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Coronavirus: 3 ways to sustain your business

We explain the choices facing organizations if they are to keep the business going during the crisis and rebuild once it subsides.

Published by Rupert Morrison 

Wood, Cutlery

Early on, businesses were optimistic of a fast recovery from the pandemic, but it’s now clear the situation is likely to continue for many months. So, what can businesses do to give themselves the best chance of weathering this mightiest of storms?

Well, it comes down to three things: priorities, planning, and creative thinking. Below we’ve outlined a mitigation strategy for how businesses can respond to the financial impact of the pandemic, depending on their circumstances.  

which critical activities will sustain your business?

To keep your business going, you need to be unequivocal about what’s essential and what’s not. When making decisions, it’s important to focus on critical activities rather than roles, so you’re clear on what needs to be done. Then it’s easier to identify who can do the job, who you could retrain to build capacity, or who you might need to hire.

For supermarkets, the most critical tasks are keeping the shelves stocked and meeting increased demand for home deliveries. Making more space available for popular items, adjusting supply chain to meet demand for those products, and reducing lines that are now less in demand are all essential activities that support the primary goal of serving customers.

spotting opportunities for process change

If accomplishing critical tasks in the usual way becomes difficult, businesses may have to bring in process changes to achieve the same ends. Before the pandemic, changing established ways of working involved extensive planning, piloting, communication, and engagement of team members. Now such changes need to be brought in quickly and iterated on the fly.

Take B&Q, which has reimagined its ‘click and collect’ service by repurposing customer car parks to offer drive-through style collections that meet social distancing guidelines. At first, the home improvement retailer underestimated demand, which led to cars queuing out onto main roads. It responded quickly by introducing a two-step control system using email and phone to manage customer visits.

Making process changes like these requires ready access to integrated data to ensure the changes can be resourced. Retail outlets are making such decisions by combining information on geographic coverage, supply chain logistics, and resource availability.

making operational changes to keep the lights on

If trying to sustain your current business is too high risk, you may have to consider repurposing your organization to bring in a new revenue stream that keeps the business going. For example, Tesco is using refrigerated lorries in its car parks to give customers the option of collecting their groceries. This operational change to the supermarket’s online ordering service speeds up the service and relieves pressure on home deliveries.

Since the pandemic’s impact on business operations first became apparent, we’ve seen many other examples of operational change. A number of small gin distilleries have been making and selling hand sanitizer to keep money coming in. Also, many food wholesalers began selling produce directly to consumers in the wake of restaurant closures to prevent stock from going to waste. Similarly, bakeries have begun selling flour direct to supermarket consumers to make up for shortfalls in supply.

When life returns to a ‘new normal’, operational changes like these may become necessary as customer preferences shift; they could also form a valuable part of your business recovery strategy. Understanding what customers are asking for now and anticipating trends that may continue long term could give your business a quick restart following the pandemic.

a move to ‘incremental planning’

Whatever happens, we know business won’t be the same after Coronavirus and neither will business planning. The world is increasingly volatile and disruptive even without a pandemic. In its research, the Corporate Research Forum found even the best business forecasters are unable to plan reliably more than 400 days out.

And in the context of Coronavirus, circumstances change weekly, if not daily. You have to be flexible and expect to incrementally adjust your planning on a continuous basis.

Learning from experience in small steps is likely to become best practice for business planning in the future, rather than grand plans based on theory and forecasts. Gone are the days of the three-year plan; say “hello” to incremental planning. 

readily available data is the key to responsive decision making

As we said, to plan quickly and make fast decisions, you need readily available data that’s gathered from across the organization, then synthesized and integrated.  Having accurate data enables business planning at the pace necessary to respond in situations like the Coronavirus pandemic.

Bringing data together quickly enables you to move at speed while strengthening processes and building organizational resilience. Going back to supermarkets, although some may have fared better than others during the pandemic, those with reliable data and solid design principles will inevitably result in faster business recovery following the crisis.

This article discusses the second step in a three-stage emergency planning process. In the previous article, we looked at how organizations can pool constantly changing workforce data to inform emergency planning. In the next article, we’ll consider what you can do to accelerate business recovery following the peak of the crisis.

coronavirus: emergency planning for faster business recovery

coronavirus: an action plan for business continuity

coronavirus: there’s no one-size-fits-all recovery

read about organizational planning and analysis

OP&A is a new forward-looking approach to planning that enhances organizational design and helps businesses respond to change.

Rupert Morrison

Founder and Deputy Chair of Orgvue, Orgvue

Rupert Morrison is the founding pioneer behind Orgvue, the leading organizational design and planning platform, which has won numerous accolades including Gartner’s ‘Cool Vendor’ in human capital management software. Rupert’s aim is to help businesses realize their goals through data and analytics. With over 20+ years of experience in consulting, and 17 years in developing software, he blends a deep understanding of board level business issues with new data driven methodologies to give real and sustainable business impact. Rupert is the author of the industry's foremost thought-leading books, considered to be essential 'must reads' for all org design and workforce planning professionals: "Data-driven Organization Design" (now in it's second edition) and "Organizational Planning and Analysis".

Photograph of Rupert Morrison