Covid-19: 10 steps to managing uncertainty

At Amrop, we believe that every problem contains a hidden opportunity. In times of difficulty, the way you treat your employees, clients, investors, business partners and suppliers is critical. It will be reflected in their loyalty and the quality of your relationships after the situation has passed. And this situation will, ultimately, pass.

Like you, we have been thinking about how to handle the current Covid-19 situation. We have created this document together with our in-house psychologist. While compiling it we drew on our own knowledge, experience and expertise, as well as best practice documents from open sources.

We share this material as a courtesy tool and we do hope that it is useful. The situation is evolving fast, so please don’t hesitate to let us know if you see additions or improvements.

In all cases, 3 basic principles:

  1. Limit personal contact
  2. Stay connected in other ways
  3. Do not panic and do not spread panic.

 

10 Steps in a Nutshell

  1. Draw your stakeholder map
  2. Make sure you have a well-functioning crisis management in place
  3. Protect your stakeholders
  4. Set and maintain home-office rules
  5. Make sure there is enough cash
  6. Stabilize your supply chain
  7. Be loyal to your clients. Stay on their side
  8. Give a name to the elephant in the room
  9. Be visible and be generous
  10. Think about the hidden learnings

 

Step 1 – Draw your stakeholder map

When thinking about your:

  • Employees
  • Clients
  • Investors
  • Business Partners
  • Government…

…consider the main issues and questions that they may be trying to solve. These may be the following:

  • Employees: is my job safe even if I fall ill? Is my workplace safe?
  • Clients: what if I can’t fulfil my obligations (paying my debts…)? What if I have to self-isolate?
  • Investors: what if our revenue drops?
  • Business partners: what if the number of purchase orders drops?
  • Government: will the business community support the steps we take?

 

Step 2 – Make sure you have a well-functioning crisis management in place

Business-as-usual is unlikely to be an option at the present time. If you have not already done so, and have the resources and infrastructure, set up a cross-functional Crisis Management Team.

The CEO is the ultimate head of the team, with an experienced senior manager reporting to the CEO as acting head. This Crisis Manager has a broad portfolio of competencies and a strong mandate. S/he is skilled in project and process management, an excellent communicator, fast thinker and brave decision-maker. He or she has a strong ability to positively influence key stakeholders, is an active and compassionate listener and has a hands-on approach.

The Crisis Management Team reporting to the Crisis Manager consists of top senior executives from every key function, for example: HR, Risk, Security, Financials, Marketing, Legal, Procurement, and key Business Lines. Digital will play an important role. Ideally the team will be supplemented by an external health advisor. The team members will consider their role in the Crisis Management Team as their top priority, and together design a scenario-based plan.

The crisis management can be channeled into several work-streams:

  • Employee-related: monitoring healthcare and ability to perform their roles
  • Financial: planning and development of a financial crisis plan
  • Supply chain: monitoring, dealing with suppliers
  • Investors: perspectives and communication (esp. in stock-listed companies)
  • Business lines: responses to changing and evolving demand
  • Communication to stakeholders.

These work-streams define specific goals for the next 48-72 hours. The goals and action plans are updated continuously as the situation evolves.

The Crisis Management Team meets daily or even several times per day, either in person or (more likely) via remote meeting software. Make sure you keep a good team spirit and stay connected.

 

Step 3 – Protect your stakeholders

Consider whether you have good answers to the questions your stakeholders may be concerned about (see Step 1). And having good answers does not mean pacifying. A good answer means being honest in intentions, words and actions.

This having been said, bear in mind that the answer “we do not know at this point. But we are taking every possible measure to minimize the negative impact,” is a good answer (as long as it is true).

Be creative and think about how you can support your stakeholder groups.

When avoiding personal contact, put in place communication tools that allow you and your staff to exchange with each other, with clients, business partners etc. via remote meeting software, ideally with video functionality.

Allow homeworking for your employees. Trust in your staff that they will work conscientiously, even though you don’t see them in the office.

 

Step 4 – Set and maintain home office rules

The problem of a home office is that it is neither a home, nor an office. So people may be stuck somewhere in between. To make it efficient, make sure that rules are set.

  • The home office employees are available on-line during working hours
  • The home office rules are known not only to the employer but also to the employee’s family
  • There are rules on when to return missed calls
  • There is a rule that at least once a week, the team meets virtually via remote meeting software – ideally with video functionality. Everyone can share their updates and experiences. No compromise about these time slots.
  • Employees are recommended to have a work place in their home which their families also respect.

 

Step 5 – Make sure there is enough cash

Consider where you can save money. Consider where you can negotiate about delaying some payments. Consider your financial buffer and reserves. Be creative. Maybe you will have to cut down the personnel budget. But maybe you do not have to send everyone to the labor market. Should local employment law permit, cutting salaries for a limited period by 10-20% for a limited period of time may be an effective option. As long as this is done in a way that is seen to be fair and equitable.

Step 6  – Stabilize your supply chain

Define the volumes and the probable duration of your supply chain exposure.

Set the priorities. What are your must-haves? If your usual suppliers are out of circulation, what are the alternatives? Plan how to manage the supply of products or services that may be hard to get in the coming months. How can you adapt your production?

 

Step 7 – Be loyal to your clients. Stay on their side

Your clients may fall into a situation where they will not be able to keep their commitments. Consider what you can offer to make their lives easier. Think of your key customer segments, imagine how it is to be in their shoes, and what they may need now from you. Look for alternative ways of providing services to your clients – on-line, for example.

 

Step 8 – Give a name to the elephant in the room

If topics that everyone is afraid to address pop up, simply give them a name.

Do not wait. One such topic may be: “what if we have deaths among our staff?” Decide what you will do and how you will communicate.

Think of the worst case scenarios and their likelihood. How did the financial crisis of 2008 affect your organization, and how did you handle it? What if any learnings could apply in this case?

 

Step 9 – Be visible and be generous

As an Executive Board, do not hide. Be visible, even if on-line only.

Be active in communications to your staff and all the other stakeholders. If you are successful company strongly linked to the local community, help with money, equipment, or even people.

Businesses are only as strong as the communities in which they operate.

 

Step 10 – Think about the hidden learnings

It has been said that every problem contains a hidden opportunity.

Consider the potential opportunities that the difficulties and uncertainty of Covid-19 could bring. You may be surprised by the business upside.

And even if this may be hard to determine, there may be some personal learnings.

 

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