Takeaway lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic

Takeaway lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic

Businesses that have endured the pandemic have each had a different experience, and they have gained takeaway lessons. The most important of these is probably “be prepared”.

The Covid-19 pandemic has wrecked many businesses and exposed the vulnerability of society. Countries worldwide are now taking bold decisions and accepting the reality of living with the pandemic. Here are some more takeaway lessons that have emerged.

KNOW YOUR ENEMY

Anyone who has been on a battlefield or prepared for war will tell you that knowing your enemy is likely to give you valuable tactics that can be used against them. Equally, the process of managing risk requires organisations to identify any uncertainty that might derail their objectives. On the business front, this uncertainty took the form of a sense of panic as the Covid-19 pandemic dawned on us. Nonetheless, it offered businesses an opportunity to take their business disruptions more seriously. As you may recall, the provision of non-essential goods and services came to a grinding halt. Knowing the enemy, as I have chosen to phrase it, will enable businesses to plan safe corridors for the provision of products and services to their intended clients moving forward.


IDENTIFY AND ANALYSE BUSINESS IMPACTS

Business disruptions will always happen. This is a reality check re-awakened by the pandemic. Understanding potential risks that had an impact on businesses provided a platform on which plans were developed to deal with them. The talk was usually around business continuity. ISO 22301:2019 Security and Resilience – Business Continuity Management Systems – Requirements defines business continuity as the “capability of an organisation to continue the delivery of products and services within acceptable timeframes at predefined capacity during a disruption”.

Let us take a flashback to the height of the pandemic. South Africa entered into the Covid-19 lockdown on March 26, 2020, and the government implemented alert levels 1 to 5 to manage the pandemic. It soon became evident that it would be impossible to predict business recovery time.

The challenge that many businesses couldn’t even fathom was the “maximum tolerable period of disruption”. But why were they unable to do so? First, many businesses did not have continuity plans. The focus was on “survival of the fittest” becoming the norm. It is important to remember that the types of business impacts varied. The emphasis was mainly on those businesses providing essential products and services. I foresee this narrative influencing how some businesses rethink their business models, although a discussion around the nature of disruptions that might impact businesses has received more importance.

Even with business continuity plans developed or reviewed, in some instances the available opportunities could only benefit those organisations that had the right seat on the bus!


DON’T IGNORE EARLY WARNING SIGNS

The truth is that many of us downplayed the early warning signals of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Companies can take actions that help them see the signals of change and act on them, thereby getting a jump on the competition,” notes Michael Porter, from the Harvard Business School, in his book On Competition. Many businesses have experienced the consequences of not paying attention to the early-warning signals. What is the likelihood that we will experience a similar pandemic in the future?

A clear reality was that companies’ revenues took a nosedive. It didn’t take long to realise that those without innovation opportunities would be outpaced. But those with the ability to innovate saw the pandemic as an opportunity. Every company wants to be a leader in the products and services it provides, and it is never too late. A good benchmark is the ISO 56000, Innovation Management family of standards. They provide organisations with valuable tools for including innovation in their operations and activities.

The post Covid-19 era should continue to inspire businesses to consider opportunities to innovate. By now, we are all aware of the early warning signals. We cannot afford to ignore them any longer.


LESSONS

I recall a contribution I made in 2010 to a magazine entitled Supply Chain Risks – Are the risks weakening the chain? The risk landscape has changed significantly since then. We are not short of lessons that we can take away from the pandemic; including pandemics in an organisation’s risk basket is still the right thing to do.

I have to acknowledge that it won’t be an easy shift for those businesses that aren’t disciplined to “grease
their elbows”. Take time to understand your business environment. The strategies you plan will help you deal with “the enemy”. One of these strategies will be to conduct a business impact analysis. Don’t forget the early warning signals – either around you or on the horizon – and this will ensure that you are prepared to deal with challenges as they arise.  

Published by

Hope Kiwekete

Hope Mugagga Kiwekete is a managing consultant at the Centre for Enterprise Sustainability. Previously he was a principal risk management consultant at Transnet Freight Rail and a management systems specialist and senior EHS auditor at the South African Bureau of Standards. He has practised as a management systems consultant, trainer and auditor in the fields of risk management, environment, energy, occupational health and safety and quality management in various industry sectors in eastern and southern Africa and Southeast Asia.
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