Of people, companies and countries – in these testing times

Most of us are finding time within our working day – between the calls and the Zoom videos and the documents and presentations – to reflect and review the world around us. 

A few thoughts for the angst ridden and more anxious amongst us (which includes me)

  • Having done it before helps. Saudi Arabia & Kuwait (with the experience of MERS-Cov) seem better prepared with separate triage units for respiratory illnesses, drive-thru testing (!) and drastic measures taken early to contain and quarantine. It is still too early to say whether these efforts will contain the virus (especially as Singapore seems to have gone back into orange DORSCON levels now), but the infrastructure and public health authorities certainly seem better prepared. 

India has gone with drastic quarantine measures in the absence of not much experience or infrastructure to manage this scourge. We are an optimistic people – but even we realise that things will get worse before it gets better. Our challenge – equally – will be to ensure that we manage the humanitarian and economic aspects of this medical emergency as well as possible. 

  • Being a multi-national means to become nationless. Control Risks highlighted this as a risk in our RiskMap of 2019 – that globalised companies’ risk, ironically, becoming nationless as nationalist politics continue to advance across the world. Even as Covid-19 flattens the world in a horrible confluence of contagiousness and transmissibility, national leaders are striking their own path in contending with the virus and tending to their citizens. Multinational companies are having the worst of it – having to deal with different pandemic phases across the globe, with the complexity of having some markets entering recovery while some are getting to grips with the first phases of a complete lockdown. 

Business leaders must re-calibrate and adapt to this new reality or global players will end up being played by a world in uncertain transition. Even simple moves – like encashing left-over annual leave – must be taken in an even-handed, empathetic way around the world / across the multi-national company. MNCs that maintain a common line of perks and benefits for all their full-time staff across the world may be better perceived than others who simply stick to the compliance line drawn within each jurisdiction

  • The formal expansion of the office perimeter to our bed is stretching enterprise cyber capabilities. The most common cyber threat companies are facing is phishing. If we indiscriminately click open any email from “IT Service Desk”, we may unleash another virus into our office network. No Lakshman Rekha or firewall can protect us from viruses we choose to let in. Getting all employees to refresh the company’s info-sec training will be a good way to ensure that they are cautious about clicking on links on mails from unknown sources or opening attachments that come with them. The work that the IT and CRM departments would have put in, in preparation for employees to be able to access company data from a cloud based server via VPN, will get tested – so it is always good get a thorough due diligence done on the cyber infrastructure and assets.
  • Once again, manufacturing will change first. Every stage of industrial transformation has been catalysed by machines… which delivered productivity enhancement in the way goods could be transported (trains), messages could be sent (telephones) or work could be done (computers). I’m not suggesting that we have quite reached the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0) utopia… but once again, manufacturing is starting to define the new normal post Covid-19.

For instance, one of the immediate fallouts (with long term implications) of the Covid-19 interregnum will be the reformulation of the industrialised global supply chain. Supply chains will move closer geographically, become more discrete and will move to maintaining higher levels of inventory. Other themes that may emerge in India include more automation (especially those factories most impacted by the migrant exodus), more alignment to market demand (automotive assembly lines that can also put together ventilators) as well as greater emphasis on supply chain robustness (especially in those sectors where a large number of small channel partners and dealers are expected to go bankrupt). Compliance to labour management principles (not just the letter of the law), importance of local stakeholder management as well as need to maintain a more comprehensive risk register are other anticipated impacts.

Leadership is a team game. The common perception that leadership in crisis requires tireless engagement and ceaseless energy may actually directly contribute to reduced effectiveness as decision-makers. During a prolonged crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, organisational leadership must maximise output without fostering burnout. Empowering alternates from among their senior leadership teams as well as ensuring that responsibilities are split across multiple teams to balance out the important from the urgent is very important. Organisations that are faring well in this crisis are those where the crisis management team is closely supported by various operational teams (e.g., finance, supply chain).

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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