THE CORONA EFFECT: SHAPING THE WAY WE RESPOND TO UNCERTAINTY

Junita van der Colff – Managing director, Protean Business Solutions

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It’s a crazy time to be alive. It may only be March 202, but we have already faced some enormous challenges: raging bushfires in Australia, political instability in the Middle East and elsewhere, stage 4 load-shedding, cyberattacks and data breaches, legislative changes and now the declaration of a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation on 11 March 2020.

I believe what we have experienced during the past 12 months – and what we are facing now – is going to change the world as we know it, just as the 9/11 terror attacks changed the world back in 2001. We can call this the Corona Effect. 

The Corona Effect is a sudden realisation that we are exceptionally vulnerable and that those this-will-never-happen moments will come to pass. Events of this nature bring major changes and the term ‘business as usual’ no longer applies (unless or until the situation ushers in a new normal). We would like to think we could have done more to plan for or mitigate such events, but it’s only by constantly adapting our business for uncertainty that we can come up with an effective response. 

As a risk and resilience consultancy, we have been advocating for a serious approach towards risk and resilience for some time. Risk management should never be a tick-box exercise; we can see why right now. We must view resilience-building as a catalyst for active change, something that assists us in creating and protecting value. This should be our focus when going about our day-to-day business, not only during adverse circumstances. 

As the Corona Effect teaches us, uncertainty is ongoing and disruptive events can happen at any time. We must plan for them. What should we consider? 

  • The human factor
    Panic and fear are an inherent response to uncertainty (for more information on this, get a copy of Steven Taylor’s insightful book The Psychology of Pandemics). We need to manage our communication in such a way that employees and the public are provided with a degree of comfort and assurance. Now more than ever, we need to see the bigger picture and take a responsible approach.
  • Leadership
    Nothing is more important than good leadership right now; leadership that understands the anxieties and needs of all stakeholders. Leaders must have the ability to make difficult decisions (e.g. Apple has closed all its stores outside of China until 27 March) by using credible data and information to drive informed decision-making.
  • Economic impact
    One of the biggest challenges COVID-19 is forcing us to face is the impact on our economy. This needs to be balanced by the legal and moral obligation that companies and governments have towards their employees and citizens. Therefore, as much as we want to ensure business continues, we need to safeguard the health and safety of the public, our staff, visitors and service providers. In order to minimise the impact, we need to understand the importance of business continuity and building operational resilience. There is a misconception that business continuity management (BCM) has all the answers and will prevent a disruption. This is not the case. It is there to minimise impact when there is a disruption. BCM is not merely in place so you have contingency plans in place for big events like the COVID-19 pandemic, but so you can build resilience within your operations. 
  • Business models
    Most business models are outdated and haven’t been adapted for the current operating environment. They don’t leverage the technology available and are not focused on building an ecosystem. We still have linear supply chains that are vulnerable and exposed to single points of failure. When we take a more ecosystemic approach, we build more resilience in the supply chain.
  • Embracing models
    We have seen a massive shift in how we do business. We have learnt to trust technology and are forced to embrace more flexible work arrangements. Trust plays a major part in embracing the new way of work and is currently being tested.
  • Being action-driven
    We need to understand uncertainty, identify potential causes or contributing factors and create action plans to ensure such risk is managed or mitigated. When it comes to acting, the most important factor is taking ownership; understanding who is responsible for what – by which date – and then working together to ensure we minimise the impact of a disruptive event. Identify and understand the red flags (key risk indicators) and respond to those timeously. 

We have already learnt a lot in these challenging times and will continue to learn as the current situation unfolds. The COVID-19 pandemic will probably shape the way we view risk and resilience in business forever. Understanding the uncertainties we face leads to the appropriate action: adopting good communication strategies, having updated business continuity plans and showing strong leadership have never been more important than they are right now.