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Crisis Response Journal Crisis Response Journal

Response and recovery

Posted on 3rd April 2020 at 10:14am

It is vital that organisations, and indeed individuals, keep looking beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. This blog reinforces the need to plan for the recovery phase of the crisis and it highlights some of the good practice in terms of quickly adapting to what could become 'new normal' routines. It also questions whether we should be re-designing our way of working anyway, ready to face the next challenge. Opportunities can arise from times such as these.

In the next instalment of Roger Greene’s reflections from Tricordant’s webinar last week, he offers more insights into some of the participants’ organisational responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Improvising

The disruptive force of the Coronavirus pandemic has forced organisations to improvise at pace to sustain business operations and has triggered remarkable resourcefulness in staff and organisations. Staff have been trusted to” find the right way” for themselves to serve their patients, customers and clients.

Some inspiring examples of improvisation include the rapid development and instalment of the UK’s NHS Nightingale hospitals – the first of which is almost ready to open at London’s ExCel exhibition centre and is set to be the largest critical care unit in the world with the capacity to care for 4,000 patients. And religious leaders around the world are having to reinvent how they do their work – livestreaming services, running prayer meetings and even conducting weddings by Zoom.

While many excellent organisations already operate through inclusive approaches to staff engagement, encouraging staff autonomy within clear boundaries, the current emergency may have triggered a tipping point where it will not be viable to return to command and control or business-as-usual approaches to leadership. The empowerment genie may refuse to go back into the bottle!

Preparing for the unexpected

Scenario planning for major incidents and disturbances to business interruption have often taken a back seat to the urgent work of organisations.

The critical role of Business Continuity Planning has come into its own at every level of our organisational work. The relative ease (or not) through which staff have been able to switch from office-based to home working in large and small organisations has depended on the resilience of their systems and processes, particularly in IT and the leadership mindset.

Some of the 34 participating organisations had well worked-up business continuity plans in their pockets and had smoothly implemented them within hours. They were able to produce pertinent and high quality information, guidance and resources, including financial support schemes within hours and days. Others are struggling with the technology and more so with the mindset – I even heard of a public sector organisation where staff were still being instructed to come to the office.

The next iteration of organisational business continuity planning must now take the learning from the current crisis and work out new rules for the business for increased resilience and business interruption.

Short-term scenario planning will also serve to help organisations transition to whatever the new normal looks like once lockdown is eased and then released.

Leadership communications

Organisational leaders must recognise that the unplanned separation and segmentation of staff into frontline and remote-working will need some differentiated messaging. The courage of front-line workers who are placed at high personal risk to their own health must absolutely be acknowledged. So must the commitment and skill of back-office staff such as IT workers who keep the show on the road for so many through their unstinting support for the invisible work of our organisational systems and their infrastructure. They deserve much credit, too.

Re-designing our work systems

Long-embraced work behaviours and patterns have been greatly disrupted by the pandemic. Where there may previously have been resistance to transformational change in ways of working, people have now been obliged to adapt.

Probably the best example of rapid adaptation in my view is in the UK’s NHS. After a few years of top-down pushes to embrace digital and virtual technologies for patient-facing care that was hampered by massive system inertia owing to supposed ‘information governance rules’ and deeply engrained micro behavioural patterns (aside from a few enthusiastic early adopters), suddenly nearly all primary care, GP and hospital outpatient consultations are happening virtually or by phone.

Organisations have the opportunity emerging to start conversations about the rules of working in the new normal, whenever that comes, to preserve whatever benefits have emerged and to learn from staff experience and engagement what that new normal will look like. The scenario planning can’t start too soon.

It’s time to think about and plan for recovery

The current Covid-19 outbreak presents a significant challenge for the entire world. Understandably, the current focus of governments and organisations tends to be on the response to rather than the recovery from it. This focus will need to change if organisations want to achieve a return to normality and a sustainable resilience, reports Roger Gomm, CRJ Advisory Panel Member.

I expect that you will have invoked your crisis plans in response to the major health emergency caused by this pandemic. Your crisis leaders and team need to be able to demonstrate a sense of control and give people the leadership they need in the response to and recovery from the crisis.

By definition, a crisis threatens the strategic objectives, reputation and even the existence of an organisation. Therefore, it is of strategic importance that time, thought and resources be focused on planning recovery.  

The six key elements of integrated crisis management are anticipation, assessment, prevention, preparation, response and recovery. The first four elements are all 'emergency preparedness'. That should be the preparation for both the response to and recovering from the crisis. Understandably, the current focus of governments and organisations tends to be on the former elements rather than the latter. This focus may need to shift. 

Long process

Response encompasses the actions taken to deal with the immediate effects of the crisis. In the current Covid-19 health emergency, it is likely to be a long process and last for several months. This requires the implementation of arrangements for crisis management: collaboration, co-ordination and communication. Response should not only deal with the direct effects of the crisis itself to reduce harm but also the indirect effects, for example disruption or loss of business, reputation and media interest. 

Recovery is a complex and long running process that will involve many more agencies and participants than during the response phase. Recovery is defined by the UK Cabinet Office (Emergency Response and Recovery Guidance, HM Government) as: “The process of rebuilding, restoring and rehabilitating the community following an emergency, but it is more than simply the replacement of what has been destroyed and the rehabilitation of those affected.” The current crisis has and will continue to disrupt communities, strain the essential services; the economic and technological. It is in this context, with the requirement for physical, psychological and economic restoration that recovery is conducted.

As good practice I recommend that organisations prepare a Business Recovery Plan. This should state how the business would deal with issues by providing a framework based on the crisis management team and deal with issues such as: processes for managing and co-ordinating the recovery phase; the transition between the response and recovery phase; implementing alternative working practices; identifying and equipping temporary premises to relocate the key parts of the business; monitoring the progress of the reinstatement work at the damaged premises; keeping in contact with customers; winning back any lost business as capacity improves; and communicating with staff. 

Understanding the impact on your organisation will be essential to developing a plan for the recovery from this crisis. The four core elements of recovery are a good place to start: Humanitarian; economic; infrastructure; and environmental.

I have used a series of impact trees to help organisations reflect and make an impact assessment. Organisations will need to add the relevant or local detail.

The Recovery plan need not be complex but should set out the core response to all areas that have been impacted, allocating leadership roles, responsibilities and procedures to help the Crisis Management Team manage and lead the crisis recovery. That this will likely be a long process, potentially lasting several years.

Your plan should also include an evaluation or debrief process to capturing issues from the response and recovery phases.  The purpose of the debrief is to allow organisations to reflect on the Covid-19 response to and recovery from, enabling staff to communicate their experiences, identify lessons to allow arrangements to be modified, thereby improving organisational ability to manage the future.

The Recovery plan need not be complex but should set out the core response to all areas that have been impacted, allocating leadership roles, responsibilities and procedures to help the Crisis Management Team manage and lead the crisis recovery. That this will likely be a long process, potentially lasting several years.

Your plan should also include an evaluation or debrief process to capturing issues from the response and recovery phases.  The purpose of the debrief is to allow organisations to reflect on the Covid-19 response to and recovery from, enabling staff to communicate their experiences, identify lessons to allow arrangements to be modified, thereby improving organisational ability to manage the future.

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