Pandemic response and recovery: a CEO’s perspective
- Published: Wednesday, 22 April 2020 08:32
Jon Ezrine highlights lessons that CEOs can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic, which will help businesses emerge in a stronger position when the outbreak subsides and organizations face a new business ’normal’.
If you’re a CEO, during the COVID-19 pandemic your role is to lead your company’s vision and to make sure your company continues to operate as effectively as possible. This might sound obvious, but the pandemic is testing many CEOs to their limits.
Suddenly, there is a huge amount of uncertainty in society and your employees are worried about their jobs, homes, families, and friends. Now is the time for you to provide a steady hand, reassurance, and hope.
The qualities that a CEO needs in this pandemic situation are the same as those needed in any crisis: you need to be present, calm, and confident.
In your dealings and communication with employees and other stakeholders, you need to be empathetic, honest, clear, inspirational, and emotional. The last trait might surprise some, but displaying real emotions adds authenticity to your communications.
The impacts of a pan-crisis
While the traits needed as a CEO during a crisis situation are the same, the actions required to manage the COVID-19 crisis are radically different. This is due to the global and all-pervasive nature of pandemics: and their longevity.
In some ways, this makes it easier to manage the crisis - since everyone is in the same boat and the eyes of the world are not on your company – but, in other ways, the pandemic crisis is much harder to manage because there are so many areas your company simply cannot control.
COVID-19 is a ’pan-crisis‘ and its impacts affect both short- and long-term business strategies. However, as in all areas of life, “this too will pass” is a motto to hold on to.
The pandemic will be controlled with emerging treatments and vaccines. The only question is how long this will take. So, as CEO you should envision your post-pandemic company. What changes will exist in this new business environment? What new expectations will employees, stakeholders, and investors have?
Here are a few areas where I think we’ll see change:
The supply chain
The pandemic has exposed a lack of resilience in many supply chains. Up to now, businesses have sought supplier agility and cost effectiveness, but many organizations have largely ignored supplier resilience and the dependencies in the extended supply chain.
This will no longer be acceptable. Single-threaded and just-in-time supply chains have been shown to be a risk. Post-pandemic businesses must be prepared to balance supply chain leanness with resilience.
This pandemic is also bringing about a permanent change of attitude to teleworking.
Businesses that were previously resistant or hesitant about remote working have found ways to facilitate large-scale and effective teleworking processes and employees have seen the lifestyle and quality of life benefits that working from home can bring.
Going forward, your business should assess how you can use this opportunity to make your company more agile and more resilient.
Business travel is another area where the pandemic may bring about a change of attitude. Many organizations have realized that they can use video-conferencing very effectively and, while this will never completely replace the need for face-to-face meetings, it can be used to greatly reduce the need for business travel. Resistance from employees to mass-transit and air travel due to new awareness of infection risks will also add to the pressure in this area.
Pre-pandemic organizations mainly operated in a world where business continuity awareness and management was the realm of specialists.
Post-pandemic, the board is going to want to get much more involved and CEOs are going to be asking a lot more questions about business continuity and organizational resilience. For business continuity managers, the challenge will be having the ability to take the esoteric language of the business continuity profession, to translate it for the board and to relate it to the wider business strategies.
There will be no further tolerance for business continuity box-ticking; strategies will need to be real and workable.
Business continuity may well become a common board role, but it will need some rebranding and rethinking to move it away from its current specialist approach.
And it should go without saying that business continuity will need to be seen as a program, not a project.
You can’t plan for everything; but you can be ready for anything – and to achieve this business continuity must pervade your entire organization.
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has made businesses much more aware of the reality of high-consequence, low-frequency risks.
The certainty is that another pandemic will happen one day. The only question is when this will be.
There are other such threats out there and playing the ostrich is no longer an acceptable strategy; your role as CEOs to be aware of the potential threats that your business faces and to address them head on.
Jon Ezrine, CEO, Assurance Software Inc.
Jon Ezrine has a strong track record of leadership in high-growth software and managed services companies including roles as the COO of Nexidia, a customer service analytics software company, and as the CFO of Witness Systems, a customer service software business which successfully went public during Jon’s tenure. Jon has managed companies through multiple stages from startup through IPO and acquisition.
Read Assurance Software's Guide to Pandemic Planning: Developing & Reviewing Your Organizational Pandemic Plan