Corona: disaster or business opportunity?

Is your business plan ready and possibilities being tested? 

For most businesses “global pandemic”  is not a listed concern on the business risk register. Unless your business makes products with an obvious market at these times you mostly hope it never makes the list.  Corona has changed that.  Is it a disaster or a opportunity for your business? 

In spite of some attempts to consign it to the realms of a “foreign” threat, this contagious virus shows total disregard for the usual boundaries of borders, political allegiance, language, or class.  Older people are more at risk, but others are not safe.  As is normal, the poor and already unwell are especially vulnerable. The disease threatens health systems which in turn creates new vulnerabilities of other users. This pandemic touches everyone. And yet, CIPD, UK’s main HR hub noted tis week that only two out of every five businesses have any business continuity plan in place for these highly uncertain times.

Corona means change 

Responding to a crisis, many organisations have Business Continuity Plans. In my experience, these  tend to focus on the protection of data, and the reputation of the business as you attempt to keep things going and return to normal.  These are all a useful basis from which to begin your current thinking. However, they generally ignore the fact that after major events that affect a business and the people in it, nothing is the same.  Shifts take place in internal and external business dynamics and customer attitudes that will force us to change. The disruption of Corona virus presents a potential cause of disaster for your business but what opportunities for change and advantage does it hold?

With Corona, as we all work to reduce the spread and respond to those who fall sick, we can expect months of profound disruption. This will affect the personal and business lives of everyone involved with our businesses. The prolonged nature of the problem will drive many into poverty, including some on our teams. Our values will be challenged and our responses scrutinised. At the same time, it will force changes in the way you work and the inter-relationships you have within and outside the business.

The longer term impact is as yet unclear but within this uncertainty lie possibilities. The story goes that without the 17th century plague, we would not have the concept of gravity.  Isaac Newton discovered it when he was sent down from Cambridge to avoid illness following the closure the university.

From a risk category perspective, disruption from Corona is now a high likelihood/high impact scenario. As we have already seen in Asia and much of Europe, the spread and management of the impact of Corona will test our personal and professional resilience.  

Don’t Panic! 

Business planing in a crisis does not mean that we plan for the worst outcome. Rather we recognise that how we respond could lead to better or worse outcomes. We are at a fork in the road. And there may be more forks further ahead. Even as we may worry and face loss, we have strengths and opportunities as well as assets on which we can and must draw. 

As levels of distress and panic rise in communities around us, it can be difficult to think of taking time to pause and plan. However, it is even more essential that we do this now than at more normal business times. An excellent HBR article gives some great guidance.

Key questions you must ask as you plan for possibilities

Leadership and their teams must follow an agile and adaptable process that enables them to find possibilities within the changes they must make. It has been amazing in recent weeks to see how creative people have become on the use of social media, new ways of promoting and running their business and thinking about how to develop and use their skills even as their worries grow.

Essentially this process asks:

  1. When it’s all over what do we want to look back and say we did well?
  2. Why does that matter?
  3. How is business just now? What’s happening?
  4. What could happen and when?
  5. What must we do?

Why not ask them to yourself now? Of course, each question can be broken down to find out more. Consider is affected and in what way? Ask how the integrity of the business will be maintained. Look for the opportunities that lie within the adversity. The process communicated with transparency can build trust and revisit the values of the organisation as it reflects respect to all the people involved in the business. This is true particularly when hard decisions may need to be made.

Building resilience within

These testing times call for resilience which  can be developed. In her excellent and moving Ted talk, Lucy Hone, gives three key tips for resilience based on her own grave experience of loss. My summary is that they are:

  1. Don’t take events personally. Rephrase the question ‘why me?’ to ‘why not me?’
  2. Practice and become skilled at focusing on where to put your attention toward things that are the good. This will challenge you to reframe negative views to seek out positivity however fragile.
  3. Remember to ask if what you are doing helping or harming yourself (for instance, are the endless news reels of Corona updates helpful)? Stop it if its harming you and refocus on other activities, taking each day at a time.

Use coaching to move forward and through

Good leaders offer direction and inspiration to their teams. They work to protect the business and enable the uncovering of opportunities in the changing circumstances.

Leaders who don’t plan and dont communicate their thinking have made a choice – albeit passively!  If you are sitting with no plan or your teams are unclear of what you think and why, consider this consciously, fully cognisant of the potential outcome it supports. Consider your alternatives.  

Being expected to make decisions even when you might be worried and anxious yourself is isolating. You must be supportive even when you may feel you need it more or exhaustion precludes clarity.

Coaching offers the space where in partnership with your coach, you can examine your intentions, have your assumptions challenged, expose your worries and make a stronger more focussed set of decisions to move forward. All this takes place as your are also looking after yourself.

Pick your coach carefully and expect to be challenged in ways that make you better able to plan for the weeks and months of uncertainty ahead…and beyond.  CONTACT ME!

Wishing you continued excellent business and personal health! And as Isaac Newton – finder of possibilities in the midst of disasters – said ““No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.”




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