What have we learned during the “Coronavirus/Covid19″ Crisis”?

In this “World Food Safety Day”, after 10 weeks of lockdown, and one week back to meeting with my customers in real life, I would like to reflect on this period of crisis, that will remain as a milestone in the history of mankind.

The reflections I would like to share are about what we have learned so far, in particular in terms of risk assessment, crisis management, or as food safety standards mention: “Emergency preparedness and response”. So please forgive me in advance for narrowing my focus on the crisis management and the food industry, without discussing about the dramatic consequences this pandemic will have on the economy and the security of millions of human beings.

As many of you, this lockdown has given me some time, to read, learn, engage with other professionals using social networks and to improve my use of modern communication technologies with e-learning, webinars, virtual round tables…yes in all crisis, lay opportunities. And History shows that, unfortunately,  human beings and organizations seem to need a crisis to engage in big transformation steps and then to thrive.

So what have we (and I) learned from this time?

  1. Coronavirus is not a crisis it is the name of a virus (a sub-family of virus to be correct)!
    Covid 19, the disease,  is an event, a major incident, an emergency situation, definitely a pandemic but not a crisis. Incidents may have all kind of origins, but crisis have one thing in common: they are all “man-made”.Let me elaborate on this point, thanks to the learning from Dr. David Rubens, during a great ISRM (Institute from Strategic Risk Management) Level 5 Training in Corporate Risk & Crisis Management, offered by the Institute during the last weeks: A Crisis is not created by an incident, but by our reaction to it and by our lack of preparedness to it. A Crisis is revealed by an incident, an event,  that triggers the emergency situation and unfolds into a Crisis, when we cannot cope with the consequences of the event. The crisis then is the spreading of the virus, the many hundred thousands of lives lost,  the lockdown, consequences of the lack of preparation of our international organizations, most of our governments, and most national health systems. Obviously, in this perspective, some countries suffered much less from the consequences of the pandemic, thanks to their level of preparedness and for taking the right decisions. Because the start of the crisis, is not even the event that triggered it, but before, in all the, more or less,  small “signals” (H1N1, SARS, Ebola, MERS…to name a few that happened in the last 10 years), we somehow chose to ignore.
    Yes, every crisis, suffered from individuals, organizations is a consequence, announced by a serious of smaller incidents, event that for a different set of reasons, we ignore or underestimate.
  2. Was the Pandemic predictable?
    Well as you surely must know by now, not only was it predictable, but it was predicted by many scientists and persons around the world. One of the most famous of these persons if of course Bill Gates in its remarkable TED conference,  seen now by 28 million people. But wait, it was only 5 years ago! Furthermore Pandemic is one of the health issues that are  reported annually in the Annual Risk Reports from some Big Insurance Companies. Probably it will be scored higher in the scale of probability and impact in the future than it was only 5 months ago.
    Food Safety Crisis are also on the top list in the materiality assessments of many food companies.
    Let’s not forget that the “Covid 19” is most probably a food safety issue, as it is related to the hygienic conditions and live animals “mix” in a Wuhan wet market.
  3. How can we Prepare for such a crisis?
    The 3 keys of  Preparation are: 3xP: Prepare-Prepare-Prepare!
    Let me here pay tribute to Melissa Agnes, whom I had the pleasure to interact with just before and during the crisis.
    As this time gave us the time to read, I read her great book “Crisis Ready” where she elaborates on the key elements of Crisis Preparation and Management. Yes it is all about Crisis Readiness.
    And when Melissa talks and writes about Crisis Readiness, it is not about Crisis Management Handbooks, that become obsolete the day they are published, get dusty until someone eventually takes them out to deal a crisis, when they remember it exists.
    For her, Crisis Readiness is not about trying to be prepared for any possible crisis and analyzing any possible event. It is about creating a culture of crisis readiness, of course analyzing the most impactful risks within the context of the company, but most of all, engaging with stakeholders, learning about the communication needs and ways, and most importantly showing leadership and clarity when setting roles and responsibilities. The key is learning to work together from the C-Suite to the operational, on how to to deal with these events, preparing the people of the company to embrace the roles and responsibilities they have learned to take.
    Is it surprising how unprepared many countries and governments were? Are there so big gaps between country leadership, political interests and administrative and operational levels? How come that Pandemic Plans in most of Europe countries for instance have not been updated for years? Is it because all focussed on Influenza virus and nobody saw Coronaviruses coming?
    Difficult to explain and understand. Maybe because there are considered as plans and not ongoing programs?
  4. What needs to be DOne or rather Decided?
    Leadership is needed in crisis time, to take the right Decisions:
    – To decide when to escalate in a crisis mode, and engage the right people in the crisis team. Easy task when the preparation phase has been done correctly.
    – To pave the way for the resilience of the company: showing empathy, avoiding arrogance at any cost, focussing on the main stakeholders (customers, employees), protecting the brand, the integrity of the company in other words Leading by example.
    Here again the way some of the world “leaders” handled are still handling the Covid crisis is appalling.
    Lack of decision making, lack of true delegation, lack of responsibility.
    – The way leaders decide during the crisis not only will define the outcome of the crisis for the company or organization but also determine its future and potential for recovery of trust and build resilience.
  5. How should we Communicate?
    Here the same formula apply: 3xC – Communicate – Communicate – Communicate.
     – Understanding what and how to communicate,  to which stakeholders, is key, and is a result of the preparation phase.
    Not only to accelerate the process during the crisis but also facilitate the communication itself.
    – A genuine, transparent communication is even better perceived by those stakeholders that you engage on a regular basis and not  – only when things go south. Yes a genuine, trustworthy, and transparent communication is a golden rule.
    – Learn to say that you don’t know rather than to invent false excuses or worse lie. In a crisis, and especially in one with media attention, everything will eventually come out. So build your communication, brick by brick, in a way that you never have to retract yourself or be contradicted by facts.
    – Communication should be addressed to all stakeholders, in particular, those most impacted by the crisis, and should always include internal stakeholders, such as employees, who deserve to know what the company or organization communicates, latest when the other stakeholders are informed and not by the media.
    -Miscommunication/ Misinformation has happened in many countries about scarcity of masks, respirators,tests and other trials on drugs.
  6. How do we Act to Improve?
    Actions that are taken should reflect directly what has been decided and communicated. If decision change and acts differ, then we should communicate accordingly explaining the why fo the change.
    These actions are the tip of the iceberg that most people will see.
    Actions are also in the way we improve the company, its processes after the crisis has passed.
    It is important to learn from every experience, and to maintain this knowledge, among the crisis preparedness teams, long after the crisis has passed.
    Yes every crisis passes, but Resilience is not only to adapt in order to recover the original status, it is to thrive, and improve the future. Preparing better for the next crisis, with its risks and opportunities.
    During the crisis, I tested the new Linkedin tool, polls asking my network , what do they see more in the current crisis: more risk or opportunity. Out of 171 votes, 81% chose opportunity.
    Is this a sign that we are heading to a brighter future, paying attention to the things that matter and the people we care about?
    Let’s hope for the best. And that at least collectively we learned from this experience.





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Bruno Séchet
Gérant | Managing Director