Over the last week, the conversation has turned to “return to work” across India. Manufacturing companies, logistics firms, professional services – even airlines – are opening up (or taking off). The resumption is fueled in part by rising and historic levels of unemployment, concerns about the economy, the roll-out of an ambitious INR 20 trillion financial package, and the experience of (and pressure from) different regions, countries, states and localities starting to open up at varying speeds.
While companies may be anxious to resume work, it goes without saying that it needs to be done in a careful manner. Not only are there large-scale, societal health implications for getting this wrong, but from a business perspective, getting this wrong could cause more damage than has already been done. As a polymer plant in Vizag, a steel paper mill in Raipur and power plant in Neyveli realised that there is nothing worse than a facility shutting down the week of resumption.
Business continuity planning offers more than just insurance, it ensures sustainability and long-standing reputation of the brand & the company. At this time, there is tremendous value in briefly pausing to reflect on the organisation’s COVID-19 journey to date and conduct an “in-flight” incident review as a means of optimising the approach going forward. This is different from a “normal” crisis – where post-incident reports are standard fare…. And is being put in place because of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unknown length of the disruption.
Companies have increasingly been using a similar methodology to conduct “in-flight” incident reviews now, in the midst of response. With that in mind, the following are three key lessons we’ve learned conducting post-incident reviews during previous crises, as well as recently during several “in-flight” reviews, that organisations should consider as they embark on their own “in-flight” journeys:
- Be open and honest about intent: employees may become defensive and/or deflective when being asked to provide perspective on what could have been improved, rarely attributing any blame to their own actions. This can make it difficult to nail down consensus view around performance.
- Be transparent in communication, and reiterate what people have been told – of the real purpose of the review is key. Assure participants that the goal in this is improvement, not punishment, and that improvement can’t be achieved without an open and honest dialogue. In addition, ensure the interviewees include individuals who were impacted by the company’s decisions in addition to those who were responsible for the response.
- Look beyond just response. A common flaw we observe as companies embark on these types of reviews is that they solely focus on how the organisation responded to the crisis, without examining how prepared they were for the crisis in the first place or obtaining any insight into what the organisation needs to consider as they look forward.
- External stakeholder expectations are on the rise. While the driving force behind a review is often the board or senior management looking to improve internal response posture going forward, external entities are becoming increasingly interested in understanding if organisations are taking continuous improvement seriously. Unlike some crises, COVID-19 has very clearly shown how an organisation’s response can have serious implications for other key stakeholders, including customers and partners, and even wider societal impacts if the services/products they provide are linked to essential infrastructure or goods.
- Do NOT jump into resolution mode immediately. While it can be tempting to immediately jump into business resumption planning and start thinking through how you’re going to return to some sort of “new normal,” taking an “in-flight” point of view in the short to medium term is perhaps more prudent. For all the reasons why “in-flight” reviews are recommended, it is prudent to have an on-going approach to incident review while thinking about formal business resumption planning.
It will be a fair while before Covid-19 is firmly in our rear view mirror. So it is important for businesses to not get into discussing “learnings” and “resolution factors” too quickly. Since the situation is likely to still be live, one is not likely to be in a position to assess and learn from it appropriately till it has blown over. It is only then that you can truly get to the bottom of the issue, and fix it from the ground up…. And that’s when the process will provide assurance to interested external parties that you are undertaking this process with the long-term success of the organisation and protection of its employees, customers and partners in mind.
It has to be hindsight to be 2020 – to misquote the saying.
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