Tag Archives: crisis management

‘Better ways of working driven by COVID-19’ by SMF Perses Sethna  

Sainsbury Management Fellow, Perses Sethna- Director of Business Change Services at PRT Partners: Perses is a Chartered Engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering & Technology, SMF and INSEAD MBA. He has held change leadership positions throughout his career at BT plc, Dixons Carphone Group and most recently his own business change consultancy PRT Partners Ltd.

He believes that mindful application of technology is the route to human progress, and that this requires above all the right conversations to be created between people across diverse business and technology functions in organisations.

In this article he reflects on the opportunity to accelerate the pace of such conversations, in response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many years, we have heard that digital technologies can enable people to work and live in far more flexible and efficient ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the pace of this realisation, crashing through traditional barriers to change in the working environment.

Many people have been unable to work together in the same physical location, and miss the deeper level of social interaction. However, they are also appreciating the many benefits that new ways of working from home, enabled by digital technology, can bring.

Few people are missing the time and energy expended in commuting and travel to meetings just because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’.

Huge benefits have been seen all over the world in pollution reduction and improvements to our environment in a relatively short time. This shows the enormous long-term benefits that are possible, if we prepare for life and work beyond lockdown in a mindful and flexible way.

Simply returning to exactly ‘the way things were’ is not going to be an option.

In his well-regarded article “The Hammer and the Dance” (note 1) consultant and author Tomas Pueyo advocated a response to COVID-19 that authorities around the world have since taken. The first phase is aggressive action including population lockdowns (the Hammer); the second is a much longer period of vigilance including selective action to target local spikes of infection (the Dance).

A key feature of this approach is that during the second phase, responsibility for decision-making and action will increasingly pass from Governments to organisations and individuals.

So, are we ready for ‘the dance’?
Being ready for a long period of selective action means that organisations will, above all, require flexibility to adapt their ways of working quickly and often as circumstances change. For example, organisations re-opening their offices to employees may need to switch back to only online working in specific locations during local outbreaks of infection.

In most cases, the technology has been readily available for some time to enable such flexible ways of working, at least for office-based people in organisations. But we have often simply chosen not to use it. Why? Organisations have a unique opportunity to ask themselves this and other key questions brought to the surface by the pandemic. By considering these questions, they can design more effective ways of working, tailored to their own specific needs and culture, for years to come.

Flexible working

  • Why do we insist on seeing our staff in the office all day every day? Are we set up to manage performance as measured by outputs and results, rather than simply monitoring time spent in the office?
  •  Would our office-based people be more or less productive if allowed to structure their own time to work in the office, at home or elsewhere? Would this improve work-life balance? How could we avoid negative impacts such as reduced downtime for employees?
  • New disciplines will evolve with flexible working, such as more regular but shorter progress calls, shared dashboards of progress against team goals, automated task tracking against agreed deadlines and so on. How can we build these potentially threatening routines in a collaborative and trusted way, to increase the motivation and effectiveness of our teams?
  • How can our people in business functions be fully involved in the design of processes and technology to achieve the benefits of flexible working and other ‘digital transformations’?

Collaboration

  • How can we extend flexible working technology to break down boundaries between tribes and silos, and to create multidisciplinary teams across locations?
  • How can cross-functional workshops be mobilised online to work through inter-departmental problems, to implement the fixes using joint action plans?
  • How can we use more digital ways of working to reduce departmental politics?

The office and the environment

  • How can our offices be re-purposed to become the Hubs of the new flexible way of working?
  • How can most of our office space be turned over to socially-distanced collaboration (formal or informal meeting areas) rather than individual desks- since individual work can be done as effectively at home?
  • How much of our office space can be released? What would be the savings in property and travel costs?
  • How can we maximise changes that benefit the environment, such as reduced commuting?

Flexible resourcing

  • How can we optimise our blend of permanent and specialist temporary resources, so that we maximise our flexibility to respond to changing requirements?
  • How can we bring in temporary skills for short, specific pieces of work, with payment against agreed outcomes rather than day rates? How can we ensure that this approach complies with IR35 legislation?
  • How can we work with our Consulting partners to update the ‘land and expand’ business model into higher value, short-duration interventions focused on increasing the capability of our own organisation?
  • How can we use temporary expertise to help our employees create new ways of working that are tailored to the unique needs and culture of our own organisation?

Before the COVID-19 crisis, businesses globally were set to spend $7.1 Trillion over the next four years on the use of digital technology to improve their operations (note 2). Many such transformations have failed in the past (note 3), and the new environment will make success even more challenging.

Therefore, it is especially important that these questions are discussed by leadership teams to prepare for the ‘new normal’, fully engaging their people and their technology, business change and resourcing partners.

Coming soon: Look out for video interviews with the people creating better ways of working for the new normal.  These will be posted on the video page on this website from July 2020.  

Notes & sources

  1. Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance. What the Next 18 Months Can Look Like, if Leaders Buy Us Time. Tomas Pueyo https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-the-hammer-and-the-dance-be9337092b56
  2. IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Digital Transformation 2020 Predictions https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US45569118
  3. Unlocking success in digital transformations. McKinsey&Company https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/unlocking-success-in-digital-transformations

Is it Possible to Repair Reputational Damage?

According to Aon’s 2017 Global Risk Assessment Survey, reputational damage features in the top five risks for almost every industry.  Product recalls unethical behaviour, supply chain failures, business interruption and cybercrime are all precursors to reputational damage.  It warrants heightened vigilance from businesses, especially since reputational damage can subsequently lead to legal challenges, increased competition and even share price fluctuation.

It is clear that businesses should take this risk extremely seriously, and incorporate it into business risk analysis. If reputational damage has already occurred, the question is not about prevention, but about repair and the response to the issue/crisis will influence how the company is perceived, its reputation and long-term survival.

McDonald’s Response to Supersize Me
In 2004, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock released his now famous documentary about McDonald’s, Supersize Me.  It followed Spurlock as he attempted to spend a month eating nothing but McDonald’s food, with emphasis drawn to the ‘supersize’ option offered to customers at the time. The film became very popular and McDonald’s suffered reputational damage as a result, particularly due to the health problems endured by Spurlock as a result of his experiment.

The fast-food chain responded in a variety of ways, its strategy often depending on the country in which it was deployed.  In several countries, McDonald’s paid for advertising time in the trailers shown before Supersize Me at cinemas.  As a Campaign article noted in 2004:

“The calm, rationed approach contrasts strongly with McDonald’s response to the movie in the US.  While the UK advert describes the film as “slick” and “well-made”, McDonald’s in the US called it “a gross-out movie” and responded with an aggressive PR campaign.”

Although McDonald’s tried to respond to the film, ultimately it helped to push the fast food industry in a healthier direction. The ‘supersize’ option was phased out, even as spokespeople insisted the film and connected health concerns played no part in the decision.  It made little difference. The damage to the reputation of McDonald’s and the wider fast-food industry invited a wave of competitors to join the fray.  Even as recently as 2015, the chain was arguably still suffering as a result.

Uber Loses CEO
The ride-sharing app has come under increased scrutiny in recent months, with several aspects of its business suffering reputational damage.  From sexual harassment scandals and the revelations of a toxic workplace culture to public concerns about unethical business practices and exploitation, we have seen Uber’s brand tainted.  And, like McDonald’s, the reputational damage has opened the door to competitors to take market share. In this particular instance, rival business Lyft has raised half a billion dollars to capitalise on Uber’s pain.

Uber responded by opening an anonymous tip line for employees, as well as holding ‘listening sessions’ with its workforce.  However, such is the scale of the issues facing the company that CEO Travis Kalanick had no choice but to resign.  Unlike the previous combative nature of Uber to negative press, the new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had these words for employees:

“While the impulse may be to say that this is unfair, one of the lessons I’ve learned over time is that change comes from self-reflection.  So it’s worth examining how we got here. The truth is there is a high cost to a bad reputation.”

It remains to be seen whether an ‘attitude reset’ will actually be able to turn around serious reputational damage, considering the number of issues currently facing the company.

The Knock on Effects
As we’ve seen from these two cases, the knock-on effect of reputational damage can be painful in the short-term.  However, it is the long-term effects that can make recovery and repair much more difficult.  Reputational damage makes the job of positive PR an uphill battle, and once public trust is lost, it can be elusive to regain.

We can’t always predict where the next crisis will come from. However, with a strong ethical direction that maintains the balance between shareholders, staff and customers, it makes it easier to survive reputational damage intact.  If the wider public has faith in your business, they will be more inclined to forgive a mistake – so long as the resolutions to the crisis situation is sincere and robust.

Leading in a Crisis Part 2: Taking Action – David Falzani, SMF President

Image for Crisis Blog part 2 iStock_000023007074_Medium

If a crisis hits your company, clear thinking and decisive leadership is essential take your team through the ensuing storm.

As you’ll have read in our previous blog post on this topic, preparation is vital to ensuring that your organisation can deal with a crisis effectively. With a thorough risk assessment and management strategy in place, you’ll already have a good idea of how a crisis would impact your operations, and a plan deal with the issues. So, when that crisis hits, what’s next?

Face the music
When crisis hits, your first instinct might be to cover your own back. Self-preservation is a natural reaction in circumstances like these, but unfortunately, that’s not going to get you nor your organisation out of the woods. Before anything else, you may need to swallow some hard truths.

These might include your own role in the crisis – if you’re leading your company, then you no doubt exert a large influence on how the crisis affects your organisation and any solutions to it. You should consider yourself as one of the first figures who needs to make sacrifices if any tough choices need to be made.

After that, it’s important to develop a consensus on the causes of the crisis. This is vital, as no long-term solutions can really be implemented unless you know what the underlying problems really are.

Transparency is vital here. Quick fixes and concealment are not a way out, and will only exacerbate the crisis and make things worse.

All hands on deck
As we previously discussed, any risk management strategies should be communicated transparently and openly with your organisation’s stakeholders; and ultimately to the public as the media will inevitably report on the crisis.

Crisis can create a lot of uncertainty and fear among stakeholders, but particularly employees who will be worrying about their job security. If you didn’t involve them in risk management before the crisis hit, as is the ideal, now is the time to do exactly that.

First of all, your employees need certain reassurances. If redundancies have been deemed necessary because of the situation (for example, if an economic crisis requires cost-saving measures to be made), then this needs to be a part of your crisis consultations with the
other members of your organisation. The potential impacts of any planned changes must be outlined in full – in particular, if redundancies will be necessary or if there is any possibilities for employee redeployment.

As a crisis will affect your whole organisation, it is vital that you involve the whole organisation in the dialogue aimed at resolving it. Consultations should take place with employees and, if present, unions. Giving employees clarity and reassurances about the
situation will make your organisation more likely to weather the storm. There’s been more than one company that’s hit a survivable crisis but found it lost a key portion of its top talent, perhaps those who find it easiest to get a new job, through a lack of clear consultation.

Furthermore, as crises often call for new, creative ways of thinking and problem-solving, a
company-wide dialogue could potentially produce new solutions and answers at an uncertain time. These cannot be implemented without the help of staff.

Fight your way out
Think of a crisis not just as a disaster, but an opportunity for change. A crisis might actually empower you to make important changes to the company – changes that may have stalled in the past, but can now be implemented in the name of crisis management.

Indeed, many companies saw the 2008 financial crash as a business opportunity. Take Dan Simon’s piece in Forbes, How to turn a financial crisis into a business opportunity: “During this turbulent period we managed to grow the company into a major player in financial PR and open successful offices in New York, Los Angeles, Singapore and Sydney.”

Calmer Waters
Keeping a level head and turning the tables to your advantage can help the organisation emerge from the crisis not only intact, but more successful and efficient than before.

Click to read part 1 of Leading in a Crisis.

 

Leading in a Crisis Part 1: Preparation – David Falzani, SMF President

Kayak
When crisis strikes your organisation, who are you going to call? A consultant? The bank? Your legal team?

Unfortunately, there are few easy fixes to a business crisis. Crisis can strike at any time and in any form, and some can end up being so severe that your company may have to cease operations entirely. There is no magic wand to wave, and while crack teams of experts who will solve all of your problems are the stuff of dreams, it is ultimately you who must lead the company’s ship through the storm. So what is a crisis? And how do we best prepare an organisation for such an emergency?

The problem of risk
Risk management seems to dominate the day-to-day operations of our institutions and workplaces more than ever before. The very phrase can send even the most hardened manager into cold sweats, conjuring up memories of hours of paperwork to protect the company or premises against anything from fire to burglary.

However, this simplistic understanding of risk can obscure some of the most important lessons of security culture and the problem of risk. Successfully preparing for a crisis and managing its subsequent fallout ultimately requires a shift in organisational culture – one which seeks to manage and limit insecurity. This further requires a parallel shift in how we conceptualise risk.

Risk does not just refer to specific areas of potential crisis, such as property damage. It refers to a whole range of potentialities that could negatively – and significantly – impact your operations. Cisco offer a useful definition of risk as “Risk = Value x Threat x Vulnerability”.

Preparing for disaster
Of course, we can never be fully prepared for risk – its very nature implies it is always a possibility. Whether a crisis is caused by external factors, such as a major environmental disaster, arson or an information breach, or something internal, such as rogue bookkeeping or sabotage, it can be so unpredictable that preparation and security thinking should be of the utmost priority. While risk or insecurity can never be eradicated, they can certainly be managed.

Start by developing a clear process and strategy for gathering information about every one of the business’ operations. There are innumerable sources of risk within any company, and unfortunately, board members are often blind to these until it is too late. Line managers will be aware of many of the potential risks associated with their department, but they might also not have the same perspective as the employees they’re managing. The same goes for external experts who are able to assess your risk planning objectively and bring a fresh perspective to your situation.

It’s therefore worth entering into a dialogue with all stakeholders and at every level of the organisation. This can be achieved through stakeholder mapping, which involves:

  • Identifying and categorising your different stakeholder groups, from your employees to your customers
  • Research, identifying and defining the specific issues each group may face, and how much influence your company has over them
  • Defining an ideal outcome of a crisis, how to manage its fallout, and how to mobilise each stakeholder toward solving the problem

This will not only give you diverse information about potential areas of insecurity (allowing you to plan for crisis scenarios), but it is also the first step in establishing a permanent culture of security throughout the company hierarchy. Any so-called ‘security team’ should ideally be drawn from this diverse knowledge base.

Keeping this flow of information regular and comprehensive is vital in keeping your executives and managers informed and involved. In other words, every member of your company should be constantly aware of the risks around them. With the right protocol and procedure in place, developed according to rigorous risk assessments, you are already well on your way to being prepared for a crisis.

Simply put, open and transparent communication with stakeholders is a must. It is vital to remember that any crisis you have is going to affect not just your internal operations, but everyone around you as well. Therefore any considerations of risk should not just extend to your internal organisational culture – how it will impact you – but also the impact it is going to have on your company’s image and, most importantly, your consumer base.

Click to read part 2 of Leading in a Crisis.