Whether or not you believe that the public health strategies that have been deployed, and sometimes are mandated for COVID-19, it is CERTAIN that business leaders need to have a “game plan” to bring their business’ fully back on-line. What will our “new normal” look like? While there are many issues to consider, I want to focus on concerns for key personnel, more specifically, key leaders in your organization.
I am often surprised just how little mind-share organizations actually commit to ensuring there is an adequate plan in the case of disruption to the availability of a key leader or key leaders. Allow me to set the stage a bit as to why I believe this is an especially important consideration now. As of this writing, there is no countermeasure to this novel coronavirus. No vaccines or generally accepted therapeutics are readily available to reasonably ensure all personnel on your current company roster will be available day-in, day-out for work. It is probable that COVID-19 could significantly disrupt your workforce- including key leaders. Let’s face it- some of your key leaders may be in high risk categories for severe illness from COVID-19. Absences could range from quarantine of at least 14 days to weeks, months or worse if a key leader tests positive or is hospitalized. My experience working with a number of cyclical businesses, also tells me that a significant number of furloughed, or otherwise laid-off personnel, won’t be back. Also, as “lockdowns” persist, demand for talent may become even more acute as operations ramp-up. Some of your current talent, even if you have been able to keep them on the payroll up until now, may jump ship for future more attractive employment offers. Valuable resources have options, and people with options tend to explore their value. On top of that, some asymptomatic key talent may not come back to work, even after public policy restrictions are relaxed, until they feel it is safe.
What to do? Basically, the solution involves some aspects of approaches that you may have heard of or practiced before- disaster planning, emergency planning, business continuity planning, etc. Closely linked to these are succession planning and cross-training. My key personnel approach is one that I call an “inside, outside” approach. First, start with identifying two groups- key leaders and critical workforce. These groups need to be mutually exclusive, meaning a resource in one group cannot be a substitute for a resource in the other group. If ever put in practice, it need not be quite this cut and dried, but in the interest of creating a conservative, robust final plan we recommend this tactical starting point. The next step is to force rank resources within each group by importance to the business. Then, starting with your key leaders group, work through iterations where the top ranked key leader is out, then if the top two key leaders are out simultaneously, next if the top three leaders are out simultaneously, etc. Here is where the “inside, outside” comes into play- as you work through the iterations, establish if and how you can solve for the missing talent resources internally (inside). At the point in this iterative exercise that you cannot solve for the missing talent internally (inside), you need to identify the external resource or resources (outside) that can be called on to fill voids on demand. Unless you are a large organization, you probably won’t get through many iterations before it is clear where and when you need an external talent option to make things go. Work through your critical workforce in the same manner. Businesses that are not prepared to handle a demand surge when we “re-open the economy” will expose themselves as a potentially unreliable supply source and could lose business permanently.
Check with service providers you trust for external resource options. Many of them, at this unprecedented time, may be willing to assist you at discounted rates due to economic hardship. At LBR, we have temporarily suspended our standard rate structure for interim leader support to help clients fulfill any demand wave that may roll in as governmental leaders relax restrictions across the country. We, as business leaders, are all in the same boat here. Most service providers want to be good corporate citizens and do their part to help clients, as well as the economy at-large, to rebound.