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As we head into 2021, the COVID-19 crisis will continue to affect businesses until at least half the South African population is vaccinated. This means the road to recovery for many is likely to be a bumpy one in the face of the threat of further outbreaks and government restrictions. 

Just a year ago, business contingency plans were at the bottom of the priority list for business owners. Accenture research found 32% of senior executives rarely updated their operating model. While Mercer found 51% of companies had no business continuity plan to combat the Coronavirus outbreak. Similar research found 62% of businesses have crisis plans, but few update them or practice scenarios. 

Sandra Beswick, Director at  financial and strategic advisory company Fluence Capital, says in the face of so much uncertainty,  a robust and detailed contingency plan has taken on new urgency. 

“The pandemic has underscored the importance of a business contingency plan to ensure business continuity and mitigate risk following severe disruption. Failure to do so leaves businesses vulnerable to entering a crisis already on the back foot.”

“While you can’t completely insulate your business from every possible worst-case-scenario, a business contingency plan can help mitigate risk and give your business the best chance at recovery,” she continues.

Deloitte report on strategies for a post COVID-19 recovery crisis says companies need to rethink their strategies and adopt new sustainable approaches to business in order to recover.  At the heart of its advice for recovery are five actions:

1. Reflect

Pause and reflect on what worked during the crisis, what was learnt, and how effective your initiatives were in facing the crisis.

“Review the efficacy of the business contingency plan you had in place when the crisis hit. If there were weaknesses, try and identify the root causes. Draw on the lessons learnt to create an up-to-date strategy based on various scenarios that will help build resilience as well as enable your organisation to better respond to future crises.” 

2. Recommit

Reinforce commitment to employee well-being and purpose through a focus on their physical, physiological, and financial concerns.

“Companies that had a plan to safeguard employees and keep operations ‘business as usual’ experience have far less disruptive changes to their bottom line. Prioritise actions that put your people first. Strong employee relationships built on transparency and trust can be instrumental in helping organisations recover from a crisis.”

3. Re-engage

Review and redeploy your workforce in order to maximize their contribution and potential. 

“Creating focused teams can help to establish clear priorities, meaning decisions can be taken quickly and actions can be swift. Ensuring continuity of operations in the face of a variety of unforeseen disruptions needs to be a top priority going forward.”

4. Rethink

Utilise new business priorities to rethink and reconfigure evolving business needs. McKinsey found we vaulted five years forward in business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks.

“Agile workplace models are key to helping businesses to react successfully to the unexpected crises. The rapid migration to digital technologies driven by the COVID-19 will continue into the recovery, highlighting the importance of adopting a digital-first approach which can help you operate flexibly and remotely when disruption occurs.”

5. Reboot

Realign operational priorities with the most pressing business and workforce priorities.

“Reshape your business model in line with the new economic realities.  Cash flow lies at the heart of business resilience. Taking steps to maximise cash flow is an essential component of recovery.  Explore the best ways to ensure liquidity and manage cash and working capital as the business environment starts to stabilise.”

Business recovery is not a one-size-fits-all approach 

Sandra says while business continuity plans are not one-size-fits all, there are some broad steps that can be adopted when it comes to business recovery from an unanticipated crisis. 

“COVID-19 has shown us that business contingency plans are not something to put on the shelf and review every few years. Instead, it needs to become both a strategic imperative and a standard practice moving forward. Now is the time to understand the lessons you learned over the recent months and apply them as part of a renewed contingency plan. Although no one can predict what the future holds, a well-tested contingency plan is critical to weathering challenging times. It’s that combination of technology, process, planning, and people that makes all of the difference.”

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