COVID-19 Pandemic and 8 Common Sense Risk Management Practices for Leaders and Directors
Rick Nason, Ph.D.
Omer Livvarcin, Ph.D.
The COVID-19 situation has created both a pandemic and a crisis in public service, for-profit organizations as well as in not-for profit organizations. For many leaders, this may be their first experience in dealing with such a large-scale event with so many yet to be determined consequences. In such a situation it is easy to lose one’s focus on the basics. To prevent this, here are 8 common sense tactics based on our experience in risk management to keep in mind.
1. Remain Calm Panicking does not help and almost always makes the situation worse. As a leader, others will look to you as a source of reassurance. This does not mean that you are aloof or dismissive, but that you take controlled and measured actions.
2. Do No Harm In the rush to act, and in the rush to be seen as doing something, there is the temptation to do anything. As physicians are trained in a medical crisis, the first thought should be to do no harm.
3. Communication Change and especially upheaval is always unnerving. Not knowing only adds to the level of stress. Create clear lines of communication as well as clear expectations of what communications will be coming, and when they will be expected. People will understand if you do not have all the answers, but they might be less forgiving if they are left in the dark. Communicate even if the message is nothing more than “nothing has changed at the moment”.
4. Empathy In a crisis, it is natural to think of one’s own position first and foremost. A leader however needs to think from the viewpoint of others, and especially so in a time of change and upheaval. Remember though that empathy is not sympathy; empathy is understanding the situation from another’s point of view.
5. Try, Learn, Adapt The spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the resulting second order consequences are an example of a complex system emergence, (as opposed to a completely predictable complicated system). Complex systems do not have predictable outcomes, nor do they have controllable outcomes. Don’t look for solutions but instead look to manage the situation. To handle a complex situation, you need to take a “try, learn, adapt” approach.
6. Balance long and short-term thinking In a crisis, there is a great temptation to fix the immediate problem. However, it is wise to take a moment to consider the longer-term effects, many of which might be unintended consequences. There is no sense in fixing a short-term issue if it only creates bigger problems for the long term.
7. Look for Upsides In a time of upheaval it is easy to look at the downside of things. Great leaders, however, will also look for upsides and silver linings. Furthermore, they will take advantage of such situations. Seasoned managers are familiar with the adage of “never waste a crisis”.
8. Learn COVID-19 outbreak is a unique crisis that caught many organizations off guard. We experience that the current precautions are not working. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn and be more prepared for the future.
No leader wants to have to manage a crisis for their organization. The reality is that crises will happen. Implementing some tried and true common risk management tactics can certainly ease an organization through a crisis – including the current COVID-19 crisis. Perhaps the main takeaway after things have calmed down and started to return to whatever the new normal will be is that risk management can greatly aid an organization in dealing with such unexpected events. Developing and implementing a robust risk management strategy is invaluable in unique times as these. Once the crisis has started to recede for your organization, that is the time to develop a strategically thought out risk management plan, so managing the next crisis will be much more efficient.
Rick Nason and Omer Livvarcin are co-authors of the book “Risk Management for Non-Profits”, published by Business Experts Press. Omer is also the founder of Charify.ca and Vectors Group. Rick is also author of “It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity in Management”, published by University of Toronto Press.