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COVID-19 relief management for boards of directors

The COVID-19 pandemic has comprehensively tested companies leadership

INSIGHT ARTICLE  | 

Crises or major disruptions, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, comprehensively test a company’s leadership. If your board of directors has sufficiently prepared by assessing risks and developing contingency plans as part of its business continuity planning, your company can take care of its employees and restore operations while minimizing the sting of adversity. 

Unexpected hard times can define a company, not to mention determine its survival. Ideally, such instances bring out the best in leadership. Here are five characteristics a board  should strive to embody in rising to face extreme challenges:

1. Proactive

As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, a crisis creates some challenges companies cannot control, such as public health policies that alter our personal and professional routines. But an effective business continuity plan includes components that enable a board to get out in front of problems.

Developing staffing strategies in advance can be crucial to maintaining operations. By outlining the primary and support staff for essential functions, a company can maximize employees’ skill sets. Establishing a worst-case scenario for a reduced workforce enables leadership to calibrate its employee needs depending on changing circumstances. Coordinating IT initiatives in advance for working remotely can keep employees agile and productive when obstacles arise. And in cases involving labor unions, immediately engaging union leadership can help foster employee acceptance of significant changes.

Contingencies for distressed supply chains are essential, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown. A company can further dampen its risk by identifying which of its vendors are associated with its essential functions and then assessing the vulnerabilities in those vendors’ business continuity plans.

2. Communicative

An effective crisis communication plan centers on consistent messaging through a single company voice. Keeping employees and customers informed can help stakeholders limit their anxiety and navigate challenging circumstances. Consider designating a board member to serve as a liaison to the communications team, allowing the board to weigh in and remain updated. 

Notification procedures and updates that follow a regular schedule will minimize confusion and reinforce confidence in leadership. Stakeholders will understand there is a rhythm to the company’s outreach, even if new information is minimal. The consistency exemplifies the board’s vigilance and care during difficult times. Messaging should align with that of local, regional or federal authorities. 

By carefully crafting messages and establishing avenues for consistent dissemination, your board can reinforce the company’s connections with its stakeholders. 

3. Thorough 

As a crisis highlights strengths and weaknesses of a company’s business continuity program, the program’s scope will help determine the company’s ability to withstand disruption. Your board can set a productive course by thinking broadly, being detailed and by empowering skilled leaders.  

From disaster risk assessment and business impact analysis to strategy development and program testing, the more comprehensive your program, the better your road map for making difficult decisions—about issues on which your business depends such as labor and liquidity—will be.

A thorough plan could help ease your company’s shift to remote work procedures, ensure IT capabilities withstand disruptions and fortify connections with vendors.

Keep in mind that business continuity methodology is circular. It begins with defining requirements and shaping strategies, then advances to implementing programs. Testing those programs spotlights how your leadership team should develop the plan further. From there, new requirements perpetuate the cycle.

4. Responsive

Agility in responding to disruptions goes hand in hand with a proactive approach. More specifically, thorough planning facilitates quicker, smoother responses. But some changes are unpredictable, and, as the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates, ingenuity and adaptability can help a business survive a crisis while contributing to the greater good.

Examples include auto manufacturers that shifted to making ventilators and distilleries that used their alcohol to make hand sanitizer. In other cases, companies initiated consumer-friendly delivery services to accommodate new consumer behaviors.

Your board can build this type of risk management into the company by empowering talented, organized and collaborative employees to initiate responses to sudden challenges.

5. Mindful

A crisis can be traumatic, leaving indelible marks on your business and the people who enable it to thrive. Your board should be cognizant of the human element and the heavy toll a disruption might levy. 

Although your board’s interactions with employees likely are not face-to-face or at ground level, be cognizant that employees will remember how they were treated and whether their employer took care of them during hard times. Leadership sets the tone.

Many employees will have deep-seated concerns of the utmost personal importance, such as those related to job security, income and health. If leadership can be as forthcoming, transparent and compassionate as possible, it could go a long way toward maintaining your work force’s morale and returning to full capacity once the storm passes.

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