Why you should start your COVID-19 business recovery plan now

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By Patrick Ow

Resumption planning has to commence at the earliest possible time so that your business will be ready to ‘restart’ and serve your customers when social restrictions are relaxed. It is not a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’.

Your ‘new’ normal may look different from the ‘old’ normal especially when there have been consumers’ shifting attitudes post-COVID-19 together with the continuation of innovations and improvements implemented during COVID-19 that you want to keep.

The four stages of pandemic response

A pandemic response can be represented in four stages.

Pandemic Stage 4 Stand-down and recovery stage

The objective of this last pandemic stage is to take the business to a recovered position that is equal to or nearly equal to the organisation’s pre-COVID-19 position.

Reinstate or resume your services, activities, and processes back to ‘normal’ in order of priority based on the following:

  • Availability of people and resources.
  • Changing customer preferences.
  • Continuation of new or innovative services, activities, and processes introduced or implemented during COVID-19.

The resumption and normalization of services, activities, and processes will need to be treated as a separate work program in its own right. Management commitment is required to implement the resumption plan with the appropriate resources dedicated to it.

Prioritization of services when responding to COVID-19

In prioritizing your services, activities, and processes based on your maximum tolerable outage (refer to my first article), you can categorize your pre-COVID-19 services, activities, and processes into four categories as shown below:

  • Category 1 — Essential services, activities, and processes that must continue. These services, activities, and processes will not be impacted in pandemic Stage 4 since they are already on-going.
  • Category 2 — High priority services, activities, and processes that should continue to be provided.
  • Category 3 — Services, activities, and processes that will continue until significant social distancing measures are activated and then could be postponed until further notice.
  • Category 4 — Services, activities, and processes that are proposed to be postponed now.

Stage 4 has two resumption activities.

Two resumption activities must be undertaken during pandemic Stage 4 and they are as follows:

  • Resumption of Category 2 critical services — These are strategies and plans to recover critical services, activities, and processes to an acceptable level.
  • Resumption of normal or business-as-usual services, activities, and processes in Categories 3 and 4 — These are strategies and plans to recover and resume your business and normalize your operations to pre-COVID-19 conditions, as much as possible, taking into account any changes to your customers’ preferences and continuation of new or innovative services, activities, and processes introduced or implemented during COVID-19.

Watch out for any permanent shifts in your customers’ habits!

According to Nielsen’s consumer research, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, consumers are indeed changing their shopping and customer behavior in ways that could shape or change future buying patterns, habits, and preferences.

Identify what has permanently changed or shifted for your customers and their preferences concerning the purchase of your services or products. Then meet them where they are when you are planning to resume your business.

Start your resumption planning early to take advantage of your customers’ changing needs while sustaining your post-COVID-19 income.

If you are operating a restaurant and your customers now prefer takeaways rather than dining in, then you may need to add more selection to your takeaway menu. Your kitchen may need to be rearranged and operational processes changed to cater to more take-aways than for dining in. You may also require less table service staff and more kitchen and counter staff to implement this new post-COVID-19 service delivery model.

Any change in customer preferences or habits may significantly impact your service delivery model, your bottom line, and your ability to deliver your services or provide your products to your customers.

If people are now baking more of their bread at home post-COVID-19 because they have learned new baking skills while in isolation and are now enjoying it, then the demand for commercial bakery items may be reduced.

When there is a change in consumer preferences, you may even decide to postpone or delay the resumption of certain pre-COVID-19 services or products if there is evidence of reduced customer demand.

Innovation in a time of crisis — don’t let it go to waste

Crises present us with unique conditions that allow innovators to think and move more freely to create rapid, impactful change.

COVID-19 has presented incredible opportunities for quick and agile learning and implementation. It has also present opportunities for learning and growth.

Innovators are jumping in to help — beermakers and distilleries have shifted production to hand sanitizers; 3D printers to create just-in-time valves to save lives; new drugs and medical devices; improved healthcare processes, manufacturing, and supply chain breakthroughs; novel collaboration techniques, etc.

Identify and keep those innovative services, activities, and processes introduced or implemented during COVID-19.

Resumption of Category 2 critical services

There will be two main activities when resuming Category 2 critical services.

Firstly, identify any additional or new services, activities, and processes that must be performed specifically for or during pandemic Stage 4. Take into account major shifts in your customers’ preferences and habits post-COVID-19 and new or innovative services, activities, and processes introduced or implemented during COVID-19.

These are known as ‘Stage 4 critical service’ and they could include:

  • Processing of backlogs accumulated during pandemic Stages 2 and 3. There may be critical accumulated backlog or postponed work that must now be completed during pandemic Stage 4. Identify those services, activities, and processes and include them in your COVID-19 resumption planning. For example, resume payments to key contractors.
  • Perform checks, reconciliations, and reviews to ensure that there are no compromised processes, controls and activities during pandemic Stages 1 to 3 that can lead to fraud, corruption and reputational damage to your organization. For example, payment reconciliation to your key suppliers who provided additional services or surge capacity during COVID-19.
  • Document any lessons learned and improvement opportunities. This is vital to retain corporate knowledge within the organization.
  • Improve and update key documents including business continuity and IT disaster recovery plans.
  • Address any specific external or regulatory reporting requirements. For example, regulators may have extended the reporting period.

Secondly, evaluate the staff numbers required to stand-up Category 2 critical services (and potentially all other services in Categories 3 and 4).

  • Identify the number of available staff excluding all seconded staff moved to other parts of the organization who have been supporting the delivery of Category 1 essential services during pandemic Stages 2 and 3 and the introduction of new pandemic Stage 4 critical services.
  • Determine the availability of these seconded staff over time as they are being released back into their pre-COVID-19 jobs or substantive positions.
  • Prioritize all services in Categories 2, 3 and 4 in the order that you want to stand them up based on the availability of resources and people and to meet your customers’ requirements, old and new.
  • Identify any additional short-term or temporary resources or business processes that are required especially for this pandemic stage to stand up and normalize services and operations.

Resumption of ‘normal’ services (Categories 3 and 4)

Your resumption activities for all other services could include the following:

  • Identify any non-critical accumulated backlog work that has to completed during pandemic Stage 4 and beyond.
  • Identify any additional short-term and temporary resources or business processes that will be required to stand up all other services, activities, and processes, and normalize operations.
  • Update all business continuity, pandemic, and IT disaster recovery plans, ready for the next pandemic. New strategies and approaches may be required based on your COVID-19 experience.
  • Update or develop new operational plans and procedures, if required.

Conduct a post-event evaluation of your organization’s response to COVID-19

Prepare an evaluation report for your management team and board. Include lessons learned and improvement recommendations. Develop a work-plan to implement all recommendations arising out of the post-event evaluation.

Questions that should be asked during your post-event evaluation include:

  • What were the strengths and weaknesses of the response to COVID-19? How could it be modified or improved?
  • What were the main difficulties in getting assistance?
  • How did the warning system work? What improvements are required?
  • What mistakes were made? What changes must be made to avoid these in the future?
  • Was your organization’s response done well?
  • Which supplies and resources were available and which were lacking? How could these shortfalls be remedied in the future?
  • What was the level and quality of coordination? What additional coordination is required? How could this coordination be improved in the future?

Problem-solving at the heart

What COVID-19 has shown is our human desire to help, to connect with other people, and be part of the solution when things get hard.

This crisis has presented many people with opportunities to solve problems, implement practical solutions, and to do our best to help. It has presented us with unique conditions that have allowed everyone to think and move more freely to create rapid, impactful change that will last a lifetime!

This crisis will also reveal not just vulnerabilities but opportunities to improve the performance of businesses. Opportunities to push the envelope of technology adoption will be accelerated by rapid learning about what it takes to drive productivity when labor is unavailable.

The result is a stronger sense of what makes your business more sustainable and resilient to external shocks, being more productive with fewer resources and being better able to deliver value in an ever-changing environment of changing customer preferences and business operations.

This post was written by Patrick Ow for Medium and republished here with permission. 

Patrick Ow is a Chartered Accountant with over 25 years of international risk management experience. He has experience in a diverse range of large multinational and small organizations and various industries including hospitality and public sector.

He is an author of several eBooks including When Strategy Execution Marries Risk Management — A Practical Guide to Manage Strategy-to-Execution Risk (available in Amazon).
In addition to his professional work, he has a personal mission for preparing individuals for the future of work. Check out his blog at https://allmoneymakingideas.com or contact him at patrickow@gmail.com.

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