The COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak has thrown the world into confusion. Suspected infection rates are now higher in the rest of the world than in China. Epidemiologists, virologists, and public health specialists are suggesting that this outbreak could spread in multiple waves. The World Health Authority has upgraded the risk level to very high. Amid concerns that governments know more than they are passing on, panic levels are rising and are not being assuaged by continuous calming government messaging, assurances of health service preparedness, and comparisons with infection rates for flu and past health disruptions.
As a result, travel, supply chains, commerce, and business confidence have all been disrupted. Schools and workplaces in some places are being closed. Investment projects are being postponed, and financial losses are cascading across global stock markets as investors get spooked. As a result, economic growth forecasts are being downgraded. In response to the health risks, trade shows, conferences, concerts, and sporting events are being cancelled. The impacts of these issues are combining with existing global fault lines and concerns about climate change, extreme weather incidents, economic uncertainty, and industry disruptions through technology led changes.
So, in the face of all this uncertainty, how is your organisation responding? We are seeing a range of strategies being adopted by firms of every size. Some are suggesting the situation is being hyped, believe it will all blow over quickly, and are arguing that they should just press on with their activities as normal. Some are actively seeking the upsides from this global period of adversity and looking for where the opportunities might lie – from protective masks and gloves to video conferencing services. Others are being more circumspect and trying to undertake comprehensive business impact assessments of everything from worker and workplace health risks through to the impact on demand, supply chains, and the situation in supplier premises.
Some are going further to construct scenarios evaluating the impact of different possible infection and fatality rates and scales of global spread. These scenario assessments need to consider the range of possible rational and irrational decision making by governments, businesses, and individuals. They need to explore possible impacts on economies, growth rates, public and customer confidence, demand, supply chains, workers’ willingness to come to the workplace, and competitor responses. Workable scenarios can be constructed quickly, updated regularly, and used to drive out strategic options and tactical choices. They can help leaders, managers, and staff rehearse and prepare for a range of possible near to medium term futures. Critically, they can help focus our attention and resources on the most important actions to help our organisations and individuals navigate this period of extreme uncertainty:
- Who owns the evaluation of future scenarios in your organisation?
- What are your options for the worst case scenarios?
- How can you ensure your people are well informed about the situation, understand what your customers are thinking, and are ready for a range of possible outcomes?
Rohit Talwar is the CEO of Fast Future Research, a global research and consulting company that specializes in identifying future growth industries and helps governments and global companies to explore and respond to the sectors, ideas, trends and forces shaping the next five to 20 years.