Business continuity in a crisis

Crises are fluid. Companies that succeed in managing crises do so because they are frequently reevaluating facts versus assumptions and adjusting critical actions based on new information and emerging trends. 

Here are five principles of business continuity that some of the most credible practitioners of the trade advocate:

  • Validate information before acting: When new information comes in as the crisis unfolds, it’s important to validate or invalidate existing courses of action, potentially requiring recalibration of decisions and actions. While the news media can provide insight into the evolving crisis and keep you apprised of how stakeholders are reacting, it can also provide plenty of room for speculation and rumors that don’t help individuals or companies manage daily decision-making. When the internet affords everyone the opportunity to be a “reporter,” it can be difficult to decipher what is fact versus fiction versus fear mongering. As a result, it’s important to identify trusted sources of information you will be comfortable basing decisions upon.
  • Stay nimble, be prepared for unanticipated impacts: As medical science is forced to play catch-up in the midst of the evolving COVID-19 crisis, we have to accept that facts as they initially emerge will likely change as our collective understanding of the threat evolves. Staying abreast of the evolution of that understanding itself, as well as the changing implications /of that evolution, is a must.

Decisions made today can have long-term implications, and thus we must be comfortable with changing direction multiple times in order to tackle the complexities of an emerging outbreak. 

It’s one thing to have to make decisions that may affect your health or your business in the absence of perfect information. It can be another thing altogether though to then have to explain those decisions to loved ones with different thresholds for, or perspectives on, the myriad risks that may be posed. It is important to stay sensitive and agile to changing circumstances in such scenarios 

  • Be responsive to changes in the marketplace: When it is BAU, marketing and communications leaders typically carry out market research to understand consumer trends and to align a brand’s value proposition to those insights. Likewise, marketers need to listen to their customers in a crisis and tap that market intelligence to develop the brand in ways that may not have been possible under normal circumstances. 

For instance, marketers need to keep their ear to the ground for unanticipated opportunities. Think about it: how often do you have the chance to “catch a pause”? The current “holding pattern” is one such instance. Use this hiatus to push ahead with that ambitious digital plan or e-commerce partnership that the rest of the business was possibly loathed to take a chance with, for fear of upsetting their existing traditional channel partners. This “reset” in business has forced everyone to engage in discussions – albeit from the safety of their homes – and decision-makers are working hard to open conversations that could pave the way for new collaborations and partnerships. 

  • Plan for your recovery: the most resilient companies – those that bounce back from a crisis quickly and strongly – spare no effort in planning for their short-, medium- and long-term recovery. This entails defining your recovery objectives; we cite a few examples below:
  • We want our employees and customers to know that we stand alongside them, in good times and in bad.
  • We are ready to capture market share and to win new business once the market conditions improve.
  • We are going to use this as an opportunity to re-organise our supply chain/key functions to build resilience. 

The first priority of your “recovery team” is to answer critical questions about your company (What is the impact of the crisis on the P&L and how does modelling impact that? What will be the impact on employees and your ability to hire talent? How can you continue to focus on quality when third parties might be cutting corners as they experience financial difficulties?). What about your external market conditions (what will the market look like, where will your opportunities be? How will this change your competitors’ behaviour, or that of your consumers? How are regulators going to react and what will they focus on?).  Having clear answers to these questions will enable you to deploy the necessary resources to make changes to your business now, so that it can recover strongly. In the new normal, your multi-disciplinary recovery team should take the lead in creating a strategy that builds resilience and achieves sustainable growth. 

  • Learn every lesson, review every action, plan for the future

It’s absolutely critical to track lessons learned in the moment so no opportunities to learn from the experience are lost. A crisis by its very nature is often unpredictable and there’s no shame in not having foreseen all the challenges. There is, however, accountability for ensuring you learn every lesson afforded in the face of a crisis and that you’re better prepared for the future. If nothing else, companies should take the time following the outbreak to conduct a post-incident-review that focuses on evaluating how prepared they were for the outbreak and how effectively they responded to it, actioning any gaps identified during the review.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Amit Narayan
Partner & Managing Director, South Asia at Control Risks
Amit manages consultants who design, develop and implement risk-mitigation strategies for companies across South Asia. He has advised clients on political and regulatory risk, pre-investment risk, reputational DD, forensic investigations, public policy and stakeholder mapping. Amit has worked in Edelman in India and Burson-Marsteller in Singapore. He has also worked in-house at Vodafone in Singapore and The Walt Disney Company in Hong Kong.

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