COVID-19: Where should businesses focus?

As the Coronavirus outbreak worsens business leaders are being urged against taking a ‘wait and see’ approach, noting that operational protections and loss mitigation strategies can help to insulate an organisation against ill effects.

Escalating situation demands greater response

Some governments have already flagged that next steps in combatting COVID-19 may include more drastic measures such as the closure of schools, universities and some workplaces, as well as strict local travel restrictions being imposed.

These escalating impacts of the virus are putting enormous pressure on business leaders and many are grappling with questions such as:

At what point do we declare this a crisis for our organisation?

Are our existing risk processes sufficient to respond to the virus and its potential impacts?

What can we do to give our investors and customers the confidence that we are prepared for all potential scenarios?

Some organisations have vast experiences in responding to disruptive events and have structures to support them and some do not.

So how should business leaders respond right now?

Organisations with a mature capability in organisational resilience and crisis management are confident they can re-calibrate their strategic objectives, taking into account the many ‘unknowns’ of Coronavirus to minimise its impacts and capitalise on opportunities.

One simple but effective approach to developing a robust response is by undertaking a scenario-based response activity.

A scenario-based response activity allows organisations to create a shared view of the risks and impacts, challenge assumptions and uncover blind spots. It allows teams to develop contingency plans and provide vital assurance to key stakeholders.

Key factors to consider in scenario-based assessments

The process should incorporate key people from across the organisation, so as to give broad representation of the issue and its potential implications, while external expertise may be needed to fill any knowledge gaps.

Once the right people are in the room, the team should begin to separate facts from assumptions. They should be given the scope to challenge each other on these, with the key objective being to verify and clarify this into a ‘common operating picture’.

From there, the team should examine three differing outcomes: the best-case, the worst-case and the most likely scenarios. In considering these scenarios, the team should forecast potential impacts across all key areas of the business – including operations, customers, finance, supply-chain, strategy and brand reputation.

They should then agree on a plan, covering both immediate and future responses as the situation evolves. These tasks should be ranked in order of priority, indicate timings and assign responsibility for who will enact them. This can then feed into a detailed contingency plan, ready for activation at any time.

Communication brings clarity and confidence

The final and crucial aspect of this approach is a communications strategy. There must be a communications strategy in place alongside this risk analysis in order to provide clarity and assurance.

This process should be done at different levels within the organisation. Ideally, the executive would convene when the operational information is available so they have an aggregated view of the situation, from which to make decisions.

Key things to consider within the Scenario-based planning process are:

The team should be generating the most accurate picture of the current impacts across the organisation right now. Other teams may need to meet and follow this process if there is insufficient data.

  • External data regarding Coronavirus should only be given to the team where it is relevant to the organisation right now so as to not add ‘noise’.
  • Ensure the guidelines that are available from external stakeholders, ie: Government are understood and referenced during the session.
  • Have clarity on what external stakeholders require from the team, prior to going into the session.
  • Have the team genuinely willing to consider worst case scenario considerations and to not be tempted to focus only on immediate actions for the current situation.
  • Ensure the team consider impacts across all areas of the organisation when considering the current situation and worst-case scenario’s.
  • Develop a succinct situation report (Sitrep) from the session, as that will underpin the overall communications and response strategy.

Holding statements

A holding message can be given to internal and external stakeholder whist conducting the scenario-based planning activities, if required, such as:

“Our organisation is taking a pro-active approach to responding to the Coronavirus. Teams within our organisation are undertaking scenario-based activities to understand the current and potential impacts.

We are considering a range of scenarios and developing contingency plans and we will provide full briefings to key stakeholders as appropriate.

If you have any specific questions or concerns, please contact us.

About Janellis

Janellis work with leading organisations and government agencies to help build resilience and execute strategy and Clients include: Sydney Water; Snowy Hydro Limited; Commonwealth Bank of Australia; Jemena; QBE; Qantas; Rest Industry Superannuation; Roads and Maritime Services; Transurban and Westpac Group.

Janellis have a resilience framework which includes a decision support framework that is used to enable team-based critical thinking during times of scrutiny, ambiguity and complexity and where the impacts are significant.