Updated: Mar 30, 2020
So 'shit' really does happen!
The current global Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of national and international business in its broadest context. The aftermath may well include various navel gazing activities such as academic challenge of traditional risk models and methodologies. Perhaps there will be less tendency to summarily dismiss some of the catastrophic events in the future but history shows we have short memories and are slow to learn. When the consequence of an event is high or extreme, and even where the probability of it happening is tiny, Covid-19 is proof that it can still happen. This crisis still has some months (maybe years) to run and the strategic consequences are not yet recognised.
Globalisation has made our world more complex and even more vulnerable to the rapid spread of disease. (A computer virus would have travelled even faster!) International trade, technology, systems inter connectivity, speed and volume of travel are examples of some of the factors that reduce the time available to identify and contain issues before loss of control. This is compounded by cultural or political delays to the timely release of information to and recognition of the international community.
Covid-19 has shown how poorly prepared the world is to manage global issues such as pandemic. Perhaps tracing and reverse modelling may ultimately provide an indication of the virus's origin, when and how it was ultimately detected and methodologies used to inform the international community (World Health Organisation). The bottom line is that the international leadership (including G8) was woeful, perhaps underpinned by disbelief, but characterised by inconsistent mixed messages. Moving forward we must learn from, but not dwell on what happened. We could be prepared next time, are you willing to make the investment?
The lack of coordination and mutual support across the European Union and rapid reversion to the implementation of national borders and response strategies is perhaps a clear indication that the EU Commission in Brussels is simply not equipped in any way to deal with a rapidly evolving crisis of this scale. Response strategies and the timing of their implementation has been hampered by cultural barriers. For example in China, a nation used to being told what to do, a full lock down was ordered relatively quickly whereas in countries like Italy and the UK a more considered approach was required. It is likely that history will show this was the right approach in the circumstances but that it also caused more deaths than prompt (more 'draconian') action.
Any crisis is a true test of a business's core values. The consequences of a pandemic perhaps present the most complex interrelated issues that test even the most basic assumptions of normality. Even companies you might expect to be well prepared (Fortune 500) may have planned as far as they can but few will have been able to plan for a global pandemic of this scale as the response strategy and behaviour of international governments and markets was 'unknown'.
Important! The court of public opinion and social media will ultimately hold organisations accountable for their conduct, treatment of staff, contractors, families, suppliers and customers. For example in the hotel industry, those that summarily closed, terminated staff and evicted them from staff accommodation, have lost the moral right to remain. Conversely those that have and are going above and beyond to provide support to those working for them and are valued by their communities (real and virtual) are most likely to thrive and are very worthy of ongoing support and future investment. If you are a Board Member and your business has made poor decisions so far, maybe its not too late to turn it around but don't wait too long because to be blunt, 'shit sticks'.
Whilst business should of course be focussed on getting to the 'finish line' and supporting their stakeholders through the crisis, planning needs to start now on defining the new normal and business restoration / resumption. The world will not be the same and new opportunities (and threats) will emerge. For example only, for those that have made it work, there might be a cost savings in encouraging more home working with performance assessed on clear deliverables. Decentralisation strategies may reduce costs and improve resilience. Of course this has to be balanced with the disadvantages, these have been previously well documented so I won't dwell on them here, not least remembering of course that not everybody is suited to remote working.
Now is the time to set aside international disputes, grudges and office politics. We should be working together and unite under a common goal against an invisible adversary that does not respect border, rank or race. Businesses (and countries) should work together, demonstrate compassion, caring and a willingness to offer support and yes, even with competitors. We need to get creative, to recommence manufacturing and supply of critical goods and services whilst keeping staff safe. Any small investment made in Crisis Management and business resilience should now be paying dividends and these organisations should be working hard.
Wildlife and associated ecosystems
Now is not really the time to be planning an extended overland trip to support wildlife and associated ecosystems in Africa but lets not forget the wildlife nor the rural communities in the developing world. It has been suggested that the international wildlife trade might be the origin of Covid-19 in China. Its time to stop this nonsense now. Our planet provides an irreplaceable, complex home for mankind. We must cherish it; learn to live in harmony with wildlife, get a grip but be realistic on climate change and ensure we behave truly sustainably.
and finally ................... Many lives are yet to be lost and some dreadful decisions will have to be made by those fighting the Covid-19 battle. These front line warriors merit our deepest respect and support.
Enough rambling. If you want assistance, just shout. My hip is mending fast; its time to get back to work.