Coronavirus Response Not Always About Minimizing Harm

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you have undoubtedly heard about COVID-19, a new type of coronavirus. In a daily report from the World Health Organization for March 9th, there are close to 110,000 reported cases worldwide. Sadly, the virus has claimed the lives of just over 3,800 individuals, mostly in China.

In the U.S., 213 individuals have been confirmed to have the virus, with 11 of these proving fatal. Most of these cases involve people who recently traveled to China.

Although COVID-19 is nowhere near as deadly as the annual flu season (…at this time), the unknown origins of the illness and the speed at which it spreads is a cause for concern for the WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and similar health organizations…the WHO declared a “public health emergency of international concern” on January 30th following the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China. 

Fears about the virus are wreaking havoc around the world…

As of this writing for instance, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 1,800 points, its worst daily decline since the financial crisis in December 2008. Numerous travel restrictions are in place, flights have been suspended, travel plans called off, and events like the annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Ireland and the long-running SXSW in Austin have been cancelled. Risk management and insurance groups are evaluating how to proceed with their events.

Like other past crises, there is much hype and panic swirling about. This picture taken the morning of March 9th at my neighborhood grocery store is case in point. Although there have been 12 reported cases in my home state of Florida, none of those have been in my hometown of Tallahassee.

Reporter Amy Maxmen from Nature provides this dose of sanity following reports that COVID-19 can be transmitted through flatulence – I wish I was joking, but I’m not…

What should organizations be doing to prepare and handle COVID-19?

Now I’m not mentioning this to disparage concerns about the virus. Since we don’t know a lot of about it, precautions need to be taken. These include common sense measures like hand-washing, staying home if you’re sick, and so on. 

Your company could experience supply chain disruptions, especially considering the number of products exported from China. This of course can lead to product shortages. 

If your company specializes in any products or raw materials connected to testing and treating the virus, are you prepared? Are employees prepared to work from home should the need arise? Should you consider cancelling or postponing any trips that involve flying or meeting large numbers of people?

It’s hard to say with any specificity what, if anything, your company should do – it really depends. 

However, this is taking a very risk-centric approach, or as Norman Marks explains in this article, “the management of a list of things that might go wrong.”

Risk managers and organizations in general must reframe this situation into how it will impact the organization’s success. Instead of managing potential negatives, how can you make informed decisions about responding (…or not responding) to issues like the COVID-19 outbreak?

In a comment to Norman’s article, another risk management thought leader, Grant Purdy, states:

Deriving a better understanding of our vulnerability is quite simple and involves asking the two questions (in relation to an event such [as] the Coronavirus pandemic) of: “To what are we vulnerable?” and “How are we vulnerable?

 

Once the ‘to what’ and ‘how’ of vulnerability has been appreciated, we can make adjustments to that vulnerability if this is necessary to ensure we have sufficient confidence in decision outcomes.

Grant goes on to make an excellent point about the Coronavirus outbreak. To most people, even in the risk management field, this issue and others like it are only about loss and harm.

However, disruptions like Coronavirus also present new opportunities as well. Grant explains this can happen in one of two ways – either the event changes something that constrained a previous decision (i.e. employees need to travel to work in our office each day) or the event could make something that was desirable but impracticable now possible (i.e. giving employees tools to work remotely results in more efficiency, productivity, and better communication).

While COVID-19 is something to be concerned about, how it impacts you and your company will vary based on a variety of factors like geography, industry, etc.

But instead of just focusing on the potential harm, it’s also important to examine how this situation creates opportunities to make your organization more successful. As Grant concludes in his comment:

…a mindset aimed at returning to things as they were might be the very last thing to aspire to. Instead, a carpe diem (seize the day) approach offers a better strategy…

Is your organization feeling any impacts from the COVID-19 outbreak?

Are there any opportunities that were once impracticable now possible because of the outbreak?

As always, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the topic of disruptions and opportunities. Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

If your organization is unsure how to best respond to COVID-19 or other disruptive events, contact me to discuss your specific situation today.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

SDS-Logo
about-sidebar-v2

Meet Carol

Helping companies achieve their vision and strategy, and succeeding in today's turbulent world, is something I'm honored to be a part of. Whether you're an occasional blog visitor or a long-term client, thank you for letting us be a part of your journey.

Most Recent Posts

The 12 Days of ERM Christmas

Without a doubt, one of my family’s favorite holidays is Christmas. Part of the fun, especially for our son, is seeing what “Santa” brought, but most importantly, we treasure the spirit of peace and goodwill the season brings. And after what seemed to be a never-ending warm spell, the weather is expected to be good…

Read More

Don’t Let Goals and Initiatives Be Blindsided by External Events

As the end of the year draws near, I think we’d all agree that while it wasn’t without its challenges, this year also wasn’t quite as turbulent as the previous two. While a lot of people are juggling company parties, shopping for friends and family, and special activities for the kids, most companies are putting…

Read More

Going the Distance: Ensuring Successful Execution of Strategic and Annual Initiatives

Strategic planning is a challenge – of all people, I understand… After all the meetings, risk and data analysis, and brainstorming of the preceding months, it’s tempting to think this is the end of the road and you can relax. Contrary to this common perception though, this is exactly not the time to relax, but…

Read More

Avoid Rookie Mistakes and Protect your Internal Reputation

Be honest – have you ever done something that you soon realized was a real rookie mistake? Me raising my hand… Considering the nature of ERM’s role to ask questions and challenge assumptions (often during conversations with executives), it can be argued that, in at least some cases, the expectations bar for risk professionals is…

Read More

ERM at Thanksgiving – An Illustration of Risk Management in Action

On occasion, I like to take some of the concepts we risk professionals think about in our jobs and apply them to different personal situations…take some of the same concepts we use when working with executives to develop corporate strategy and manage risks or uncertainty around that strategy. It’s Thanksgiving week in the U.S. –…

Read More

Why Quantitative Risk Assessment is Not Just the Best But the Only Option – A Conversation

Periodically, I have the pleasure of speaking one-on-one with Hans Læssøe on a variety of topics around ERM, strategic risk, and other issues and trends. As you know from my previous conversations (here, here) and posts featuring his work, Hans was formerly a practitioner at the iconic LEGO Company, but even more notably, is a…

Read More

The Three Lines Model – 3 Reasons Why I Don’t Like It

Everyone likes a clear-cut template that offers an easy way to create or manage something…I mean what’s not to like about a step-by-step process for accomplishing what you want? Sometimes this can work without any issues, such as the case with the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), ISO 9001 standard, or a new cooking…

Read More

5 Avenues for Expanding your ERM Knowledge

One thing I was taught to appreciate from a young age was the value of education and knowledge. It didn’t necessarily matter what the subject was, just that I always maintain a learning or growth mindset regardless of my current status in life. This mindset has served me well over the years, and it’s a…

Read More

Storytelling and Risk Management – Developing Skills that Technology Cannot Replace

It’s amazing how technology has developed and changed our working world over time. Imagine trying to run my risk and strategy consulting firm without tools like Zoom, Box, Slack, and other ERM-specific technology tools. There is no way we would be able to serve our clients the way that we do. Just consider how the…

Read More

3 Phases to Creating and Launching an ERM Program Focused on Organizational Success

If you’ve been handed the task of creating an ERM program for your organization, let me first offer my congratulations quickly followed by my empathy for the task ahead of you. I don’t say that to scare you but to provide a small dose of reality. Building, launching, and refining an ERM program that is…

Read More