Boards and their businesses are operating in extraordinary times. As we all grow more acclimatised to working remotely, and dealing with the myriad other challenges of operating during a pandemic, what are the key steps businesses should be taking now?
How can boards direct their operations to help their organisation keep running effectively?
What steps should businesses be taking now?
Business advisers EY recently hosted a webcast on the topic of Responding to COVID-19: Managing business continuity. An article in CityAM summarised the webcast, and has some good tips for companies and their boards.
Coping with wide-ranging challenges
As the article points out, businesses across the UK (and worldwide) are facing a wide range of challenges. Some have seen sales rocket, with supply chains and the ability to get sufficient stock the issue. This has been very evident in the retail sector, with shops and supermarkets struggling to manage stock levels and deal with necessary changes in the way customers behave in store.
Conversely, other firms have experienced almost total drops in demand, or have had to change their business models to adapt – restaurants having to operate takeaway and delivery, for instance, or wholesale food suppliers moving to supply retail customers.
Identifying the practical measures businesses should be taking
In light of the current situation, the website sets out some steps under four umbrella themes. These are:
- Health – The webcast identifies protecting everyone’s physical and mental health as ‘a priority’. Firms should take practical measures to protect staff, customers and suppliers; measures suggested include staggering working hours and barriers to limit physical interaction. And as per government guidelines, anyone who can work at home, should.
- End-to-end supply chain – Businesses need to retain visibility of the supply chain to avoid or swiftly tackle any issues. As the article says, ‘the health of any company depends on the health of its entire eco-system’; firms should take steps to support its suppliers and customers.
- Infrastructure/data – physical and cyber – With fraud and phishing threats increasing, businesses need to be on the front foot. Employees working at home need to take as robust an approach to things like data protection and IT hygiene at home as they would in the office.
- Values – EY suggest that firms shouldn’t ‘lose sight of purpose and long-term values’ but instead use them ‘to help inform and prioritise your business continuity response. Companies will be judged on how well they respond to this crisis’.
- Product lines – The webcast suggests that firms strip back their offering, focusing on their bestselling lines. This should ‘simplify every aspect of the business – from limiting factory change overs, to simplifying procurement and sales’.
- Sales – Boards and leaders can support their sales teams, operating in unchartered territory, by simplifying sales processes and sales scripts.
- Operations – Similarly, operational processes should be streamlined to minimise physical staff and customer interaction, reduce training time, bolster cyber security efficiently and minimise the pressure on shared service centres.
- Operations – Operations should be amended to protect staff, with social distancing implemented in factories and elsewhere. Firms could explore ways to repurpose unutilised production lines to produce things like healthcare PPE or hand sanitiser.
- Change your end-markets – As we mentioned above, many businesses are changing their delivery models to adapt to the current time. Boards should explore whether existing low-demand supplies – for instance, food or sanitary product designed for office or corporate use – can be repackaged to serve high-demand consumer markets.
- Adapt your customer proposition – For instance, moving from selling physical books or in-person tutoring to digital delivery. Or moving your marketing focus from events and outdoor advertising to online media.
- People – firms should explore ways they can redeploy underutilised employees. Working hours should be adaptable so that those with caring responsibilities are supported. There are government schemes that can help employers and employees; businesses should also consider potential alternatives, like mutually-agreed reduced working hours.
- Board – In specific advice for boards, EY says that directors should ‘Stay on-top of decision making, putting measures in place to ensure that management teams can take quick decisions and communicate these rapidly to the business and other stakeholders’.
- Employees – Employers should keep in regular contact with all employees, whether still at work or furloughed. New technologies should be brought into play, with communication two-way to ‘ensure a sense of ownership’. The webcast points out that employees can play a valuable role in helping their businesses to adapt working practices and stay secure as remote working and online activity increase.
- Customers – the way companies deal with customers is changing, as virtual contact centres, homeworkers and onshored teams necessarily take responsibility for customer contact. Capacity may be reduced by absence.
The article suggests that companies ‘ensure the changes in the customer care environment and workforce still communicates a message of empathy, customer resolution and alignment to your purpose’.
Keep one eye on the longer term
While responding to the immediate challenge will be boards’ first priority, companies need to maintain a focus on the medium and long term too. As the article points out, ‘decisions made now will affect your company’s future in the recovery and beyond’.
The coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly creates significant challenges for organisations of all types and sizes. But by implementing the steps above, boards can take action that should help to mitigate and tackle some of the obstacles.
To read more about effective boards, you can download our case study. It details how Merthyr Valleys Homes made their board pack production process more efficient and effective, and you can read a copy here.
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