trust. A research by Harry Garretsen and Janka Stoker has shown that an increase in directive leadership can go hand in hand with a decrease in flexibility and risk appetite. This turns out to be counterproductive in the longer term.
All measures taken are about the health and well-being of the employees. But just as much about the health and well-being of our clients and other stakeholders we come into contact with and for whom we have a certain responsibility. In short, it does strike at the very heart of the organization. Sharing experiences of colleagues or friends who face the consequences first hand, will motivate them to take the measures seriously.
Washing hands regularly, working remotely and having more conference calls, require the support from the organization. Disinfection soap pumps, properly functioning means of communication (Skype) and aid centers, will help employees to implement the antivirus policy. An organization could perhaps also help with the coordination of the day care for children of employees. This may seem self-evident, but it can easily be overlooked.
Visibility decreases as employees work from home. Using the phone more often and communicating with each other digitally, increases transparency and contributes to the feeling of togetherness. Although it does not increase visibility in terms of compliance with the antivirus policy, it will keep everyone informed about each other's health and progress in the fight against the pandemic. In addition, other risks are lurking, such as fraud, as working from home may lead to less (direct) control and possible cyber security issues due to insufficiently secured networks. Monitoring issues will help preventing any damage. Organizations would do well to assess and analyze information about the virus on a continuous basis in order to inform stakeholders about the consequences, if necessary.
Control of the virus can only be achieved when cynicism, laxity and laziness are suppressed. Pointing out to someone when policies are not adhered to, even by shaking hands – or not washing them – is not unimportant. It may seem pedantic, but by now we are all too aware that the consequences are too great to be ignored and which would only reinforce the undesirable behavior
Hopefully sanctions will not be necessary as everyone will stick to their agreements. At the same time, in case of violations, sanctions work both ways. It punishes the offender and also has a preventive effect as it underlines the importance of the measures. And finally, expressing appreciation for the employees who either help each other or contribute to the fight against the virus in society will also increase the urgency and effectiveness of the antivirus policy.
The virus is now spreading rapidly, so urgent action is required. At the same time, it requires an approach that is well thought out and phased. These eight soft controls can be used as a guide to effectively implement antivirus policies.
Please contact Erik van Bekkum, +31 20 656 8315 or by email.
© 2020 KPMG N.V., registered with the trade register in the Netherlands under number 34153857, is a member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ('KPMG International'), a Swiss entity. All rights reserved. KPMG International Cooperative ('KPMG International') is a Swiss entity. Member firms of the KPMG network of independent firms are affiliated with KPMG International. KPMG International provides no client services. No member firm has any authority to obligate or bind KPMG International or any other member firm vis-à-vis third parties, nor does KPMG International have any such authority to obligate or bind any member firm.