In this blog we hear from Wasafiri’s Head of Operations, Scott Hinkle, who has been on the forefront in helping Wasafiri navigate the turbulence of Covid-19. His work has also connected him with over 200 fellow operations professionals, offering a chance to share the lessons and insights we are learning first hand. These pearls of wisdom have been well received; according to Astrid Verstraete, Co-Organizer and Administrator of Ops Stories:
‘This blogpost is a perfect way to give structure to a chaotic period. Many of us will use it as a reference on how to deal with a crisis, provide a new and fresh way of thinking. It won’t be useful just now but in future challenging times. It’s not something we want to think about, but it’s something we’re all going to prepare for from now on.’
Ops Stories exemplifies the collective and innovative leadership needed to not only help the world transition through these difficult times but also work towards the world we want to be on the other side of this crisis. Our conversations prompted me to articulate what Wasafiri has been learning and capture what other businesses are doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
Respond to the crisis using four key response areas
Below are questions to help guide your thinking on ‘what next’, followed by some examples of how Wasafiri has responded in each area.
- Crisis Management
What data and structures do you need to monitor the situation? What existing structures do you have to support the new and changing situation? What new ones do you need?
We created a COVID Response team that reports to leadership and entire business, but does not make decisions. It is made up of key stakeholders across the biz, but is very small. The key responsibilities are to manage inflow and outflow of information regarding the crisis, keep track of the mood and morale of employees, and ensure effective communication to team and consultants.
- A People Centred Approach
How are you supporting your people’s safety, wellbeing, and working transitions?
We take a human-centred approach to business, meaning that we recognise the whole person as an employee, and all the outside life circumstances that people have. Having this culture provides the foundation for emotional and circumstantial support during these wild times. Key components of this are;
- health and safety always takes priority
- acceptance of lower productivity to adjust to the shock
- transparent communication – good and bad, plans and progress, as often as you can
- devolved decisions to the employees to control their own lives (i.e. people voluntarily decreasing time due to home-schooling).
- Accurate Financial Forecasting
What financial forecasting information do you have, what new data do you need? How to get the best quality data?
We have an established ‘management data’ system that we have leveraged by speeding up the frequency of assessment and tweaking the data needed.
- Business Continuity
What needs to continue, what needs to stop, what needs to change?
We narrowed our focus during this time to;
- Quality delivery on existing projects that can still operate – work with clients to adapt them as much as possible
- Cutting overheads – everything that is unnecessary is gone
- Whole company shift to biz/dev – everyone is focused on how to develop partnerships, initiate creative thinking, and support client-facing personnel
Consider the three types of decision-making
During a time of crisis, ‘how’ we make a decision can be just as important as the decision itself. All decisions include some degree of efficiency, robustness and inclusivity. When making a decision, it is helpful to consider what type of decision (or degree of) you are trying to make. Before making a decision, think about whether it needs to be:
- Efficient – Should the decision be made quickly? Is there already an owner of this decision? If the decision has lower impact across the business, or if there are structures and leaders who already own this decision-making area, then you can lean towards efficiency.
- Robust – Do you have the information you need to make this decision? Is it ok to make a semi-informed decision on the matter? If not, then more research needs to be done either by speaking to people or online investigation.
- Inclusive – Is it a decision that will affect many people in your organisation? If so, then the process for making it should lean towards the inclusive side, getting input from a wide variety of people. This takes more time and effort to do, but ultimately strengthens company-wide ownership and buy-in for the decision.
Tips and topics that resonate for this crisis
Often a simple idea, or phase can be a solid guide during these messy times. Below are some tips that we found helpful.
- What type of organisation do you want to be coming out of this? What do you want to be remembered for during the crisis? Answering these questions can provide a beacon for decision-making and action throughout the crisis.
- Embrace ambiguity. Clarity is not coming soon; accepting this allows for the adaptation that is needed.
- Shorten time frames for planning (ours is around 4 weeks). Things are too difficult to predict beyond a few weeks, so there is a need to reassess your situation monthly.
- Increase the frequency of communication to the team. Also, increase line management and face-to-face time. In general, double to triple the amount of communication during normal times.
- Become ‘thought partners’ as a way to support clients, colleagues, and communities. Being a trusted and accurate source of information and a brainstorming partner now will hopefully lead to better relationships and business in the future.
- Recognize the blurring of the work/life balance. Home life and work life are now official one and the same. Openly discuss the challenges that come with this, share stories and support any necessary adaptations.
- Creative, thoughtful and supportive business development is a key way to get through this. Once your crisis management structure is in place, then it is time to really reach out through existing networks and clients.
- Invest in your own well-being. Look after yourselves and each other. Identify what it means for you, create the space and consider how others can do the same.
- Work smarter, not harder. The world and our market is volatile at the moment and it would be super easy to get really busy in ways that aren’t actually productive; there is no point fighting the flow. There will come a time when we will have to work hard, when the market picks up; but it is important to not burn ourselves out at the moment.
- Ask for help. Normal ways of making choices about how to spend time have changed, the context has changed, and the boundaries between home and work have changed. It can be hard knowing what to focus on next; let’s ask each other for help and lets help each other.
Useful Information Sources
Below are links to some of the most impactful pieces we have encountered.
- B-Corp: Business resources for COVID-19 – live updates for resources on how to handle the crisis. Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit.
- What should I do next? Finding action in hard places – 5 lessons Wasafiri has learned from operating in conflict and crisis environments as a roadmap to organise thinking and action for ‘what to do next’ when there seems too much comprehend.
- Ignore the Productivity Pressure – stages of a crisis – a good article from someone who grew up in crisis, and explains the different stages that we are all going through, and what to expect. We found that it took the pressure off a bit.
- Purposeful Optimism – How to grow your capacity to adapt – one of Wasafiri’s key lessons is to ‘push into what is real now’, not the way it was. This blog written by our Co-founder provides 4 principles to improve how an organisation can adapt during challenging times.
- Basic COVID Response Framework – more details on people, finance, business continuity, and situation management.
- Be a convenor, and thought leader – an example what Wasafiri is doing in Africa to try to generate new ideas and bring people together in response to the crisis.
- Leading in a time of crisis – a comprehensive framework for the three simultaneous responses needed; economic shock, pandemic response and shaping the new normal.
- Good daily source for corona virus effects on UK business – CBI is a non-profit organisation that has daily updates and advice for UK businesses.
- Common considerations, issues and options is a comprehensive overview of all the aspects a business should consider, and provides a summary of the different UK government financial initiatives.