In a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak, and especially during Phase 1 – Rapid Response, the speed and criticality of developments and decisions to be made require a temporary change in governance. Most companies have established some sort of;
- Crisis management team
- War room
In times of crisis, not only activities and operations are different from business-as-usual, also the way we manage our organisation and teams, as well as the way we take decisions and execute them will change.
This is one of the 3 main sections from the "Ultimate Guide for Phase 1 - Rapid Response to Mitigate the Immediate Impact of Covid"
Regarding Build Taskforces:
Risks to address
- Slow decision-making processes and actions
- Lack of coherence and alignment
- Illusion of control
- Lack of ownership in the organisation
- Staying too long in a short-term firefighting mode
- Agile and adaptive decision making
- Coherent and aligned interventions
- Everyone has ownership and is involved
- Get prepared for the mid-term
- Cross functional
- Decision making
- Clear plan
- Daily meetings
Particularly larger companies, covering a larger geographical area, have established a cascade of taskforces or crisis teams. Their tasks are to;
- Decide on immediate measures and interventions to mitigate the impact of the crisis
- Ensure full alignment and coherence
- Monitor execution, changes and issues and a fluid and adequate flow of critical information across the organisation
These taskforces are organised as follows;
- A cross functional taskforce on headquarters level
- Regional cross functional taskforces covering the same topics, but on a regional level
- Maybe even a local or national cross functional taskforce
- More functional and international taskforces taking care of a specific function, which are represented in and aligned with the cross functional taskforces
Typical functions to be represented in the cross functional taskforces and to setup functional taskforces for are – in alphabetical order;
- Human Resources Management, including training
- Public Relations
In times of crisis, most decisions and actions of the leadership teams and the taskforces are very operational and practical, but critical, like;
- Delayed delivery of personal protective gear
- Low availability of critical spare parts
- Lack of capacity in certain regions or functions
- Disability to support a critical client
One way of reducing uncertainty in times where things get unpredictable, is developing various scenarios of what could happen, assess the impact of these scenarios and assess how well you are prepared to mitigate or adapt to such scenarios. Being aware of and prepared for different (worst case) scenarios will increase confidence and resilience of the teams and the organisation.
You should always anticipate on different developments and alternative adjustments of your measures and interventions. You really want to prevent implementing measures to discover after implementation that there are obstacles or that they simply do not work, while you could have known this beforehand.
We have seen leading manufacturers anticipate on different scenarios of the crisis, measures from the governments and their own company. They stress tested and adjusted their own measures, knew they were ready for such scenarios.
This can be as simple as;
- Experiments on working from home
- Experiments on supported self-help together with clients
- Experiments on corrective maintenance with limited spare parts
To be able to see which scenarios are emerging and when, as well as to be able to recognise certain scenarios, you need to be ready to rapidly amplify and escalate weak signals from the entire organisation. Particularly in an exponential world the time between hardly visible developments to a full impact crisis can be very short. This big risk here is to still neglect a trend while the business and people are already suffering.
To facilitate the early recognition and escalation of weak signals, the following can help;
- Describe the potential first signs of each scenario and how to recognise this if it would be emerging
- Determine the sources to monitor these first signs
- Include and visualise the concept of “exponential growth” in these scenarios and make sure your team members understand the importance and related risks
- In the taskforces explicitly allocate time for “weak signals” and maintain an up-to-date categorisation of;
- Potential scenario versus emerging scenario
- High chance vs low chance
- High impact versus low impact
- Stick to a factual discussion about the signal and avoid opinions in relation to measures which are being executed. We must avoid opinionated discussions and doubts about the measures (see Decision-making below)
- Avoid repressive responses to team members raising weak signals. You can’t afford stagnation of this flow of information, making decision makers to fly blindfolded
During a crisis, it is critical to be more conscious about strict decision-making and discipline;
- Top-down decisions will become less democratic and less negotiable. Strict adherence to decisions is essential
- Top-down decisions have to be crystal clear on where bottom-up decisions and creativity is required and where the freedom and autonomy is limited
- Decisions should include the guiding principles and reasoning behind it. This is not only to build commitment and buy-in, but also to ensure that team members can take ownership of the execution and any interventions or adjustments to make it work in practice, without going passive, complacent or in panic-mode.
- Always take into account differences between regions, segments of clients and segments of employees and differentiate decisions accordingly. There will not be one single silver bullet.
- Be prepared for “professional disobedience”. Team members might decide to act against a decision, because they see that in a particular case adhering to that decision would not lead to the desired result. There should be a communication structure in place and confidence with the teams to escalate such incidents. It is important to provide constrictive feedback to top-down decision and the “disobeying” team members
”The King gave you a commission because he thought you knew when to disobey an order.”
In times of crisis, all decisions have to be made with little information and certainty. This uncertainty and lack of predictability should not lead to indecisiveness. This requires you to;
- Take well informed decisions considering the data you have and the worst-case scenarios you are fighting
- Document the decision, the guiding principles, the reasoning, the information used and the worst cases scenarios
- Know and communicate there will always be other alternative choices possible and emphasise the choices which have been made
- Only change decisions and choices when new facts, information or insights arise
- Bad news about the results is not a new fact, it is the expected. That is why we are in a crisis. This is not a reason to start doubting the choices made. Always compare the bad news to the worst-case scenario you are fighting and reinforce the choices which have been made
During a crisis, it is even more critical than normal to provide a clear and succinct plan which provides clarity, structure and direction. That is what is expected from leadership, not only by your team members, but also by your clients, partners and shareholders.
Aspects that make a plan adequate;
- It is simple and succinct. You should be able to summarise it in 1 minute and write it on 1/3 of a page
- It should be memorisable. Actually, you want to see your team members to memorise it by heart and live by it
- It clearly articulates the focus, expectations and direction
- It breaks downs a complex problem in more workable smaller problems
A good structure of the plan could be;
- The aspiration or goal
- The problem or obstacles
- The plan
- Step 1
- Step 2
- Step 3
- Only when necessary and not avoidable by restructuring the plan, step 4.
- Never more than 4 steps. The ideal number for people to memorise is 3. In practice, you see the number of people being able to memorise go down slightly if you add a 4th step, and go down dramatically if you add a 5th step.
- Each step can follow the same structure and can be divided in 3 to 4 steps again
The 3 phased approach to overcome the impact of COVID-19 is a good framework for a plan on top level. The focus in phase 1 is very different than the focus in phase 2 and 3, with different challenges, different objectives and different expectations for your team members. Such a high-level plan provides a lot of clarity to your teams. It provides focus, timing, priorities and understanding that some concerns and measures should be delayed to a later phase.
The frequency of meetings in times of crisis is much higher than normal. Leading manufacturers in ongoing operations have daily meeting schedules with short (15-30 minutes) meetings like;
- First thing HQ taskforce meeting
- Regional taskforce meetings reviewing the input of HQ taskforce and other matters
- Local taskforce meetings reviewing the input for HQ and regional taskforces and other matters
- HQ taskforce reviewing reports from the other taskforces before lunch
- Functional taskforce meetings to follow up on concerns, decisions and actions of other taskforces and report their observations and actions
These meetings address the following challenges;
• Alignment and coherence from HQ to local
• Alignment and coherence across functions
• Getting information and input from the entire organisation, including concerns and emotions from remote workers at home or in the field
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