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Leadership Learnings from the COVID Crisis

S KrishnaPrakash

As organizations and CEOs scramble to address the Covid 19 pandemic and mitigate its immediate impact, there is not much clarity on when the situation is going to ease, leave alone a clear understanding of its long-term repercussions. Granted, it is extremely tough to anticipate an event of this magnitude. However, the crisis has also provided leaders an opportunity to be better prepared next time around (God forbid!) and take away a few learnings.


Over engineer contingency planning:

The single most important learning might be to understand the critical need for ‘over engineering ‘of contingency plans. While many organizations include ‘worst case’ scenarios, this crisis has taught us to plan for ‘Doomsday scenarios’ as well. Also, while several organizations have detailed Business Continuity Plans in place, these largely focus on operational matters. Financial plans, such as for instance to face zero / minimal revenues for a quarter (or more), tackling long term travel embargoes, possible insurance cover for employee salary cuts / separations to cover exceptional situations should all form a part of contingency planning.


Have a ‘Designated Survivor’:

The ‘Designated Survivor’ is a US plan to safeguard Presidential succession in the event of a mass casualty or unimaginable catastrophes. Organizations and especially family managed ones would do well to adopt this practice to ensure that there is a clearly designated leader of the executive team to take over the CEO’s role in the case of any mishap / incapacity to the CEO. The company should ensure that prior necessary regulatory / board approvals are in place to facilitate this transition, if needed.


Risk & Intelligence:

It is futile to point fingers at Governments for their so called ‘intelligence’ failures regarding the Covid crisis when even the largest and best run private organizations were caught unawares and even stumbled during the initial days while they figured out ways to combat the crisis. Organizational risk functions should be enabled to proactively gather and analyze geo-political data and events that are likely to have an impact on business (positive or negative) and in co-ordination with other functions develop plans to tackle and serve as the ‘first responders’ during emergencies.


SHE just took a whole new meaning:

Organizations can no longer pride themselves on just being ‘accident free’ or ‘adverse events free’ which are likely to be considered a given in the years ahead. Instead, stakeholders and the public will hold responsible and judge organizations by their ability and alacrity in responding to ‘never before’ and ‘once in a lifetime’ situations and disasters. The SHE function must not be viewed in isolation but should be a multi-functional task force constantly simulating disasters of varying scales and readying organizational plans to address such situations.


Community engagement & sustainability:

While most organizations are adept at engaging with immediate communities during BAU, their response during times of crisis needs to be nimbler and better honed. Organizations need to have more flexible manufacturing /service lines to address community needs, manage, modify and cope with supply chain disruptions and devise frugal solutions to shortfalls. Constant, transparent communication with customers and other stakeholders is key. Sustainability programs designed for the future could spell the difference between survival and extinction!