When I checked with a HR Head of a Company recently about how they are handling COVID19, his response was that probably there is some amount of overreaction and Social media hype about it. But looking at the rapid spread of the Infections, maybe he changed his mind by now. COVID19 is declared as a Pandemic by WHO and India declared it as ‘Notified Disaster’. I think we need to take it seriously to ensure we stay in control.
Why a response is needed from Corporates?
COVID-19 is currently coming from People who travelled abroad. Corporates contribute to a good proportion of the Foreign travel. Foreign travel either for Business or for pleasure by the Employees of the Corporates. If we include the Children of the Corporate Executives studying abroad, the Corporates contribute to a lot of Foreign travel. Hence, Corporates can play a very important role in controlling the spread.
Indian Companies are perennially in Crisis!
If you look at the Eisenhower Time Matrix, most of the Indian Corporates are perennially spending a lot of time in the Q1. ‘Urgent and Important’. There are too many Crisis and we keep handling the issues right at the brink. Not a good thing. But we keep doing it. Indian Corporates are experts in living at the edge of the Chaos. We don’t quite get into full time Chaos. But we keep going in and out of them just like experts!
My experience with the Indian Corporates is that when a Project is taken up, we ask for a lot of time. We fight for more time for the Project with the Boss. You would think the team would really do a great job by working on it systematically over the period of time taken. But most often I start getting calls from the team two days before the Deadline agreed. They would be asking for clarifications about the Project. They work very hard over those last few days and Complete the Project. It would never be a Perfect job. But it won’t be a bad job either. I am not saying 100% of Companies and 100% of the Executives work this way. Maybe you do it much better in your Company?
Because of this dubious ‘capability’ to work well in a Crisis, I expect the Indian Corporates to do a very good job.
But what is Critical is that they should identify it as a focus area and attend to it. A Clear Leadership is required for this Pandemic / Notified Disaster. Otherwise everyone will be busy with their existing Crisis situations and wait for COVID-19 to become ‘Urgent and Important’ !!
What are the areas for focus in this Disaster?
There can be at least 4 areas that a Corporate should address.
a) Your Employees: First focus area has to be your Employees. If you take care of your Employees, you are maintaining a big group of Healthy Citizens who can do more in this situation. Even if you do not do anything for the Society directly, maintaining your Business and contributing to the National GDP in this situation is a good enough contribution. Many companies are slipping on their growth right now.
b) Your Vendors: Second focus has to be on your Vendor Partners. If you are a Big company having several small vendors, then you can contribute a lot by helping these vendor partners to face the Challenge. It would also help you to keep the Production going without supply disruptions.
c) Your Customers: Then comes your Customers. If you are able to keep your Employee flock together and healthy, have uninterrupted supplies you can take care of your Customers. You would contribute to Economic growth in this challenging time.
d) Your City / Society: Then the City in which you are operating. If each corporate can contribute to taking care of part of the city that you are operating in, it can be a great help to the Government.
There can be more angles to a Corporate’s Circle of influence. But let us start with these.
What can you do?
01. Recognize the Problem: First of all, we need to recognize this as a Serious Problem. We cannot be lost in our ‘Urgent New Product Projects’, ‘Customer Line stoppage issues’ and so on. Please look at handling the COVID-19 as in the same direction as attending to all the Business Emergencies that you have. You are only modifying your approach and attending to an underlying issue for every project in your Company. Special effort is required for Corporates to recognize it as Problem as we are used to responding in the last minute. This is one problem that you would not like to respond in the last minute.
Data says that just a month back there were just 4 cases of the Infection in Italy on 21st Feb’19. On 13th March, there were 15,000 with 1400 deaths! Containment is the critical action that you can take. There is right now no medicine for this Virus.
02. Learn about the Problem: It would help to learn about the Problem from Experts. You may not be generally in touch with these Experts. You may have to contact someone in WHO or AIIMS or any of the Private Corporate Hospitals where the knowledge may reside. Invite an Expert to your Company and let your teams understand the Problem and the precautions that we need to take.
03. Formulate Teams: Formulate teams to address the four groups of Stake holders that you want to address. Depending on the resources that you have, you can prioritize in the Stake holders. Have clear leaders for the teams and Objectives that they have to focus on.
04. What can be the Goals: Single biggest Goal is for everyone to stay healthy. But the Process goals have to be the New Behaviors that you want the Stake holders to Practice. Some of the new Behaviors can be as follows:
a. Spreading the knowledge about the Problem and the seriousness.
b. Not shaking hands. Practice Namaste instead.
c. Working in Shifts to reduce the density of the employees.
d. Using Video conference even for local meetings.
e. Maintaining some distance between you and your colleagues.
f. Avoiding non-essential travel.
There can be many more practices that you may define in your Company. This article is not meant to define a complete list of Best Practices anyway.
05. Create Champions for monitoring: Some of our Colleagues are naturally more disciplined and keen observers. Eg. Audit department colleagues, Quality Department colleagues and so on. Use their services to monitor the practices that you have defined. As these are new practices / behaviors that we are trying out, there are bound to be violations. These Champions have to identify the violations and keep talking to the Teams.
06. Quick Decisions: In a Crisis, there have to be quick decisions. There can be a small team of Senior people who can be authorized to take decisions as needed. The Teams have to be informed about this.
07. Communicate, Communicate and Communicate: Communication is another important aspect that is very critical in this situation. It would be quite okay to over communicate. Let the Problems and solutions be known to everyone in the Company. Maintain transparency. Especially in the light of Bad news. Whatever is construed as Bad news can be screened before relaying. This is to ensure spread of undue panic.
Through your efforts if you can keep your Employees healthy and also create Soldiers who can contribute to the immediate society around you, then you have done a great job!
You would have also trained your Team to handle a real Crisis before it really hits you hard!!
How are you responding to COVID-19? Please share so that Others can learn from you!
Act fast and Prevent the spreading of COVID-19!