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Onward/Upward: Using lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare for the next major disruption

Onward/Upward: Using lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare for the next major disruption

Onward/Upward: Using lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare for the next major disruption

2500 years ago, Greek philosopher Heraclitus told us that “the only constant is change” and his words only grow truer with time. Already our industry has witnessed multiple “once-in-a-lifetime events” from the 2008 recession to COVID-19, each one affecting U.S. businesses in new and unexpected ways. While they’re difficult to predict, what we can know with certainty is that they are coming. 

Here, we’ll explore the lessons we can draw from COVID-19, and the ways we can use them to prepare for the next inevitable disruption. 

Have Clear Plans of Action

If you smell smoke, it’s probably too late for a fire drill. Start pre-planning now and laying the foundation for your response to the next disruption, whatever form it might take.  Draft a clear plan of action that allows for rapid response, complete with fully-realized strategies and actionable next steps. Now is not the time for vague platitudes and mission statements, you’ll want to dig down into the details of what your response will look like. No battle plan survives first contact and it’s likely yours will be no different but having the initial steps prepared and agreed upon will give you a head start on whatever’s coming next. 

Consider the following questions:

  • When a crisis hits, who will be in the meetings when you establish a response?
  • How will you communicate changes to your employees? How often will you update them?
  • If revenue is affected, where can you first cut costs? 
  • Is upper management willing to accept salary reductions to avoid layoffs? What percentage?
  • If your staff shrinks suddenly, how will teams distribute workloads and responsibilities?

Stay informed

The captain of a ship looks outward as frequently as he looks in. Beyond the boundaries of his vessel, he studies the currents, the star charts, and multiple maps. Likewise, company leaders should always have one eye outside of their company, paying attention to current events and anticipating the potential they have to impact business. 

Consider the varied responses to the current pandemic. There were those in the beginning who looked at the small case numbers and decided that the danger was overblown and went about business as usual. But more experienced leaders were able to look past the case numbers and see the unhindered, exponential growth rates and understood there was disaster on the horizon. 

Consider the following questions:

  • When did you begin to prepare for COVID-19 
  • Should you have acted earlier? 
  • What signs did you miss? 
  • Who on your team tried to raise an alarm first? Were they dismissed or listened to? 
  • Was your news source of choice a reliable source of accurate information? 

Forge a Strong, Competent Team

Companies who reward and cultivate yes-men behavior are hit the hardest by crisis. When leadership becomes too centralized and authority is stripped away from all but top management, companies find their teams unable to adapt to developing situations. Their employees easily become lost, waiting for someone to tell them what to do next, instead of acting and adapting to the developing situation. 

When disruption hits, your team on the ground floor will be instrumental in recovery efforts. They need to work well together and have confidence in each other. Give each individual the resources, training, and freedom they need to do their best work. Ensure that teams are in constant conversation with their leadership to address issues and interpersonal problems as they come up. 

Trying to build a strong team in the midst of a disruption simply does not work. You have to put the work in now so your team can act as a well-oiled machine when disaster strikes.

Consider the following questions:

  • Does your team feel safe and confident taking risks and making decisions?
  • How involved is C-Suite leadership with minor decisions?
  • What sort of emotions are expressed during post-mortem meetings? Anger/Frustration? Thoughtful/Encouraging? 
  • As a leader, what kind of environment are you encouraging and building?
  • Is your team clear on the decisions you absolutely do need to be involved in?

Observe Your Teams

Everyone responds to disruption and the unknown differently. As your team and clinics fight their way through the COVID-19 pandemic, take time to pause and observe from the sidelines. Take notice of how your employees are responding to the situation, both as individuals and as a team. 

When the dust begins to settle, meet with teams and team leadership across your company for a debrief. Get their perspective on how management handled the pandemic and how the decisions affected their day to day operations, both positively and negatively. Send out an anonymous survey to ensure honest feedback. 

Consider the following questions:

  • Who took charge, rose to the occasion, and went above and beyond?
  • Who struggled and why? How can you better set them up for success next time? 
  • What initiatives worked as expected? Which ones didn’t? 
  • Who will you lean on during the next disruption?
  • What kind of changes will you make in the post pandemic world?