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Fail to prepare, prepare to fail: will contingency planning be a permanent feature on the management agenda?

One big realisation to have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance for businesses to have short term, emergency contingency plans in place.

​Those of you that have read my recent articles will know that I predict the new norm will include more remote working, an increased investment in the automation of business processes, and a reduction in the use of cash in the market place.

Another realisation to have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance for businesses to have short term, emergency contingency plans in place.

Most of the organisations that I work with have well established succession plans, with a steady pipeline of leaders ready to step into new roles. They invest heavily in their development of staff, make robust promotion decisions, and provide enhanced career development opportunities for their emerging leaders. They create strong organisational cultures, tend to have a more diverse portfolio of leaders, and seem to have greater stability and resilience.

However, the COVID-19 outbreak has now highlighted the importance of having emergency succession plans in place that account for disaster events. It has acted as a wake-up call for most businesses. In fact, according to a recent COVID-19 survey conducted in the US by Fortune, 38% of respondents said their boards and management teams had no succession plan should a leader get sick.

Leadership is more important than ever during a crisis. This pandemic has placed unusual strains on the entire leadership team; the protracted, ever changing nature of the pandemic; the challenges enabling work to be conducted remotely; having to adopt new management practices suitable for a dispersed workforce; and the need to continually review everything as the crisis unfolds. In addition to this, businesses have had to be prepared for leaders falling ill and being forced to take time out. This was most apparent when Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital and Dominic Raab took on his role.

CEOs and other key employees are not immune. As the coronavirus pandemic has escalated, management teams have been fortifying their succession plans and reviewing back-up operating procedures in case top executives or other critical employees fall ill.

What I think we will see more of in the new norm is businesses formalising and regularly reviewing their contingency plans that account for unforeseen emergencies like this one. Plans will include the identification of successors for unexpected sickness or absence, duties or responsibilities being shared to ensure continuity in management and daily operations and assigning caretaker roles and temporary cover for all areas of the business. It will be important that every effort is made to give those individuals the training and mentoring they require, including crisis response management, so they feel equipped should the need arise.

Plans should highlight essential and non-essential business operations and identify and develop knowledge transfer frameworks to allow for fluid transfer of information and communication among management and employees. It will be important to ensure the plans account for IT infrastructure needed to facilitate remote working and cyber and information security risks, along with the impact on the supply chain of any future unforeseen crisis (as explained in my colleague Steven Frost’s latest article: Coronavirus’ impact on the global supply chain).

Effective contingency planning will protect businesses against the impact of future emergencies. With hindsight, we have seen that it pays to be prepared. What plans do you expect your organisation to make?

Posted 7 months ago

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