The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to change. Some are still in react mode, while others are being more proactive. Might this disruption be an opportunity to change their business model? One in a series of articles about Digital Business Continuity; real-time lessons learned, improvements we can make now and in the future.
We are entering into the second month of general business shutdowns in most of the world, and our initial Digital Business Continuity moves towards Work from Home, School from Home, and Cook from Home are becoming the norm. Some businesses are thriving – blessed with a backlog of contracted project work, or operating in an essential industry like healthcare or logistics. Others are experiencing truly existential crises – service businesses like restaurants, health clubs, salons, and the like have extremely limited options.
There is another class of “in-between” businesses – services like construction or landscaping, who can practice social distancing outdoors in the improving weather. Services firms like consultants, trainers, and advisors, who can pivot their delivery vehicle and deliver knowledge via video calls, webinars, and an increased reliance on collaboration environments. Manufacturers that can retrofit their production lines to produce items needed in the near-term fight to beat the coronavirus, and the long-term battle to rebuild the economy.
Business Continuity versus Resiliency
Is the world truly changing? It may sound like a silly question, but it depends on your frame of reference. In time, the COVID-19 strain will subside, and people will return to something close to normal – long term, a world of incremental change. But this only comes after the near term, massive disruption that we are all experiencing – short term, a period of true disruption.
We have moved beyond the topic of Business Continuity and into a world where Resiliency will win the day. Faced with disruptive change lasting for days (not weeks), organizations are dealing with deeply ingrained cultural challenges. Their resilience in the face of such fundamental change is being tested.
Can your plans contemplate this level of change?
- So many conversations these past few weeks, with people experiencing the reality of Work From Home – and their true managerial strengths and biases. I have heard from teams and businesses, large and small, having real troubles with trust. How will I know that my team is being productive? What prevents them from watching TV or “goofing off” during the day? Frankly, it’s incredible and somewhat dismaying to hear that; trust in your team is a core aspect of a highly engaged workforce, and managers who have trust problems are missing a huge opportunity.
- Lessons Learned: Some managers I speak to shrug this idea off – what’s the difference where you work? They judge productivity by the amount of work getting done. One of the most effective managers I know says that it genuinely doesn’t matter when people start working, what breaks they take, how many side projects they are working, and how late they burn the midnight oil. The only thing that matters is the expectations that have been set; x% of calls answered within 30 seconds, or no trouble tickets open more than three days, or all function points in this sprint completed by the end of the week, or customer satisfaction and on-time delivery of 98%. When you set clear objectives and define meaningful metrics, productivity will take care of itself. With the right level of communication, you do not have to see someone to manage them.
- I spoke with one of the original Business Continuity architects of a large manufacturing and distribution company, and he was rightfully proud of the tremendous job they did – planning for full operations and customer order fulfillment for up to a week past the disaster date. Marvelous – but the scope of this new-age disruption had him staggered. In some ways, it is much easier to plan for than a “traditional” disaster, since systems are still running. Come up with social distancing work standards in the warehouse and on the factory floor, and you have a fighting chance of keeping running. However, the new reality is this – the more significant disruption is happening to their suppliers and customers. Can’t ship it if you don’t have a ship-to address…
- Lessons Learned: Do your digital business continuity plans take into account the impact on your suppliers and customers? Most organizations will treat these as black boxes; consumed with internal process, politics, resources, and limitations, it is too challenging to imagine managing customers from afar. To get to that next level of planning (and resilience), you must develop connections with your suppliers and customers that tighten up the relationship, so you are sharing and communicating in both directions when the environment changes.
Business Continuity versus Strategic Pivots
As the time drags out, and our Market, Economic and Regulatory environments go through sustained changes, can we go back to the strategic drawing board for the medium- to long-term? Sound management says we must; there will be several different changes to Porter’s Five Forces, and we will need to understand these changes so we can react to them.
Some of these changes will be short-term pivots, designed to generate some kind of cash flow as the environment experiences these tectonic shifts. Other businesses will need to make longer-term changes – extensions of these short-term moves, or thoughtful moves based on the addition of new opportunities or the subtraction of factors that granted us a competitive advantage.
Many companies are telling me how they are pivoting and changing their products to adapt to the new reality.
- From the startup world – a training development company that goes to exotic locales, tapes themselves out there experiencing the environment, and then does a simulated meeting at the customers’ office, with the local facilitator virtually leading this adventure. A big part of their focus – and value add – is the in-person sessions. When corona shutdowns hit, they pivoted very quickly and moved the facilitator into the virtual world as well. They made this change very quickly, without missing a beat, even though it represented a significantly different value proposition.
- A data and analytics consultant tells me about a few companies that deliver tools and data sets for big data projects. They have adapted all of their demo material to show pandemic metrics and histories, and are building sample applications to help in the analysis. The demo mentality has shone a bright light on this area, and the company is strongly considering a pivot into the health care analytics industry specifically because of the needs of this event.
- A global industrial products manufacturer tells of their ongoing efforts in product simplification and rationalization. They are enjoying the fruits of their simplification efforts, and the global impact of the pandemic has helped them see a new benefit. Where standard product designs have been enabled, the company can second-source local manufacturers, keeping product pipelines full and customer satisfaction relatively high. There are some additional complexities, like maintaining regulatory compliance in multiple geographies – but someone with a really smart spreadsheet can cost-benefit the flexibility that such an approach grants the company.
I will admit – these are the stories that are the most fun to hear; they are an indication of the real strength of these organizations, as they react to significant disruption with imagination, energy, and a true sense of innovation.
What’s In Your Digital Business Continuity Plan?
Few, if any, organizations have planned for a disruptive event such as COVID-19. We are all being tested in several ways – personally and professionally, with an emphasis on the human impact. This is something that is impacting the entire world – and our businesses, our neighborhoods, and our homes.
How can we share our lessons learned? How can we all prepare the people that we care about – our co-workers, our customers, our friends and family – leveraging the digital capabilities that surround us? What a tremendous opportunity to share what works – and what does not. What a tremendous opportunity to lift all boats in this rising tide of change.
This is one in a series of articles covering a wide range of real-time lessons we are still living through. I have more stories to tell – please feel free to add yours, or reach out and connect with me! I want to add your Lessons Learned to this list and help many companies improve their business’ resilience in the face of future disasters.
Tell us your story!!
8 April, 2020
- Digital Business Continuity – Real Time Lessons from COVID-19
- Digital Business Continuity – Supporting a Work-From-Home Culture
- Digital Business Continuity – Finding New Strength
- Digital Business Continuity – Resilience and the Strategic Pivot
- Digital Business Continuity – A Whole New World