The Ten commandments for a Coronavirus crisis management plan
Disrupting daily lives of millions of people and thousands of companies around the globe, the Covid-19 pandemic has got business leaders "enrolled" in a live crash course on crisis management. Whether you wanted it or not, you are about to acquire a very useful skillset through an interactive immersive experience. Here come the Ten commandments for top managers willing to nail this curriculum.
1. Embrace the uncertainty

Before rushing into counter crisis actions, pause to acknowledge and accept that the environment has changed and "business as usual" is no longer applicable. Mere acceptance of this fact can significantly reduce the stress level and easen the pressure of decision making.

What is even more important to question today is whether indeed the post-pandemic world is going to be quite different from the world we used to live in. The speed, the scale and the irreversibility of changes we are going through suggest that the "return to normality" will rather be a step towards a "new normal". Therefore, hoping to have the things run "as before" after the storm has passed might not be a very good idea.
"Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales."
Bertrand Russell
The change seems inevitable, and comforting fairy tales won't do anymore. But in great challenges lie big opportunities. So befriend uncertainty, it is here to stay. And truly exciting adventures may ensue.

2. Build a dedicated crisis management unit

From reflection — straight to action. Your timely and well coordinated actions are crucial, especially during the very first days and weeks of a crisis situation. Bring together a few of your managers in a diverse and dynamic team, capable of conducting thorough analysis while acting fast.

Fully dedicated to crisis-related planning and implementation, this group would ideally be limited to 3–4 people (or up to 5–6 in large corporate structures with very diverse operations). The rest of the management should be focused on ongoing operations, ensuring business continuity in the turbulent times.

Within that dedicated team, make sure to flatten the hierarchy, streamline the communications and cut down your regular administrative processes in order to speed up the decision making and enable fast actions.

Don't label your special unit a "crisis" team though; make it a "solutions center", a "resque crew" or even a "superheroes squad".

3. Connect with your people

Use all technologies available to you to ensure a stable and structured communication flow within your special unit, within the core operations, and then between the two. Although this varies greatly depending on the business you are in, availability of your team members during crisis times is crucial.

I recall a situation where daily debriefs of the crisis management team were scheduled for midnight —since only by that time the important data collected from remote regions was available for our analysis.

Make sure your key employees can be reached outside of the "business hours" if needed — but use this option with care.

In times of confinement, continuous communication with your team is key, and non-verbal cues are extremely important. So emails are out and video interaction is in. Be sure to check in with your key people at least once a day.

Be aware that increasing the frequency of your team exchanges can make your business routines outdated; don't be afraid to adapt them accordingly. That weekly meeting with the heads of various business units might need to transform into daily check-ins over a morning coffee.

Finally, be receptive and attentive to others' inputs. While a clear and consistent message from the top is a must in the times of crisis, beware of continuous one-way "broadcasting": it is counterproductive.

4. Communicate (!!!)

Once you have put in place an efficient internal information flow system, it is time to tackle the external communications — and apply twice the effort you think you need.

Silence in crisis bears rumours and fear. Silence kills trust, reputation and hopes for a brighter outlook in no time. Silence creates space which, if not taken by you, will be taken by someone else. Take that space first.

Communicate earlier than you feel comfortable. Don't wait for more data to be available for you to present a "full picture". When uncertainty prevails, there won't be any "perfect" moment to communicate — however, all moments will be good enough. Once befriended, the uncertainty will give you numerous reasons to reach out to your stakeholders and demonstrate that you are in charge, in control — but most importantly, that you care.

Communicate more frequently than what you deem necessary — managers often tend to underestimate the positive effect of regular communication — and the negative effect produced by the lack thereof.

Take that space.

5. Forget the blame game

Take the charge and look ahead. Don't lose your time debating the root causes of the issues you need to solve; focus on the problem at hand.

There will be some mistakes on the way forward — correct them but move on without slowing down. Even crises that are externally triggered tend to uncover internal organizational flaws and operational weaknesses. Take action for a quick fix, take note for a closer look and corrective measures in the post-emergency future, but avoid blaming people, and even more so — for their past mistakes.

6. Put people first.

Never forget that people are the primary asset in business. In pretty much any business.

Keeping your workforce intact through the period of economic turbulence may become your strong competitive advantage in the post-crisis times. Keeping the talent incurs some costs, but acquiring competencies in the market once the economy picks up may cost you even more in terms of time. Bear in mind that massive layoffs may result in a significant cultural drain (although in some cases this may still be the right thing to do — after all, your business is only as good as your people).

When facing a difficult decision, put your people first — bring them at the table, make them part of the conversation. Seek creative solutions, explore how the existing resources and capabilities could be used in new, alternative ways that are more appropriate in the changed environment.

Focus on building value, not destroying it.

7. Identify and mitigate emerging risks.

While solving the issues requiring immediate attention and adjusting your operational mode to adapt to the disruptive changes, stay alert to new sources of risks.

Working from home has become mainstream overnight. The awareness of cyber security risks, data privacy and confidentiality concerns have not, however. Assess these risks early in the adoption phase; educating your workforce should be part of the mitigation plan.

With cyber security on top of everyone's mind, one should not discard the risks associated with company's physical assets as office premises and industrial facilities remain deserted for an undefined period of time.

8. Experiment and innovate.

Some of your mental energy will inevitably be spent on fixing things "here and now". However, your true focus should already be way ahead, in the post-crisis times.

The extreme limitations imposed on our personal and business lives by the Covid-19 pandemic represent, in fact, a groundbreaking liberation of some rather outdated processes and routines.

Moreover, these limitations turn into discoveries.

Suddenly, a yoga studio that could only fit 12 people in any given class, is now streaming yoga sessions to over 50 participants at a time; that's a 300% growth in revenues!

Suddenly, a professional event switched to the webcast mode delivers better learning experience at a fraction of the original cost.

Suddenly, not being able to take 4 flights in a given week to attend board meetings abroad adds up 2 full days to the week's capacity, boosting both productivity and well-being. Video conference worked just fine.

Suddenly, the planet can breathe again as the heavy polluters have been forced to press the "pause" button.

What is next? What will (or should) the "new normal" be like? And what is the role you and your company are going to play in shaping the world of tomorrow?

This is really the question you should be asking yourself today. Where nothing works as usual anymore, there is no excuse not to experiment. Let your survival instinct push you into testing new ideas and forms. Be playful, open to new ideas and don't be afraid of even fundamentally changing your business model. Maybe, it's just about time.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Many of the emergency measures and solutions are here to stay beyond the confinement period. One of the obvious winners is digital; how is your sector going to be impacted by the accelerated pace of digital transformation? How well are you responding to the digital challenges of today? How well are you prepared for the digital tomorrow?

Recognize that the fundamental disruption we are going through creates unique opportunities to re-define who we are, re-invent our business models and create new value propositions for the post-crisis world.

Rigid thinking is dead, long live innovation.

9. Seek advice from professionals.

Crisis is no time for egos.

If you are lucky enough to have on your advisory board someone with relevant crisis management experience, reach out to discuss and cross-check your action plan.

If that is not the case, do not hesitate to bring in an external advisor as a sounding board or a source of fresh ideas. A broader cross-sectorial perspective coupled with crisis leadership skillset may uncover hidden flaws of your original plan and bring original solutions to the problems at hand.

10. Be safe and lead by example.

Keeping your mind cool and your heart warm is your best personal strategy to navigate through a crisis.

Working out your body, practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, re-connecting with family and friends, whether they are in the same room or miles apart — all this is essential for keeping your sanity and successfully leading the others through the storm.

As they say, "put your oxygen mask on first before helping others". And hopefully we will hear this phrase again — some time soon.

© Eryn Zander 2021. All rights reserved.