Since we fell into the corona maelstrom, I like many others have been involved in hundreds of planning meetings. But how do you plan within an ever changing environment, is it even possible? When a crisis develops, the planning process itself is what pays off. Here I share some of my learning over the last three weeks.
Start with stop
Despite the desire to take immediate action, it’s important to pause and not jump to instant problem solving. As with most plans, you must assess the risks, identifying which elements of the crises will cause the most disruption or harm. In my part of the business, delivering repairs to people’s homes, we have multiple contractors going into residents’ homes every day (many of whom are vulnerable). We needed to act quickly to ensure we kept our people safe, whilst still delivering a crucial maintenance service. The knee-jerk reaction would have been to move to an emergency repairs only response, but that felt too extreme. . . . instead we followed Government guidance and maintained the current service for as long as we could safely and legally. In parallel we expanded the emergency repairs criteria, enhanced our supply chain to ensure there was enough PPE, and communicated with our residents, staff and contractors about the changes. As soon as the lockdown regulation was tightened, we hit the button on our emergency only service.
Determine the impact
The problem with a reduced repairs service is that the buildings will still need repairing. As in any home the, the longer you ignore a repair the worse it gets. In our case as soon as the emergency repairs service we deployed was operating in a “business as usual” manner, it was necessary to begin to understand the long term impact. Determining the impact isn’t a question of gazing into a crystal ball and being overwhelmed by all the unknowns. It is possible, at the very least to try to predict the impact using data, expertise and predictive analytics. In the repairs example we chose to still allow our residents to book “non-emergency” repairs, despite the fact we are not fixing them. This gave us the ability to analyse the “backlog” of repairs and plan for the impact as regulations are lifted; what might we prioritise, how might we get the right resources in place. Impact assessment is critical to deal with both short-term and long term issues arising from a crisis.
Identify the contingencies
Even with the best planning in the world, you need a back-up; a go-to if all else fails. With every plan rolled out during the covid-19 crisis, we have tried to think through the “what-ifs”. Within the repairs team was asked questions, “what if we cannot even deliver emergencies as it is too dangerous?”, “what if we want to expand the repairs criteria further?”, “what if we don’t have parts for specific jobs?”, “what if our staff cannot carry out their day-to-day roles?”, “what if we are all vying for the same resource and supply chain as lockdown lifts?”. In my experience asking as many questions as possible, even if they seem ludicrous, allow you to react when things change. And if this crisis has taught me anything, things constantly change.
Developing the plan
Unlike “peacetime” planning, a crisis plan is not written and then adhered to; it is an evolving and agile set of guidelines which must be built upon by every relevant brain in the business. Getting the right people around the table to feed into the plan is so important – whether that is subject matter expert, a customer, a contractor, a legal partner or an outside party. Within my directorate I started with twice daily meetings with my immediate team, and we built the plan to respond to emerging issues. We didn’t write it down immediately, it would have been futile – we used dialogue, brainstorming and collaboration until we felt ready to commit to a way forward. The most important rule about developing a crisis plan is that it is a living document – if you have to completely change direction because of a curveball it’s entirely possible with a “living plan”.
Communicate the plan
I intend to write a further blog on this, as communicating in crisis is deserving of a write-up in its own right. However, it would be remiss to not to include something here. It’s important that all employees understand their roles during a crisis, especially as they may be feeling stressed and panicked. To achieve this we sought to ensure that all relevant people had access to the information that they needed. During anxious moments of a crisis, people require very quick access to honest and easy to digest information.