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Lessons to be learnt from the past year

Clever management consultants, some sections of academia and the media have been queuing up to point out that we should have been better prepared to defend ourselves against the Coronavirus. Whilst grateful for this insight, most of us have already figured that out for ourselves – as has the Government, most businesses, the NHS and the public at large. The last 12 months have been an uncomfortable reminder of how weak we are when faced with the full fury of mother nature.

Surely, the most constructive lesson to come out of all this misery is not to use hindsight to pretend how much smarter we were than our peers, but to use the experience – gained at such terrible cost – to make certain we are not caught napping again. And, in doing so, to remain mindful that COVID-19 has not yet been defeated and remains quite capable of conjuring up some nasty new tricks to tax our scientists.

The main problem for most of us has been that we have never been confronted by an enemy capable of causing such disruption on such a vast scale; mainstream training programmes did not cover this possibility. COVID presented an entirely new enemy, one which was unknown, silent, invisible, and deadly. What it tells us is that any future training and contingency planning must of course equip us to deal with a pandemic, but that it should also be designed to help us deal with wholesale disruption from any unforeseen, unexpected, or even unimaginable source, that is what contingency planning is for and the management keyword is ‘resilience’.

David Dwyer, Professor of Leadership and Organisational Change at Cranford University, said in a recent report that: “We do not know what shape the next crisis will take but we can take proactive action to prepare. Whether it is another pandemic, another financial crisis or threats from cyber- attack or climate change, the risks are multiple and complex, but the capabilities of readiness, responsiveness, recoverability, and regeneration (known as the ‘4Rs) are the ones that can be ingrained.”

What we can take from this is that because the current crisis is still unfolding, the future remains uncertain. To flourish considering what threats may lie ahead, companies must be prepared to be flexible, to move quickly, to adjust or even change their business model. Digitalisation is likely to play an important role in industry, but so will training, learning from the last 12 months, documenting the actions we took, deciding what went well, and what we can improve upon. Awareness must be an integral part of modern corporate culture for all members of staff.

Hopefully, there will not be a next time for a while, but we owe it to ourselves and our staff to strive to be prepared if it does.