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Covid 19: The Black Swan!
Maintaining Operational Excellence During a Crisis


Working Through a Major Crisis

At any given moment, would your business be ready to adapt if an unexpected crisis or black swan event occurred today?

For those unfamiliar with the term, a black swan describes an occurrence of a rare event that brings with it, severe consequences. Black swan events will cause major economic disruption and can occur at any point in time.

COVID-19 is a rare event that has significantly affected the global economy, society and short-term daily activity. To meet the terms of a black swan event, COVID-19 must create chaos in the short term and because of that, subsequently drive major change to the aforementioned global economies etc.In short, it is a black swan event where none knew of the scale of impact foreseen in such a short period of time.

As black swans are difficult to predict, the only way to possibly prepare for the disruptive event would be to build robust systems in advance. For this purpose, an unprepared or complacent business, is a prime target to be compromised.

Your worst enemy during any crisis, exposing your vulnerability, is complacency. Combined with social media moving at the speed of light, your business can quickly go from a humble organization to the center of a major crisis within hours.

Maintaining Operational Excellence in Remote Work Due to A Crisis.

Moving to a remote based operation due to a major crisis event will bring challenges. For the purpose of this document, we will assume technical challenges are not a concern. Operational excellence when shifting to remote work will need to address the following challenges:

All remote staff are equal:

When shifting quickly to remote work, ensure you treat all employees equally. While there are some you might feel closer to when all parties are in the office, you will need to make the effort to discipline yourself as a leader, making sure to touch base with each leader or employee regularly (more frequently, if needed in the event of a crisis).



There is still a common thought in business that remote work means inattentive staff doing anything else but work. Micromanaging is not a solution to remote work. Trust in your employees is.


It may seem counter intuitive, but remote workers, especially new remote workers, will have a tendency to overwork daily. This will seep into the weekends over time if not addressed. This increase is simply because the lines of work and home get blurred and will (surprisingly) lead to mild burnout. You or HR with your support, may want to touch on tips to keep work and homelife separate for your newly minted temporary remote work team.


You may not have the advantage of video at all times, when communicating with your individual team members. As we normally pickup on facial cues when discussions are held in person, communicating via audio or in writing requires a bit of tweaking. Listen more and ask better questions. Learn to “read between the lines” when reading emails or asking questions in writing.

If new technologies or tools are introduced during the crisis regarding communication or collaboration for remote work, master them asap as best you can.

Be open to using new tools as they will ultimately increase the productivity and quality of your outputs.


Positive Culture:

It is your role as leader to maintain positive relationships with your team(s).

The Reality of a Business Crisis

Not surprisingly, the majority of organizations today perform crisis planning immediately once the disaster has struck.

Rather than be a part of the majority, gather up your key team members and brainstorm scenarios that may happen in your area. It could be medical (infection, pandemic, radiological etc.), natural (flood, earthquake, storm, tornado, etc.) or financial (theft, budget error, embezzlement, etc.).

One of your best bets is to speak to those in business who have weathered a crisis or two and can provide you with valuable information. Invite them to speak to your staff and stakeholders if possible. You will need to assign (or create) your public relations team with drafting a crisis response plan and issue a deadline so they have a timeline to work with.

It’s easy to think (and fairly common to believe) that business’s, especially the small ones, don’t think they will come across a crisis. It’s understandable as nobody really wants to think about such scenarios happening but it is a reality that needs to be discussed and actioned.If you are the designated person in charge, you must be a strong advocate for emergency preparedness in advance.

A Crisis Can Take on Any Appearance.

Crises come in a variety of forms. To make matters more challenging, with social media operating 24/7, if it’s a major internal issue, you may not have the luxury of keeping it out of the public eye for long. Local media would be all over it and then some. If you haven’t built up solid relationships with local media outlets, you may want to start now.

Whether the crisis involves an accident with serious injury to staff or a client, internal financial theft, a lawsuit from a former employee, or even stolen private data information due to a hack attack; you will need to be prepared to respond with various action plans.

The above crises all require separate responses. This means preparing for as many scenarios as you can imagine and put your best plans in place for each one. This will go a long way in minimizing the damage to your business’s reputation.

The benefit to this process is that even if a crisis comes that you haven’t identified, you will still be able to respond using one or more of the plans in place. Remember, the planning you did may actually turn up vulnerabilities related to insurance coverage, lack of or inadequate HR policies or even a lack of talent with a particular skill(s).

This exercise is worth its weight in making your organization better in the long run.

Create A Communications and Logistics Business Continuity Plan

A logistics plan involves the actual movement of people out of your building in the event of (for instance), an earthquake, shooter on site, or a medical emergency.

This often involves a risk management program dealing with loss of life, property or insurance related problems. Identifying the right person(s) who can respond quickly to notify who to call, take charge and manage the evacuation plan is vital.

When speaking about the communications plan, you will need to identify a spokesperson(s), who gathers the facts as they come, who will write press releases and prepare for a press conference.

Online and Offline Business Continuity Plans or Disaster Recovery Plans:

Part of your logistics plan is to ensure the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) or Disaster Recovery Plan and all documents related to it are available both online and offline. Should power be lost, you will still be able to operate the core functions of the BCP manually (manual documents are both onsite and at an alternative location) should the immediate premises become unavailable for an extended period of time.

Control your Social Media

Social media will definitely be an ally in a crisis if handled correctly. Almost every business today uses some form of social media tool. Decide who you will need to manage that particular media in an emergency. Set yourself up with a dashboard in advance in any event. It will come in handy when you’ll need to monitor multiple digital channels and respond to them quickly during a crisis.Fight rumors with facts and show your concern for those involved with or impacted by the crisis.

Be Prepared to Talk to The Media

Once the crisis has ended, every minute counts that you are not out in front owning the situation. Your silence can be deafening.

Move out with statements appropriate to the discussion and know what your messaging is. Even if all you have to say is that you are aware of the situation, your team is working on it and although few facts are known right now, you hope to bring more as soon as they come.

To this end, keep up with updating the media as regularly as events develop. For most situations thought you should already have a script to go off of.

Regardless of the crisis, show your concerned, speak with concern and  always tell the truth.

Prepare Your Team for the Media

One of the biggest things to happen o complicate a media response is an on-air meltdown of your business media representative.

Gather up who is authorized to speak with the media on the organizations behalf and get them properly trained. It may be the CEO, MD, stakeholder etc. You should also consider your office’s top security individual and facilities manager.

If you have someone on board who already handles PR, they may be able to save you some training expenses. Do it once or twice over the year so nobody grows stale.

Final Thoughts

It is critical to have a well-documented and tested disaster recovery process in place. The path to operational excellence is through operational discipline. Simply put, this means complying with your crisis pre-work procedures and consistently executing each item correctly.

While a black swan event such as Corona virus will come at some point, because you have focused on building robust systems in advance, the disruptive impact to business will be lessened because of it.

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