What COVID should have taught us; no-one has a crystal ball' but managing risk can be the difference between failure and success

There are some things that few of us could have predicted in January 2020 – notably the effect of a global pandemic on our lives, businesses and relationships.

That said, some organisations seem to have been better prepared than others, even for the ‘unforeseeable’.  At the level of nations, South Korea already had an effective Track & Trace system in place before COVID-19, and some businesses were surprisingly well placed to switch rapidly to remote or online operation, and to grab the opportunity from the jaws of potential disaster.

Some of this is luck; South Korea has learned some powerful lessons from the 2015 MERS outbreak, and some businesses were just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and agile enough to adapt quickly.

But it’s not all luck; the lessons Korea learned were well publicised and available for other nations to study.  Not all grasped that opportunity.  Some businesses were alive to the need to be agile and were actively scanning the horizon for business disruption, of any kind, long before we all knew what a Coronavirus was.

The difference between those who learn from the past and see the future coming, and those that are caught napping – Risk Management.  And it’s not all about the downside either – for every risk that is a threat, there are those positive risks we call ‘opportunities’.  In any crisis, however global or localised, there are those that can find the opportunity to grow their customer base, expand their products or meet a new need in their community.

The discipline of Risk Management takes various forms, but in the end it tend to come down to the same 4 key steps:

Identify the risk – what could go wrong (or right)? What might change internally, or how could our business environment change?

Assess the risk – how important could this be for us? Is this potentially catastrophic, could it affect the bottom line or our reputation?

Plan a response – what can we do to prevent the risk occurring or to minimise the negative impact?  Or how can we put ourselves in the best position to take advantage of a changing situation?

Take action! – all the above is for nothing if you don’t put your plans in place and see it them through!

But even these apparently simple steps can leave some people cold, and unsure how to start and where to look for risks.  It might feel a little academic to sit around ‘worrying about the future’…

But, as all good Boy and Girl Scouts know – as a rule of thumb, it’s always worth spending the first 10% of any new challenge planning what you’re going to do, rather than rushing in blindly.  Asking yourself the question, ‘what could go wrong?’ must surely be a large chunk of that 10%.  Just stepping back from your day-to-day and asking the question will stimulate thought and could make all the difference.

If we want to take a more structured approach, there are some tried and tested questions to get the grey matter going.  Ask yourself these questions – even better, ask your team:

– What is inherently risky in your business? Where have things gone wrong before, have there been near misses you could be learning from?

– What could trigger a risk? If you to woke up from a nightmare in a cold sweat, what might have gone wrong that would cause that reaction?  What could change that would affect you?

– Or start from the impact and work backwards: what could cost you money, cost you customers, or impact your reputation?

The COVID pandemic was every bit of a surprise to CNG as to everyone else, outside of the world of epidemiology!  But we do have a structured approach to risk management, so we were early to identify the growing threat, to assess the scale of the risk, to form a plan, and to take action!  From the first moment we identified the risk, to a successful trial office evacuation, in under 2 weeks.

Longer term, we had established business continuity plans addressing a wide range of threats that might require to vacate our office or work remotely, so we had a head start when trouble began brewing.

We apply this same approach to every function, process and team within CNG.  We regularly step back and take time to look ahead at future threats and opportunities so that we can be pro-active rather than reactive, sustain our business, and ultimately serve our customers’ needs better.

Why not try it today… take 10 minutes away from the coalface, or computer screen, and ask yourself the question, ‘what could go wrong?’…

… how was that? Was it illuminating? Did it trigger a whole load of fresh thoughts you might not have considered?  Then you’re one step closer to managing your risks effectively and securing your business for the future.