The pandemic has been a social and economic shock to most countries and businesses. It has severally disrupted movement and sourcing of supplies and resources, manufacture and provision of products and services, and dented morale and confidence. Many businesses have struggled to continue without their workforce on premise, as well as unprecedented falls in revenue while fixed and other costs remain.
Business continuity solutions have traditionally assumed that cataclysmic events are time-boxed or/and restricted to a particular geography allowing “other resources” to cover. This assumption no longer applies. Companies need to adapt and quickly mitigate current challenges and take advantage of opportunities, those that do not, will struggle to survive.
Leaders are asking what they can do to ensure the survival of their business.
This article covers ten areas of focus for companies, ranging from the need for clear leadership, to developing a flexible and adaptable core business, and building connected value, supply and fulfillment chains. The article argues that a key element for success will be analytics and developing future scenarios to better focus investment – a scattergun approach will only dilute critical resources and squander precious time.
Key areas businesses need to focus on
1. Lead from the top
Most companies have established a crises team, and now more than ever, the new reality requires a leadership that can steady the ship and nerves, and provide empathy and a clear way forward.
The leadership has to provide clear and constant communication to quickly drive the design of a new flexible and adaptable operating model that includes the supply chain, vendors, customers and intermediaries. Now is the time to re-emphasize the values and culture that drove success to date. Leaders should be open and candid about the challenges ahead, and acknowledge the many unknowns.
A kneejerk reaction would be to make changes across the business in everything that has been impacted: this would be a mistake. It would impede business recovery during a period of falling cash-reserves and dwindling profits. A semblance of normality has to return first. Leaders need to focus on their core strength and what they know and need for continuity and survival, and think carefully about never-before-considered large-scale transformations.
2. Focus on what matters
Companies should focus on what they do best, preserve value and the loyalty of their workforce and customer-base, and go from there. Set up incident response and management capabilities, and communicate to the workforce, suppliers and customers often. It may well be that not all normal services can be resumed immediately, there could be gaps in the short-term - the analysis and rollout should be prioritized on what preserves the highest value service and product provision.
Companies should determine the maturity of their capabilities, how they have been affected, what gaps exist, and how to pivot their operating model and establish the best ways to assure normal operations.
The need is to establish remote resource patterns for contact, service and fulfilment centers, tooling home-working staff and remote operations, securing multiple access points, and developing new collaborative ways of working and realigning supply chains. Initial workarounds developed to get the organization on its feet in the early days need to be revisited, tighter security and governance put in place, and essentially, more flexible and adaptable ways of working for the long-term enabled.
3. Support home workers
As a priority, companies need to ensure their employees are safe, and are aware of company policies and guidelines around the pandemic. A prolonged lockdown can impact people’s mental health; companies need to ensure everyone knows they are not alone in their homes, and that support is easily available. Workers need to be supported through holistic and personalized support, guidance, and coaching.
People need to be content and motivated to spend days not physically interacting with others. Loneliness can be an issue for some; this will need to be tackled creatively. Video-conferencing, gamifying daily routine tasks, short virtual meetings, virtual social events (coffees, catch-ups etc.), and mental care and meditation mobile applications are some of the solution options. The way forward is to keep the connected family-feel amongst the team - that they are supported, valued and trusted.
People work best if they consider they are valued, understand what to do and how to do it, and critically why they are doing it-this typically leads them to want to do it. Organizations need to support workers to allow them to focus on what they do best, and in this stressed environment take away as much of the non-value activities as possible, provide continued support and feedback mechanisms, and be less perfunctory with rules and free them to be creative.
4. Re-evaluate value chain, capabilities and in-flight projects
This is the time to review business capabilities and in-flight initiatives, and focus on those that will give the highest benefits quickly. Work on the basis of a ‘U’ and an ‘L’ based recovery. Unlike previous pandemics, we are unlikely to get a ‘V’ recovery – though it would be most welcome. The evolving understanding of this virus also means, in the absence of an effective vaccine, it may be around for some time in one mutation or another, and as such, the future is uncertain with the potential of prolonged periods of lockdown and re-openings. Keep the portfolio under periodic review and update it as predictions change.
Once core operations have been evaluated, analyze the entire value/supply chain, and determine how it will operate on near-normal basis. In the absence of a digitally connected chain, it will be clunky and slow, but it can work – it just needs imagination and a willingness to allow a little more time, and flexibility. The chain can be digitized once there is stability.
If the existing value chain will not work fully, look at alternative supply and fulfilment chains to add missing capacity and capability, undertake perhaps more of the heavy-lifting, consider substitutions, etc. These can be established relatively quickly off the digital grid.
5. Enable the workforce with smarter working
There has been a trend over the last few years to smarter working - more intelligent working spaces and flexible and inclusive practices, with areas to huddle, collaborate and discuss, take a moment out, with big screens to scribble on and share ideas, with fruit and tea, light and air, so that people can physically, emotionally and intellectually breathe.
Taking into consideration the step-change in needs, the important aspect is to listen to the most precious resource – the workforce, and re-design the working world to fit around their needs, and realign the work-life balance. While this journey needs to be made in a consultative and measured-manner; now is the time to re-think what the working space will look like when people return to factories, warehouses and offices taking into account new virus-safety requirements, and what elements can be projected remotely now.
There are a number of new technologies that can facilitate customers and staff coming back into common working areas. These range from IoT devices that highlight those with a temperature, providing audible reminders to keep apart when straying too near another, to mobile apps to assist in contact tracing when the virus has been detected, to remote digital assistants providing sales advice and information. AI and Machine Learning within devices connected to surveillance and security cameras are helping to decide how to orient shops and workplaces and optimize strategies to keep people apart - learning and changes taking place in real-time.
Organizations need to be mindful that people will need to be persuaded that it will be safe to return to a place of work, especially if they are in high-risk groups. Therefore, multiple options may well be needed for different cohorts of workers.
Smarter working has freed-up people to focus on adding value to the business – fewer sick-days, better mental-health, fewer mistakes, better ideas, more sales, and happier customers with smaller offices needed. These measurable quantitative success factors have driven the business case for the change and are now more important than ever.
6. Connect and empower the workforce, suppliers and customers
A workforce collaborating remotely, and connected to each other, the corporate center, and to customers and suppliers can only happen if they have the requisite enabling technology, secure access to sharable documents on laptops, mobiles and home-computers, processes, and know-how. If such enablers are not in-place, companies should establish them quickly. Virtual meetings and collaborative tools do not need a long time to be enabled and be productive; coupled with flexible way of working, they increase productivity significantly
Video conferencing has meant that people are not “alone” in their flats; and indeed allows them to be far further afield from the office. A connected workforce is more innovative and diverse in its thinking, creative and accelerates performance.
The right technology gives operational visibility to remote support teams and managers, providing assurance that critical tasks are not being missed and that quality of output remains high. It helps in proactively monitoring assets, assuring security and ensuring people have the technical ability to do their jobs.
7. Enable self-serve and process automation
Businesses need to become adaptable. Self-service digital channels are essential to empower staff, suppliers and customers. While this is a profound change with challenges where complex legacy infrastructure exists, such digital empowerment will be increasingly critical. An intelligent phased plan to embed such enablers can be done relatively quickly without huge disruption.
Enabling users to accomplish their business tasks with automation further increases performance, and frees up highly-trained resources to re-focus on what humans do best - the complex, the creative and ad-hoc. Performance can be increased through a range of interventions: automating easy and repetitive tasks, taking out manual interventions in business processes, adding AI and machine learning to make processes more intelligent and self-learning, and speeding up responses and outputs while increasing accuracy and reducing mistakes.
8. Highlight and support critical roles
There are certain critical roles within the organization that need additional scrutiny and support – ask “what do we do if they are ill?” Such roles need to be identified, highlighted, and their competences mapped and understood. Mitigation, contingency and redundancy plans should be put in place e.g. multiple people should be trained to carry out these roles. Training people in new skills during lockdown can be a challenge, but can be accomplished with some inventiveness.
9. Leverage data analytics to highlight threats and opportunities
Evolving regulations, differing staff benefits and support availability will mean that current data analytics may struggle. Organizations also will not be able to take advantage of upcoming opportunities. For this, a modern data analytics capability is required - it should be considered a priority. It will help in carrying out horizon scanning now and determine what ‘out there’ is pertinent to the business, how business continuity will be assured during the crisis, what are disrupters trying to take advantage of in the business-space, and what opportunities exist.
Every organization’s regulatory, customer, market and supplier intelligence needs are different, and therefore they require different technologies. These range from small scale analytics capabilities that can be installed quickly – to provide ad-hoc intelligence boosts, to those utilizing large external data-sets, and creating sophisticated real-time analytics dashboards. These require a more involved integration with internal systems and processes but provide a richer and more up-to-date view.
10. Scenario model the future
It is challenging to predict the future in the given situation. Multiple future scenarios need to be modelled ranging from best to worst case, and solutions devised against a baseline from which to carry out capability stress tests. These scenarios and plans need to be modelled across different time-scales:
- what is critical/ current,
- in the next 2-3 weeks,
- the next 2-3 months,
- and the next 6-12 months.
These can be iterated as intelligence is gleaned from data analytics and horizon scanning, as the understanding of the economic recovery increases.
Companies need to look at individual business units as well as the overall organization, and develop a basis to determine relevant strategic and tactical choices and investment priorities, with a clear roadmap. Some priorities will be obvious in many of the modelled scenarios, while at the other end of the spectrum, there will be options only pertinent to a particular scenario – it is here that cold hard judgement will be needed.
Towards a resilient future
Leadership as ever is critical, to keep the business focused on its strengths rather than trying to spread effort on every impacted area. Leaders need to consider future investment scenarios which deliver the greatest value using clear analytics. Capabilities and in-flight initiatives need to be reviewed, and the portfolio edited to make way for those initiatives that are critical to business survival and take advantage of new opportunities.
Those businesses that can adapt quickly will come out of this crisis stronger and more in-tune with their workforce and customer base