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Snakes and Ladders

26th May, 2020

…and relax

What just happened?

Well, that was all a bit exciting: working at home; exercising at home; teaching at home. Most of us can now list the main European capital cities, while holding a Warrior pose and dialling into a team meeting.

But with the recent change in government advice from “stay home” to “stay alert”, the country is now taking its first baby steps back to business as usual. Or are we?

It doesn’t take too much effort to work out some alternative perspectives for the next three to six months, as organisations and individuals reflect on the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Perspective 1. We will return to the pre-lockdown normal, as if gradually waking up from a terrible nightmare:

“Phew, glad that’s all over. Right, where was I.”

Perspective 2. We will acknowledge what an impact on our way of working, the whole experience has been, and make suitable changes to how we operate:

“Ah, we might need to update our Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plans, just in case that happens again. We should also probably upgrade our IT systems.”

Perspective 3. We have seen the future and it needs a radical re-evaluation of how we function:

“So, the plan is, we are going to introduce fully-flexible working and accelerate our digital transformation capability.”

These three perspectives draw parallels in the different phases that organisations, and individuals, will go through, as they exit the trauma of an unprecedented crisis.

What next?

Most organisations’ activities can be grouped into three categories: Planning, Operations, and Compliance. Working out what we are going to do; doing it; and then checking, if we’ve done it right.

But throw in a pandemic and suddenly the straightforward acquires a whole new level of complication. What are we planning for? How are we going to operate? What is optimum?

We need to set these basic business functions in a context that makes them relevant. How we define and quantify the business function needs to reflect the conditions in which it occurs. For example, rolling out a company-wide performance standard, when employees still cannot access central systems will be, at best, counter-productive.

Consider the next six to 12 months, in three distinct phases of recovery.

Phase 1 occurs while the effects of the emergency are still mostly in play. Organisations are in different stages of coping, from complete shutdown through to a fully-functioning, adapted response flourishing in the new paradigm. This phase also includes those early stages of recovery.

Phase 2 is the point at which most organisations are starting to properly recover and have begun to consider ways of evolving their business functions to work in the new normal. Plans are being developed for more resilient business models, updated IT systems, and the policies and procedures that will support staff working in a loser framework, with less direct supervision.

The final phase, Phase 3, is when reality now makes those long-postponed aspirations for digital transformation a higher priority. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity (we’re going to hear that phrase a lot), to delete legacy practices that weren’t really working; embed those temporary workarounds that have proved surprisingly effective; and develop innovations more in keeping with this new normal. Indeed, can we make a “better normal”?

All good. We now have a model that outlines the key business functions to be considered; and a context for how these functions should be considered. Using these two parameters, we can now identify what box we are in and what needs to be done to cope with that specific environment; as well as how to manage progress to the next stage of development.

So, relax?

Unfortunately, no. As prime ministers and presidents discover, viruses and pandemics cannot be so easily controlled.

What is apparent from the last few weeks, is how different people and different organisations have taken different perspectives from their experiences. Many are still in shock, rocked by the uncertainty of their new environment. Some are talking about taking the opportunity to re-set goals and investigate new ways of working. While a few, the early adopters, are already benefiting from their more advanced capability for operating digitally.

But this assumes a linear progression from where we were – the old BAU; through what we have recently experienced – the pandemic and its associated lockdown; to the new normal – digitalisation and working from anywhere. What is doesn’t consider is that progress will not be straight-line, or consistent, or even quantifiable. How many businesses planned for the last few weeks? Even in their most pessimistic scenarios, how many envisaged an operating environment that we’ve experienced over the last three months and will continue to experience for an indeterminate number of months going forward?

A popular assumption is that we will move forward through a series of measures designed to reverse lockdown and return to a more familiar environment.

However, until mass testing, tracing, shielding, and vaccination are operationally effective, the greater likelihood is that we will move forwards and backwards through the three phases of recovery outlined above (and shown in the diagram below), as the virus gains and cedes control, and the now ubiquitous R number rises and falls.

It’s a bit like snakes and ladders…

Use the table below to find out what stage your organisation is currently in, in its response to the pandemic. The trick is realising that, while you might be able to move ahead quickly in your recovery, jumping from one level to the next; you could just as easily find yourself preparing for the next lockdown, an alternative intervention or a new health emergency.

The successful organisations, the survivors who achieve the better normal, will be those with the same agility, resilience and opportunism, that the Coronavirus has so effectively demonstrated.

For further information, please contact: Graeme Forbes, Head of Market Solutions, Gemserv Ltd

M: 07545 413 513



Graeme Forbes

Business Development Director (Energy)

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