COVID-19 highlighted that many businesses are set up to be highly efficient, yet are not set up to be resilient and bounce back quickly when they face challenges that threaten their standard operating procedures. Businesses with highly efficient production and supply chains are able to keep costs low. That’s great when the status quo is maintained. However, when there’s a major disruption, like the COVID-19 pandemic, and those highly optimized processes are thrown into turmoil, the whole business can collapse. That was seen clearly in some consumer goods sectors, like meat production, where a disruption in supply chains at the packing level (due to COVID-19 outbreaks at meat packing facilities) led to widespread shortages further down the distribution chain.
Instead of focusing solely on creating efficiencies, businesses need to be able to adapt to changes and respond to what’s happening in the world. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen this happen on a wide scale. Small businesses, in particular, were very effective at pivoting and finding ways to work around the lockdown. Small restaurants quickly developed delivery capabilities, or pivoted into selling groceries or other staples. Boutique hotels transformed into places for healthcare workers to stay near their workplaces. Retailers shifted to ecommerce sales and started selling their products online. This ability to pivot and think outside of the box in the face of major challenges is critical for building a business strategy that’s adaptable and able to withstand big challenges.
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future-proofing your business
We often hear phrases like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ thrown around to describe the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s true that few could have predicted such a widespread and catastrophic event would hit in 2020, there are ways to foster adaptability and prepare for these kinds of paradigm-shifting events. Every year there are hundreds of events, major and minor, that impact businesses. From natural disasters like hurricanes and forest fires, to events like the pandemic, businesses need to be prepared to handle some degree of the unexpected. With climate change and human activities, these types of events are expected to become a regular occurrence in the coming years and decades. Businesses that ignore this reality risk falling behind when these events occur.
developing a business strategy that is more resilient
plan for future disruptions
Don’t wait for the worst case scenario to happen before you develop your emergency plan. It’s difficult to develop an emergency response when you’re already in the midst of a crisis. Having a plan in place prior to the disruption will make navigating the crisis much smoother. Consider what you’d do if your business faces another disruption similar to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bring in experts from HR, health and safety IT, finance, risk management and communications and other core departments to consult and develop a well-rounded plan that considers all aspects of your business from employee relations, to payroll and accounting, to technology and data security, to contingency plans to keep your business operational. Be flexible and consider a variety of different scenarios you can adapt depending on the circumstances you face.
develop a succession plan
Succession planning is an important part of maintaining business continuity. You should have a succession plan in place at all times, ensuring that if key leaders or executives are unable to perform their duties that you have a plan to replace them. Leaders should be deeply involved in mentoring and training others in their area of specialty. Succession planning is even more important when responding to a crisis. An effective leadership team is key to stabilizing your business and ensuring that employees are supported through the crisis. A leadership vacuum and lack of direction can exacerbate the effects of a crisis and make it much more difficult to build a path to recovery.
use technology to adapt
Technology is important to businesses on a good day. During a crisis, technology is a lifeline. At the height of the pandemic, technology allowed many businesses to stay operational. Employers were able to quickly shift their employees to work from home with laptops and video conferencing software. Retailers were able to shift to selling their products to online shoppers by ramping up ecommerce and digital marketing. Having a strong IT plan in place ensures that your business is more adaptable and able to react to a crisis. A strong IT set up and digitization of your platforms and information allow your employees to be more flexible in how and where they work, which is invaluable during a crisis. Even if your workplace is shut down (as during the lockdowns) you’ll have access to critical data elsewhere.
create a change management plan
Change is often one of the most difficult parts of reacting to a crisis. People are naturally adverse to change, and that fear can be exacerbated by an emergency situation. Having a change management plan in place to help employees navigate a crisis will make the process smoother and less stressful for everyone. Your leadership team and anyone who manages employees should be invested in your change management program and trained to coach employees through organizational changes. With this framework in place, it’s easier to quickly ramp up necessary changes during a disruption like COVID-19.
think long, mid and short term
COVID-19 has thrown many businesses for a loop. Plans that stretched years into the future have been pushed aside in favour of an immediate, reactionary approach. It’s difficult to predict what will happen by the end of the year, let alone in 2 to 5 years. Though there’s a tendency to want to scale back long-term planning and focus solely on the short-term when facing unforeseen circumstances, that approach can backfire. The plans you developed prior to 2020 may need to be adjusted, but it’s still important to have them. Limiting your business to only short-term goals can lead to your business quickly falling behind competitors. Though your first priority is stabilizing your business, once you’ve settled into a new normal, start thinking about your future plans. Consider mid and long-term goals for your business, and assess steps required to reach them.