Business Continuity Blog

With significant experience in business continuity management consulting, our consultants share their insight.

Business Survival during Covid-19

Posted by Mark Robinson on April 7, 2020

This article talks about our suggested approach of managing the business through pandemic day-to-day. It includes some observations that may help you.

This is our second continuity article about Covid-19. Our first, Pandemic Planning for Business has been viewed and shared by thousands of organisations, with several that we know of adopting some or all the guidance it proposed. Although the situation has developed far beyond what many expected, it’s worth noting that most points we raised have materialised in some form.

Something we’ve noticed is a significant spike in demand for our free business continuity plan templates and have seen many, many downloads from our website in recent weeks. We have debated this and agree, there is good justification for planning the way ahead and that the templates indeed focus appropriately on emergency response, crisis management and business recovery. So, yes, these disciplines are relevant in a pandemic, but the plans as a whole cannot be implemented for Covid-19 in the way they were designed. Specifically, most BCPs are written to deal with comparatively short sharp forms of disruption that affect only your organisation. It means that for dealing with Covid-19 there are some vital elements missing.

The virus’ unique characteristics and the resulting global reaction mean you could not have anticipated or meaningfully planned for its effect with any degree of certainty. This is due to the many external influences that compound to affect each organisation in different ways. It is a truly chaotic phenomenon that our best minds struggle to understand and contain. So, whilst some office-based companies have been able to adapt their denial of office BC plans to good effect, using conventional templates to plan for a pandemic won’t necessarily do what you want.

There may be a better, adaptive approach you can take to sustain your business during these testing times. Let’s start with an analogy to understand why it works:

  • Imagine you're stranded in uncharted territory and you want to get home. Your first inclination is to pick a direction and take each day as it comes, taking decisions based on instinct and what you see in front of you. However, take a wrong turn and you could be lost. In fact, you need to take short, mid and long-term sightings, crossing rivers and mountains with your options becoming clearer as you approach them. This applies for Covid-19 and you will need several levels of situation awareness to reach safety.
  • You need to keep an eye out for unrelated threats that could have a critical impact and compound your situation. A bad fall or snakebite in a weakened state with no help on hand could be terminal unless we have a first-aid kit and know how to use it. This implies you need to be conventionally resilient and have a familiar and tested continuity plan.
  • You cannot see the entire path ahead. With Covid-19, its characteristics remain unclear and you need to anticipate a range of exit conditions. You could be in lockdown for a month, 3 months or even a year and you need a plan for each outcome.
  • When you finally return, you may be faced with a new normal. Things will be different, dependent on the choices made by us all. Countries, organisations, communities, families and individuals’ positions and behaviours will have changed significantly. You must anticipate problems and be ready to turn them into opportunities.

Your decisions during the pandemic will influence the outcome for your organisation. Do nothing, and you are at the mercy of circumstances. Follow a one-time static plan or react on the strength of bad information, and you risk being wrong. However, if you review and update your plan continually, considering every relevant item of reliable information you can obtain, then you improve your chances of emerging unscathed.

Our six stage Daily approach

Our previous article explained how a layered approach allows you to focus on individual aspects of the pandemic threat. This article takes those ideas and maps them into a daily routine. It aims to provide senior leadership teams with a robust mechanism, evolving agenda, clear focus and task list they can act on with confidence.

Like the analogy, our approach relies on being repetitive, updating daily or at whatever frequency is appropriate, given the pace of situation change and looking ahead on several fronts. It has six components:

1. Identify scenarios or outcomes that concern you

This long view allows us to plan against worst-case perceived outcomes of Covid-19 for the business. Each scenario evolves continually and describes the possible endgames that could arise from the pandemic. These may be diverse, and in any area of the business, with some obvious such as loss of customer(s), staff or supplier(s), others less so such as system failure due to lack of essential maintenance due to exclusion. For each scenario write:

  • The list of assumptions you can make about the scenario
  • A summary of measures already in place to prevent this outcome
  • A strategic recovery plan describing the main response tactics and timings, should it arise
  • Review at least weekly, reflecting changes in assumptions, defences and plans

2. Quantify changes, situations and risks

Complete a daily short- and mid-range horizon scan, covering all in-scope risks you foresee, with assessment of exposure and relevant risk performance indicators, showing change and magnitude.

Refer to the table in our first article and re-assess the risks in each of the layers. Obtain and quantify or estimate the following information for each:

  • How widespread is the effect?
  • What will be most affected?
  • When will you be affected?
  • Which sites will be affected?
  • How will it affect us operationally?
  • What is the worst-case outcome?
  • How should you respond?
  • What could it cost you?
  • What are the chances of this risk materialising?

3. Assign tasks and activities to reduce risk exposure

You can do this by either improving resilience or recovery capability and can include familiar operational activities such as issuing masks and gels, and segregating workareas, but also business tactical and strategic changes such as switching production between factories.

  • For each risk you identify, define tasks/activities that reduce its likelihood, improve defences, and/or create plans, should it materialise.
  • If the task is already defined, don't duplicate it, else add a new one
  • Assign and manage task completion, reviewing daily or as required

4. Prioritise activities that reduce risk the most

Build a table that records the resulting many-to-many relationship between risks and tasks. A risk can sometimes be mitigated by a combination of measures, equally, a measure can mitigate multiple risks.

Map this relationship to identify which measures yield the greatest potential risk reduction and value, allowing common-sense prioritisation and KPI.

5. Prepare communications

Use a set of template messages as the basis for updating interested parties on a need-to-know basis of any significant changes in business status. Recipients should include potentially all stakeholders, and message formats include website notices, emails, SMS and so on. Evolve these to reflect updating circumstances.

6. Keep a log

Maintain a detailed log of all actions, decisions, material facts and relevant analysis. Date-time stamping each to provide a basis for future improvement, but also as a binding audit trail to support any future inquiry.

Why take this approach?

This collected data can be used to provide a clear daily-updating picture of current and forward emerging risks that reflect your organisation’s exact position. Based on this you can manage overall direction, make responsive well-informed decisions, and be prepared for each risk or change that can be reasonably foreseen. Nothing should come as a surprise and you should be well-placed to plan a safe route.

We believe this approach is better than attempting to re-engineer a static business continuity plan that wasn’t designed for this purpose.

  • It offers a repeatable mechanism that adapts continually to a long-running changeable situation
  • It encourages multiple degrees of look-ahead and response, reducing the chance of shocks and surprises
  • It takes account of the organisation's unique external environment and the continually-changing forces acting on it on a daily basis
  • It provides logs and accountability, protecting directors’ and officers’ interests

Our approach is offered here for use freely by any organisation, although we are happy to facilitate first iterations at one-off cost to pay for our time. It is also offered via the Inoni system, providing constant updating, quantified KPI, secure records, support and repeatable delivery online.

Tags: Business Continuity Management, Risk, Resilience, Insurance, Small Business, Pandemic