Lead Your Business Through the Coronavirus Crisis


The Covid-19 crisis has now reached a new critical phase where public health systems need to act decisively to contain the growth in new epicenters outside China.

Clearly, the main emphasis is and should be on containing and mitigating the disease itself. But the economic impacts are also significant, and many companies are feeling their way towards understanding, reacting to, and learning lessons from rapidly unfolding events. Unanticipated twists and turns will be revealed with each news cycle, and we will only have a complete picture in retrospect.

Nevertheless, given the very different degrees of preparedness across companies, the further potential for disruption, and the value of being better prepared for future crises, it’s worth trying to extract what we have learned so far. Based on our ongoing analysis and support for our clients around the world, we have distilled the following 12 lessons for responding to unfolding events, communicating, and extracting and applying learnings.

1) Update intelligence on a daily basis.

Events are unfolding with astounding speed, and the picture changes on a daily basis. Only several days ago, it looked like the outbreak was mostly confined to China and was being brought under control. More recently, a number of fast-growing epicenters of infection have sprung up beyond China, signaling a new phase and potentially necessitating new strategies of mitigation rather than containment. Our team initially decided to communicate updates every 72 hours, but we moved to a daily cycle, not only for updating data, but also for reframing our overall perspective.

2) Beware of hype cycles / news cycles.

News organizations often focus on what’s new rather than the big picture, and they sometimes don’t distinguish between hard facts, soft facts, and speculation. Yesterday’s news is likely to frame how your organization thinks about the crisis today. When exposed to fast changing information, be it a new technology or an emerging crisis, we have a systematic tendency initially to overlook weak signals, then to overreact to emerging issues before we eventually take a more calibrated view. As you absorb the latest news, think critically about the source of the information before acting on it.

3) Don’t assume that information creates informedness.

In our connected world, employees have direct access to many sources of information. Leaders might reasonably conclude that there is so much information and commentary available externally that they don’t need to do anything additional. We have found, however, that creating and widely sharing a regularly updated summary of facts and implications is invaluable, so that time is not wasted debating what the facts are — or worse, making different assumptions about facts.

4) Use experts and forecasts carefully.

Experts in epidemiology, virology, public health, logistics, and other disciplines are indispensable in interpreting complex and shifting information. But it’s clear that expert opinions differ on critical issues like optimal containment policies and economic impact, and it’s good to consult multiple sources. Each epidemic is unpredictable and unique, and we are still learning about the critical features of the current one. We need to employ an iterative, empirical approach to understanding what’s going on and what works — albeit one guided by expert opinion.

5) Constantly reframe your understanding of what’s happening.

A big-picture synthesis of the situation and a plan to deal with it, once captured on paper, can itself become a source of inertia. A Chinese proverb reminds us that great generals should issue commands in the morning and change them in the evening.

But large organizations are rarely so flexible. Managers often resist disseminating plans until they are completely sure, and then they are reluctant to change them for fear of looking indecisive or misinformed, or of creating confusion in the organization. A living document, with a time-stamped “best current view” is essential to learn and adapt in a rapidly changing situation.

6) Beware of bureaucracy.

Controversial, sensitive, or high-profile issues will typically attract review by senior management, corporate affairs, legal, risk management, and a host of other functions. Each will have suggestions on how to best craft communications, leading to an overly generalized or conservative perspective and a slow, cumbersome process.

Assembling a small trusted team and giving them enough leeway to make rapid tactical decisions is critical. Overly managing communications can be damaging when each day brings significant new information to light. Use the clock speed of external events as a guideline for pacing the internal process, rather than starting with the latter as a given.

A living digital document can enhance speed by avoiding the rigamarole of issuing and approving multiple documents, and also reduces risk, since it can easily be updated or withdrawn as necessary. Furthermore, distinguishing clearly between facts, hypotheses, and speculations can help in communicating a fuller and more nuanced picture.

7) Make sure your response is balanced across these seven dimensions:

  • Communications: Employees will likely be exposed to conflicting information and feel anxious or confused about the best course of action. Be sure to communicate policies promptly, clearly, and in a balanced manner. Furthermore, communicate contextual information and the reasoning behind policies so that employees can deepen their own understanding and also take initiative in unanticipated situations, such as employee holidays in a restricted location or how to handle contractors.
  • Employee needs: Restrictions on travel and congregation will trigger employee needs for access to education, health care, daily provisions and the like. You should anticipate and develop solutions to these and create an information hub where employees can find all the information they need. Many of these needs will be locally specific, requiring a multi-tiered approach to policy making.
  • Travel: Make sure that travel policies are clear in terms of where employees can travel to, for what reasons, what authorizations are required and when the policy will be reviewed.
  • Remote work: Be clear on your policies — where they apply, how they will work, and when they will be reviewed. Home working is rare in some geographies, like China for example, and the need for additional explanation should be anticipated.
  • Supply-chain stabilization: Attempt to stabilize supply chains by using safety stocks, alternative sources, and working with suppliers to solve bottlenecks. Where rapid solutions are not possible, co-develop plans, put in place interim solutions, and communicate plans to all relevant stakeholders.
  • Business tracking and forecasting: It’s likely that the crisis will create unpredictable fluctuations. Put in place rapid-reporting cycles so that you can understand how your business is being affected, where mitigation is required, and how quickly operations are recovering. A crisis doesn’t imply immunity from performance management, and sooner or later markets will judge which companies managed the challenge most effectively.
  • Being part of the broader solution: As a corporate citizen you should support others in your supply chain, industry, community, and local government. Consider how your business can contribute, be it in health care, communications, food, or some other domain. Focus on the intersection between acute social needs and your specific capabilities — in other words, live your purpose.

Read the full article to find out all about it:https://hbr.org/2020/02/lead-your-business-through-the-coronavirus-crisis?referral=03759&cm_vc=rr_item_page.bottom

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