Pandemic performance – is your Board focused?

It’s been a year-plus of pandemic now. How’s business? Thriving? Surviving? Looking for a way out? Businesses have seen (and implemented) a variety of sweeping emergency changes to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Many office-based workers are still home working, reliant on Zoom and similar technologies to maintain their connection with colleagues. Manufacturing workers have seen stringent precautions around workplace layout, sanitation, shift changes, etc. Others have been furloughed, ‘temporarily’ laid off, or lost their jobs. All of which is a necessary and understandable focus on the operations side of business. But what about the board? How are your directors doing? Are they taking a longer view of the situation or are they still in emergency mode? A few thought-prompts…

1. The longer term

Crisis management is a skill usually applied in short-term situations, developments (or accidents) that were unexpected. This crisis is unique in most people’s experience because it is ongoing. Firefighting won’t cut it – what’s needed is a longer view. While the situation remains unpredictable, the vaccine rollout and tentative roadmap out of lockdown has given some shape to 2021. When mapping out what that shape means for your business, are you learning (and applying) lessons from the first 12 months or so?

2. Increased focus on management

In the past, where people worked was largely a question for management, not the board. The ongoing trend towards more flexible working was balanced against business needs and decisions on homeworking were made on an individual basis. Now, it’s not a flexible working option but a company-wide strategy of necessity. What’s more, recent Forbes and McKinsey articles predict that by 2025, 70% of people will work remotely at least five days a month – home/remote working is not going away. Is the board considering the impact on the company’s core goods or services, the effect on supply chains & logistics, the elevated cyber security risks (due to increases in e-commerce)?

3. Liquidity

As revenues slowed during 2020, many companies find themselves focused on maintaining liquidity and cashflow. Measures might include delaying planned expenditures or postponing them indefinitely, renegotiation of existing payment obligations, and looking to open up new lines of credit.

4. Culture fit

Is the necessary agility, adaptability and resilience embedded in the way you operate? Looking to the future, a wise board will acknowledge that this may well not be the last global pandemic to hit. It’s reasonable to expect future governments to learn lessons from the COVID-19 experience and be better prepared for the next but… how much faith do you have in that? Better to focus on what you can control and influence: not only the increased use of remote working but also practices such as virtual hiring and remote onboarding, non-face to face client and customer service, and a different approach to learning and development.

5. Digitalising your business

The practical side of any culture change will probably be driven by a strategic focus on digital transformation – the shift from analogue to digital working both in terms of how you deliver goods and services to your market, and how you improve your business model, processes, procedures through the use of technology.

Recent research by consulting firm Horváth Partners, based on talking to 200+ board members of global companies, suggests that nobody is expecting a return to a familiar normality. Key issues identified by managing directors and board members were the abovementioned liquidity (42% rated this as having ‘high importance’) and digitalisation (92% rating it as ‘important’ or ‘very important’).

Of course, directors and boards will be handling all the usual issues too: shareholder engagement, financial performance, compliance, social and governance (ESG) issues, etc. But 2021 is likely to be remembered for how you tackled the second year of a pandemic – how you turn your crisis management into a long-term survival and growth strategy.


If you’re facing 2021 and thinking you could do with some support navigating the changes ahead, give us a call on 01582 463465. We’re here to help.

Categories: Boardroom, Training

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