Business leadership in a pandemic situationFebruary 10, 2020
Over the past few days, we have all been experiencing growing concern over the rapidly-evolving novel coronavirus situation, whether over the adequacy of institutional response, feeling responsibility for the behaviors of fellow citizens, wondering about the speed of development in a research breakthrough, or simply working to keep our loved ones safe.
It is easy for those of us not involved in clinical operations to feel helpless; yet this is in fact the season where cool-headed management is most needed.
One of the first steps business leaders can take is to recognize that our organisations are looking to us for guidance in times of uncertainty. We need to step out of our personal spheres of concern, and into our official capacities to actively steer the ship.
- Effecting medical measures. An immediate response could be to proactively ensure daily situation monitoring; temperature and travel history screening; limit face-to-face meetings and travel; encourage good personal hygiene and provide masks, sanitisers, air purifiers, thermometers, or medication; facilitate teleworking among staff who may not be feeling well or even for non-essential functions; segregate teams; and keep good records should contact tracing be required later.
- Business planning. As vital as such measures are, business continuity needs to holistically also include non-medical measures that can start with reviewing possible vulnerabilities in all business functions. Do we fully understand and how adequately are we meeting the (even “irrational”) needs of our teams? Do we need to clarify our standard operating procedures and chain of command in the event of disruption? How might we ensure resilience in our frontline operations to back-end processes, so as not to affect service continuity to the beneficiaries we serve?
- Ensuring ecosystem resilience. It will also be important to verify that our safeguards are consistent outside our organisation, especially among our first- and second-tier suppliers, processing or storage facilities, and distribution partners.
- Resourcing. There will be likely disruption to revenues and livelihoods. Even the costs of screening, medication, or vaccinations can sometimes be prohibitive. Are our stakeholders adequately covered by insurance? Daily support systems such as public transportation, food supply, and caregiving services may become affected for some. How we might stretch are our own resources to absorb a protracted shock? We not only need to ensure that our business system does not profiteer from sudden surges in demand, but can even ask ourselves how we might buttress the effects experienced by our broader communities whether measures might relate to our pricing policy, continuity of service, or our corporate philanthropy investments.
- Co-creating. People experience stress when they do not know the implications, magnitude of impact, timeframe of impact, and what they can do about it. Misinformation and market panic can exacerbate economic losses. Some vulnerable populations may not fully understand a situation that is evolving each day. How transparently, frequently, and concretely are we communicating, and also co-creating with our customers, communities, our own employees, investors, regulators, and business partners?
- Informing. We may be privy to certain on-ground developments due to our channels and networks. Are we aware of the aspects of our frontline operations that may offer advance data or insight to external organisations? Can we open up lines of communications to government agencies, data providers, social service organisations, researchers, and the press?
- Contributing. Timely and relevant resource allocation is critical in times of crisis. Can we adapt our personal and institutional capabilities to freely offer our support to other organisations that most need it, whether these involve our talent pool, financial resources, networks, or physical assets? Are there smaller organisations we deal with that can do with our expertise?
As stewards of our organisations, there is no more pressing time than now to fully exercise our leadership. How else can business respond meaningfully?