By Sherry Robinson – President & CEO, ACTN Strategies LLC  

With no warning, COVID-19 brought many businesses to a rapid halt. While unfortunate, now is not the time to sit back and wait for others to decide how your organization will return to normal.  

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has forced organizations to seriously evaluate the role of leadership in a time of crisisThe continually evolving nature of the current situation has illuminated the need for management to have a plan in place for any conceivable scenario. As a leader, the best way for you to prepare an organization is to develop a plan that is unique to your organization.  

A key component for long term success and preventing operations from ceasing to exist, is having an emergency or pandemic plan in place to provide a safe and healthy work. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), capabilities, resource and Instructure Strategic Planning for continuing operations (albeit virtual or onsite) and processes while environment for staff is also a critical success factor.  

Identifying New and Emerging Objectives

When things go sideways, it is important to quickly adapt by identifying new and emerging objectives. Leadership must be nimble and flexible when situations arise; constantly thinking several steps ahead. For example, a critical objective many businesses struggled with at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was the ability to coordinate the resources and logistics needed to sustain business operationsLeaders are now facing another emerging objective: determining what resources, demand/capacity analytics and infrastructures requirfor operations and what approach is need to return to the “new” normal. For example, refer below to the phased approach a leader may choose to restore his organization to regular operations:   

Phase 1 – Leadership and Essential staff and services on-site practicing social distancing;  

Phase 2 – X% Staff practicing on-site social distancing/% Staff teleworking; and/or  

Phase 3 – Normal Operations 

While it is impossible to foresee every need or know how to respond to every situationhaving a defined Emergency Management Program prior to an incident or pandemic can give organizations a significant advantage when faced with these challenges. For example, it is important to have supply chain contacts in place to accelerate the acquisition of critical goods, supplies, and servicesIt is also important to have defined alternative methods of procurement.  

The point is every organization’s operating environment, is unique. Similarly, preparedness plans must be unique and formulated to accommodate each individual organization.  

Identifying the Chain of Command

Having a clearly defined chain of command is also crucial to the continuity of operations during times of distress and uncertainty (such as an emergency or pandemic)At the very least, it means everyone knows who to report to when they need basic questions answered. However, it is much more important than thatIt is also how leaders can ensure everyone on their team is aware of the fluidly changing situation, the next steps they should take (or not take), and how the company can move forward safely and successfully.  

Stability is the heart of every organization. Without it, no matter how high performing the organization may be, ican quickly unravel at the seams. A leader that performs well under pressure, strategizesthinks critically, and communicates effectively, will thrive during a crisis. Selecting individuals with these characteristics for your Crisis Management Taskforce or Team are essential for leading through critical situations. 

Plan for the “New Normal” in the Workforce

Another important part of the planning process is to define the “New Normal” work environment.  Taking into consideration how employee feel may when work does resume. Have you ever come back from vacation and felt a bit out of place, like you weren’t sure what you should be doing or where exactly to start? This can become a morale issue for employees who have been working remotely or furloughed due the pandemic.  

What assurances do employees have that their safety and wellbeing has been a consideration during the decisionmaking process for returning the staff to work? By maintaining frequent communications during abnormal operations can promote a feeling of normalcy or being reconnected. This could be something as simple as weekly check-ins or frequent team huddles at the beginning of each shift, to make sure everyone is aware of leadership’s vision for the future, what it means to the employees and the next steps they will take together. 

It is important to recognize the comradery and community support currently being displayed during the COVID-19 pandemicA concerted effort by all of us to stay informed, use available industry resources and implement a plan will help everyone survive this crisis and see better outcomes next time. Remember, you have the power to prepare for any situationStrategic Leaders who plan ahead by having a viable, actionable Emergency Program in place to respond to emergencies, pandemics or disasters will instill confidence and trust in his/her staff to successfully navigate any future crisis.