While challenges to business leadership are never more acute than in turbulent times, the current global health crisis is certain to severely test – perhaps as never before – the capability of leaders to assess its repercussions and respond decisively to maintain business continuity and the trust of employees, customers and key stakeholders.
While businesses should ideally already have contingency plans in place to ensure continuity in the face of more-predictable disruptions such as power outages, transportation interruptions and the like, the extreme impact of today’s crisis heightens the challenge to what many will consider unprecedented.
To succeed during these incredibly difficult and unusual times, business leaders will need to demonstrate their ability to confidently adapt and improvise. Short-term success will be measured by decisive action that addresses the immediate safety of teams, compliance with fast-emerging public protocols, the trust of customers and the continuity of operations.
This is easier said than done, but in my view achievable. Here are some examples of best practices that I have seen that you may use as a roadmap on how to navigate an unpredictable but entirely attainable journey toward a successful resolution.
Assemble a crisis-management team that’s well equipped to demonstrate strong leadership and maintain business stability in these unpredictable times. Make sure that the leadership remains visible, accessible and that there is ongoing communication with employees, customers and stakeholders. Key crisis leaders should be meeting on a regular basis, even daily, with senior management to provide updates and collaborate on next steps in managing the fast-changing environment.
Taking appropriate action to ensure the safety and welfare of employees is also critical. Collaborate with HR leaders for their insights on maintaining the physical and mental well-being of staff. Provide ongoing communication and updates to employees on the steps your business is taking to manage the crisis. This is particularly important for businesses operating in severely affected regions where communication and updates may be required more frequently as local conditions and responses change.
Given the impact of the crisis on financial markets, customers will no doubt have urgent questions and immediate concerns, particularly in regions where conditions are changing on a daily basis. Ensuring that the clients have a reliable access to information and updates, as well as well-informed and timely responses to inquiries, will go far in maintaining continuity and their confidence. This is particularly crucial given the potential for continued global volatility and its impact on the financial landscape.
Create an agile planning model that optimizes flexibility in the face of evolving conditions. Beyond looking at precautions taken company-wide, you need to assess the specific needs of your staff or offices that are most-seriously affected. Provide clear and specific guidance regarding remote working arrangements and the use of internal and external technology that will enable communication, collaboration and seamless access to resources that are crucial for business continuity and reliable customer service.
On the technology front, as remote access by employees increases, be prepared to enhance IT systems as needed in terms of capacity, capabilities and data security. Protecting customer data while implementing necessary changes and responses to the crisis is critical.
Collaborate with your IT experts to implement a data-governance program that adequately protects customer data from theft, loss or misuse. Also keep employees, customers and stakeholders informed on best practices for the safe use of data, and build safeguards into digital platforms to ensure that data collection complies with all relevant privacy regulations.
Assess as much as possible the immediate economic impact of the health crisis on your business and formulate a comprehensive strategy that will help to minimize the effects. Explore potential cost- saving measures while ensuring ongoing visibility and flexible management of cash flow, working capital, financial planning, budgeting and supply chains.
On the supply chain front, examine the need for a dedicated team tasked with supply-chain assessment and risk management and be prepared to reconfigure global and regional supply-chain flows where possible. This could include utilizing alternative modes of transportation and implementing temporary trade-offs according to needs, costs, services and your risk-scenario analysis of all viable options.
Evaluate options that offer the potential to shorten supply chains, perhaps by increasing proximity to customers, thus limiting crisis-related costs or disruptions. And review contracts with key customers and suppliers to understand liability in the event of service delays or temporary interruptions.
To the best of your ability amid rapidly evolving conditions, review cash flow, working capital and inventory forecasts in alignment with supply and demand predictions. Have a clear understanding as well of how your financial stability may be impacted by further stock market volatility or potential restrictions to necessary or anticipated funding.
Going forward, implement and continually re-evaluate your business continuity and resilience planning. Identify potential new measures that could help employees and customers amid the changing conditions. Landlords, for example, can monitor the financial health of existing tenants, especially those in sectors severely affected, such as retail and hospitality, and consider appropriate measures to ease difficulties.
Some real estate businesses should also be prepared to endure longer vacancy periods as potential tenants defer decisions on occupying new space. Landlords and tenants should also review for compliance in their contract obligations, for example leases or construction contracts, and analyze any immediate implications during the crisis.
The impact on workforce mobility will affect labor supply and could, in some cases, create project delays and even contractual disputes, making it important to review contracts regarding potential non-performance or liability issues. Do communicate early on a good-faith basis with any affected stakeholders in an attempt to resolve the situation.
Finally, remember that this crisis affects the entire community, not just your business. Consider whether there are things that could be done to give back to the people who need help, such as provision of hygiene kits, food donations, and support for the elderly especially since they are the most vulnerable during this time. We are all in this together, and only by working together can we survive this crisis.