The latest projections show that the peak of the coronavirus we now know as Covid-19 is still weeks away for most countries. And that most citizens of the world will be in some form or lockdown into summer – for this wave. It is now crystal clear that this is not a blip. It is also becoming clear that we are not going back to “normal” and business leaders need to be asking hard questions now.
We are not going back to the normal that we knew just a month ago before Covid-19 landed in most parts of the western world. Leaders in the public and private sector who are counting on things going back to the way they were are doing their organizations and staff a massive disservice.
The world and your organization will emerge from this different. We will get back to normal; however, it will be a new normal. We are experiencing tragic human consequences unprecedented in generations. We are also seeing people and nations adapting, innovating and learning new at an equally unprecedented level. Some of this is going to stick.
Today we are suddenly focused on the immediate. Like other leaders you are probably working a new dynamic 30-90 day priority list focused on worker safety and business continuity. The carefully-constructed business plan we so carefully built with our teams and were following seem like a distant February memory.
It is time to find time to lift our perspective further ahead. What does the new normal look like for your organization, staff and customers? While we can’t know for sure it is time to start working through the scenarios. You and your board need to be the ones looking the farthest out to allow your team to focus on the urgency of here and now.
So here are the top 10 questions we should be asking to start work on the new normal for our organizations:
- How can our team be kept healthy? This is probably a question you’ve spent a lot of time on in recent weeks. You’ve likely taken lots of steps for a model with as few people on site as possible. Now consider in the not-to-distant future when mobility restrictions are relaxed and you have staff, partners and customers in and out of your facilities. Or when you have to manage a mix on people on the same site who have survived Covid-19 with those who have not – and maybe even some who are actively sick since they are the only ones who can cover specific tasks or those last shifts.
- What is the impact of sustained social distancing? Expect that the distancing requirements most of us are under get relaxed over time. Whether social distancing is mandated by government or not there will surely be a lingering effect on how we live and work. Think about stepping into a crowded elevator, gym or bar. Consider going to a conference with thousands of your closest friends. Reassess whether you need to put as many people on planes again when virtual business meetings with people across the continent seem to work pretty well.
- What new rules and regulations will we need to work within? The definition of essential workers now includes grocery clerks. The environment is cleaning itself up with surprising speed. Bicycle sales are through the roof and people are walking more than ever. Health and safety guidelines are being rewritten on a daily basis. Some of this will be lasting regulatory change.
- What will we be selling and delivering in a year’s time? The markets that have made your business successful up to know may not be what makes for success in the new normal. Sadly, you may have customers big and small who don’t survive this. How do offerings from everything from airlines to your local restaurant change? There may also be an opportunity to fulfill needs that didn’t even exist just weeks ago. The pivot of distilleries making hand sanitizer and manufacturer making ventilators are prominent in the news today. Your market changes may not be so obvious. It may also be the same products delivered differently, as we are seeing in online shopping for grocery.
- How will this impact our supply chains? The world has built a highly efficient and highly intertwined global supply chain. National fights over PPE are just the start of this being taken apart. Borders are thickening, nationalism is spreading, and buy local is going from being a quaint feel-good notion to being a matter of national and corporate security.
- How long will it take to reach the new normal? Don’t we all wish we knew… Lots of opinions out there on V, U, or L shaped. Regardless, create models based on different timelines. Do some sensitivity analysis and understand the key drivers and assumptions that have the biggest impact. Update based on new information.
- How can we create more runway? “Cash is king” and “runway” are terms that have jumped from being a startup thing to being top of mind with both corporations and governments. Companies are reacting quickly with expense management, taking advantage of new government programs, getting additional financing, and pursing new revenue streams. Governments have other tools. Like a kitchen renovation it will probably take more cash than you expect.
- Will we keep going with WFH in the future? WFH is like PPE in that it is an acronym that most of us didn’t know a month ago and it is now in common language. Much of the world is working from home. Turns out the technology tools are pretty good and teams are surprisingly productive. A kid interrupting a zoom meeting to asking for more milk has gone from an embarrassment to everyday occurrence. Working from home is going to sustain, and we need to figure out how to strength processes and tools to enable it. Maybe it is also time to consider if we really need all that office space.
- What are the privacy implications? Many of the above questions will have implications for the privacy of our staff and customers. For example, it is concerning how much we may need to know about a staff member’s health and history in order to ensure the safety of the workplace for them and their colleagues and our customers. National privacy laws have grown stronger in recent years and this situation will necessitate taking generous interpretations to manage thought it. There will be a difficult reconciliation coming around privacy issues.
- How quickly can we get to scenario-based strategic planning? That forgotten business plan probably is based on a reasonable case forecast supported by a worst-case and best case that didn’t get much attention once the plan was complete. And to keep the board happy you have identified and are tracking key risks and mitigations. Bet your plan didn’t include worldwide shutdown due to global pandemic. Time to embrace scenario-based strategic planning in a big way. Brainstorm an exhaustive list of scenarios including ones that seem unimaginable. Work through them from most probable downward to create a first view of each on various dimensions. Look cross the scenarios for common threads, key assumptions to be tested, and external indicators that favor that scenarios over others.
These are not easy questions and there are no certain answers. It is a matter of good governance and good leadership to have the best answers based on available information.
Here at Rimot we are asking all of these questions, and working and acting on the best (admittedly imperfect) answers we can come up with. It’s a crazy time to be in the business of remote monitoring for business and government when the entire world is focused on being remote. What we do has never been more important. I’m proud of our team, and it’s a challenge to make the time to look ahead so they can stay focused on delivering today.
Ultimately Covid-19 will leave a legacy of tragedy and change – and will define a generation. Some of this change will be permanent. Change that will better prepare us for any similar events in future. Change that will span both negative and positive professionally and personally.
It’s a leadership moment for each us to be ahead of the change for our organizations and stakeholders.
Together we’ll get through this.