Five key Covid-19 priorities to manage under lockdown

24 April 2020 6 min. read
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Taking a people-first approach is paramount in Covid-19 crisis management, according to Kanvic Consulting executives Deepak Sharma and Gehan Wanduragala. The duo outline five priorities that businesses should have as the lockdown in India persists.

Sharma is Director of Strategy and Wanduragala is a Principal at Kanvic Consulting, a Gurgaon-based management consultancy that specialises in advising business leaders on strategy, marketing and transformation, among others. Their advice for life under the lockdown is to shed previous operation frameworks and adapt rapidly.

As several businesses are implementing business continuity plans, Sharma and Wanduragala have a set of guidelines that can be followed in this process. Before making any decisions, the advisors recommend the establishment of a special Covid-19 task force of sorts, equipped with the mandate to make quick decisions and the ability to communicate seamlessly.

“In a far-reaching and fast-moving crisis such as this, businesses cannot wait for perfect information to act,” write the pair. The task force should have clearly allocated roles, with different individuals assigned to key functions, all informed by a set of predetermined central principles.”

“This decentralised decision making will allow your people to respond more quickly and appropriately to their local context.”

Five priorities

Once the task force is in place, there are five priorities to inform their actions.

The first priority is to ensure the wellbeing of people. Individuals are under stress about a variety of factors under current circumstances, ranging from the health of their families to the stability of their jobs and financial situation. Acknowledging the fact that businesses have little clarity about their own position at the moment, Sharma and Wanduragala urge companies to help their employees with as much support and reassurance as possible. Such a proactive stance will build trust and goodwill among the workforce.

The second priority is communication. Investing in tools and systems to secure reliable communication channels with employees is crucial both for supporting them and for ensuring business continuity. Transparency is also key. “During meetings leaders at every level should follow a simple formula of telling your people what you know, what you don't know, and what you now know that you didn't know before,” write the experts.

Five priorities under the lockdown

Then comes the task of managing business continuity in itself. This is where Sharma and Wanduragala propose the concept of a minimum viable operation (MVO), which outlines the products and services that must be continued despite the sea of disruption being caused by Covid-19 conditions.

Building a comprehensive risk assessment and action plans is part of establishing the MVO blueprint. “Steps can include providing for a skeleton staff to stay on-site, setting-up work-from-home solutions and establishing new protocols for providing customer support,” write the pair.

The fourth priority is keeping stakeholders, such as customers and suppliers, informed and served. Covid-19 is likely to create unique and unprecedented challenges for customers, and dealing with these challenges might require a significant shift from established customer service protocols.

The Kanvic Consulting executives recommend that businesses make this shift, maintaining an attitude of flexibility in their approach to customer service, and going the extra mile to help solve novel problems. This is not only limited to managing problems that are phoned in, but includes reaching out to customers to make sure that they are satisfied.

“Such gestures are remembered. And when the time is right for your customers to buy they will place the first call to those who helped them through the crisis.” The same applies for suppliers, who are facing their own set of challenges and can provide long term benefits if bestowed with trust.

The fifth priority put forward is managing cash flows. Most businesses are likely to face dwindling revenues in the next few weeks and months, and will have to rely on their cash reserves to make it through. Sharma and Wanduragala recommend that cash planning be revisited every day if required for the next three months, in order to ensure that spending is within capacity and that net working capital is sufficient.

“All companies should take a hard look at all their planned investments, revise their approval processes for purchases and look at each and every cost with both a short and long-term angle,” write the pair.

Three horizons

Three weeks, three months, and then three quarters. These are three timelines, or “horizons for management”, recommended by Sharma and Wanduragala for leaders to consider in their response to the covid-19-induced downturn. Each time frame comes with a different set of priorities.

Over the next three weeks, the priorities are to ensure that people are well, business continuity is maintained and cash flow is under control.

Three months down the line, businesses need to “cross the chasm” according to the consultants, which involves reigniting business operations, and planning the long-term response. This phase involves being alert to changes in the market and in demand that have resulted from the crisis and its aftermath, and planning business models to match these.

This then will gravitate businesses into the three-quarter timeline, where businesses will “take a new road.” In this phase, businesses will work to implement their new strategies that look to capitalise on post-Covid-19 market conditions.

Sharma and Wanduragala’s recommendations will prove useful for many businesses, as they seek advice on how to navigate the ongoing crisis. The lockdown in India has been extended till May 3rd at the very least, although certain businesses with essential products have been given restricted permission to operate as of April 20th. In the mean time, businesses must revise their priorities and set clear timelines.