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coronavirus: accelerating post-crisis business recovery

We explain how organizations can better prepare for the new normal using scenario planning

Published by orgvue

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As nations around the world begin putting their Coronavirus exit strategies to the test, businesses are waking up to the fact that ways of working will never be quite the same again. What’s important now is how you plan your business recovery against this backdrop of lasting uncertainty.

Every organization will need a recovery plan that’s specific to its own business objectives. You’ll need plans for different scenarios, including the worst case, so you can formulate policies and practices that will get you up and running again.

“Flex up and down and follow demand”

Nobody knows how long it will take to come out of the Coronavirus crisis. In the business world, some leaders are unapologetic about this fact. Take Dave Lewis, chief executive of British supermarket, Tesco. Asked whether he thought customers would be ready to return to store shopping once the crisis subsides, he simply said, “I don’t know.”

What Lewis does know in detail is the scale of demand and the company’s capacity to meet it. Using data, Tesco has adapted by adding 47,000 more staff, changing store opening hours to allow more online orders to be picked overnight and increasing home delivery slots to a massive 1.2 million a week[1].

This responsiveness, coupled with being comfortable with uncertainty, shows Tesco is taking a new approach to business planning that others can learn from. When you don’t know what the future holds, even a few months out, how do you plan? Lewis knows it’s all in the data and how quickly you respond to market changes.

Efficiency at any cost could put you out of business

Academic or intellectual knowledge of impending crises has not in the past prepared organizations to cope any better with them. The financial crisis was long foreseen but still it caused the worst downturn in decades and led to well-respected institutions going out of business.

Coronavirus is no different. Experts have been warning us for years. SARS and MERS rang clear alarm bells. Yet the warnings were ignored. With the exception of disaster recovery for technology systems and office sites, having contingency measures in place for people and processes is often overlooked because it’s not efficient.

There’s no doubt that businesses will continue to operate through the lens of efficiency, productivity and cost management, but it will be more about having a flexible plan that aims to protect the health of the organization long term in the face of different scenarios.

Prepare for the future, plan for now

Planning has been relatively easy in the past. Organizations have been able to plan for 3 to 5 years and break that down into 1-year progress reviews. Now planning is about survival. 60% of chief executives are preparing for a long recession before they expect an upturn in the economy. All you can do is to plan and re-plan repeatedly in short cycles, using data to guide you. The companies that do this well are likely to be the ones that last.

Business strategy, objectives and strategic planning work well when there’s economic stability and market certainty. But that has all gone. When all’s said and done, there’s little doubt that organizational preparedness will rise rapidly up the corporate agenda in the aftermath of Coronavirus.

In future, it’s likely there won’t be a board of any organization that doesn’t hold their CEO to account for organizational preparedness. Previously it would have been the last item on the committee’s standing agenda. Now it will become a matter for serious scrutiny. While planning will undoubtedly change, preparedness will take on a new significance altogether.

Organizations that are most adaptable survive

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Incorrectly ascribed to Charles Darwin, this maxim comes from a 1960s quote by America professor of business management, Leon C. Megginson[2].

Evolution is adaptation to changes of context. It’s about who can react the fastest to the current circumstances. The job for all businesses now is to become adept at adapting as a means of survival. And that’s not going away any time soon.

It all comes back to data

Businesses are beginning to realize that it will be near impossible to know what the future holds in this new normal. What, then, does planning a path to business recovery look like? As companies try to anticipate what’s coming down the line, scenario planning will become increasingly important.

This brings us back to data. For scenario plans to be of any use, you need good data to build your models with. This is not negotiable. Simply having data is not enough. It has to be clean, well organized data, often synthesized from many sources. But done right, scenario plans will help to better prepare you for the coming weeks and months.

As South Korea goes back into partial lockdown, it’s clear we’re not out of the woods with Coronavirus. It’s going to take agility and resilience to forge a way to business recovery. But with a better understanding of your organization through data, it can be done effectively and more quickly than it would otherwise.

This is the final article in a four-part series. In the previous article, we looked at the choices facing organizations if they are to keep the business going during the crisis and rebuild once it subsides. Check out our resources hub for more articles on emergency business planning.


[1] The Guardian (2020) How Tesco’s ‘doomsday exercise’ helped it cope with the coronavirus, 3 May, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/may/03/how-tesco-doomsday-exercise-helped-it-cope-with-the-coronavirus?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

[2] Megginson (1963) Lessons from Europe for American Business, Southwestern Social Science Quarterly (1963) 44(1): 3-13, p. 4 https://www.jstor.org/stable/42866937?seq=1

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