How organisations should prepare for unanticipated global risks

Here, Gunjan Sinha, Executive Chairman at MetricStream, discusses how organisations should handle and prepare for unanticipated global risks following the COVID-19 outbreak

The world is currently dealing with a crisis unparalleled in almost anyone’s living memory, with the coronavirus pandemic taking most of the world off guard, disrupting every aspect of personal and business life. Organisations have had to suddenly shift to remote working and quickly action business continuity plans to preserve operations as much as possible in the face of the outbreak. However, this global pandemic is nothing like what most organisations are prepared to deal with, meaning many companies have been taken by surprise and are now suffering severe consequences.

With organisations having become increasingly interconnected over the years and business models and technology landscapes rapidly evolving, there was a need for businesses to prioritise an incident response team that is resilient and better aware of “unknown-unknowns” risks. This need has now been amplified with the threat of COVID-19.

In the face of all this uncertainty, how should organisations be handling the current global risk and prepare for further unanticipated risks?

Protecting essential operations

Across many industries, the biggest impact of the world pandemic was the sudden widescale shift to remote working, motioning a significant transition in the usual daily routines and processes of employees.

To allow for this, many organisations had to action their business continuity plans which would have most likely been drafted before the outbreak, at a time when no one could really imagine an event that would require such a need for an entire workforce to move to alternative sites.

Subsequently, some companies were caught off-guard as Business Leader reported that 25% had no crisis plan in place and were ill-prepared for a sustained period of remote working. This will no doubt have affected an organisation’s productivity, yet it could have been mitigated with a forward-looking risk management programme.

For those organisations that had implemented a forward-looking risk management programme, it has meant that they have been able to establish a framework for risk identification and preparation in the face of wide-ranging and complex risks and a fast pace of change.

Such a risk management programme can not only help better prepare businesses for remote working, but it can also protect supply chains which have been especially impacted due to the pandemic.

Although demand has fallen in certain areas, supermarkets have come under intense pressure after sales surged by more than two-fifths in March. In this instance, supermarkets – and other businesses experiencing a delay in their supply chains, coupled with the stress of increased demand – have resorted to back-up suppliers to provide products and materials since their primary suppliers have been unable to do so.

A thorough business continuity plan involving forward-looking risk management is sound practice that will work to preserve at-risk operations during a time of crisis.

Maintaining the right communication

All non-essential workers will be feeling the effects of isolation and disruption to their routine, so it is important that companies invest in crisis communication plans to reassure and inform employees, customers and other stakeholders.

Everyone will be seeking reassurance of their livelihoods and it is important that an appropriate balance is struck between detailing any changes to business-as-usual while giving advance warning of what is likely to follow.

Employees must be able to understand the measures that are being taken for their health and safety and the details of any changes that have been made, or will be made, to work practices and processes should be provided for clarity.

Businesses will also need to ensure customer relationships and brand values are maintained during this time, despite the number of challenges imposed. It is important for organisations to be prepared with the right spokespeople, messaging, timing and execution throughout this crisis to show empathy and sensitivity.

Many companies have now taken to holding daily meetings with senior leadership to decide upon and implement any action. In order to have an effective communications plan, though, companies must first identify who should be attending these meetings, what the responsibilities of varied employees should be and how decisions can be quickly executed.

As the coronavirus crisis deepens, plans must remain flexible to adapt, which may result in companies needing to have several meetings per day to adequately respond to further pressures on the business and workforce.

Using data for decision-making

Planning and data play an essential role in maintaining business continuity for all emergency situations. A comprehensive business continuity plan, backed up by data, provides structure that companies can draw on as they try to regain normality following a crisis.

Through the use of reliable data, companies are supported with their swift decision-making which can help ease the stress that is caused by crisis handling, while avoiding having to take any ill-informed actions. The data can take many forms, but it must include employee locations and contact details, operational data on supply chains, site locations and logistics.

Each organisation’s risk managers are then able to make connections in the data to assess the impact that a situation like the current pandemic is having and understand the effects it will likely cause in the future. In this way, risks can be mapped accordingly, and proper support can be provided to employees, physical assets and third parties that empower key activities, such as maintaining stock levels.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to develop, it will be those companies who had either taken the steps already, or are currently working through a complete and forward-looking business continuity plan, that will be able to successfully handle further unanticipated risks. The use of reliable data for scenario planning and decision-making, combined with carefully considered communications will also be essential for organisations to minimise disruption to their operations as much as possible and sustain business activities.

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