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As they say in the Boy Scouts – BE PREPARED!

I think it’s fairly safe to say that most of us didn’t see the current Covid-19 crisis coming at this level. I recall conversations with friends as recently as late January where we all thought it wouldn’t reach our shores. Well we never got Ebola, SARS or MERS, so why should we get a novel corona virus that started in a wet market in the depths of China?

Oh, if only we knew what was in store for us. Hindsight’s a great thing, but foresight’s so much better.

There has been much debate about whether China, the rest of the world and even New Zealand acted quickly enough to protect us, and it’s definitely safe to say that we would have done things differently had we known just what we were going to face, and the speed that things might change, but it is comforting to be living in New Zealand at the moment, where strong and compassionate leadership is demonstrated daily. Whether we get through this, as a country and a society, reasonably intact is yet to be seen.

Overnight we’ve seen people change their habits at an astonishing pace and it’s all around survival. As a person who loves my daily trips to local specialty food stores, weekly visits to our nearby farmers market and a stock up at the supermarket from time to time, suddenly I’m having to completely rethink how I’ll source food and other essentials. My household is considered ‘at risk’ so queueing at the supermarket isn’t really an option and my only real choice is to go on-line to shop. Along with pretty much the rest of New Zealand.

I signed up with two of the large supermarket chains in my area only to find I couldn’t get a delivery slot in the foreseeable future (two weeks at least), so I looked for alternative providers. I was lucky because I found I could purchase export quality meat and locally grown fruit and vegies which would be delivered to my doorstep within a few days of placing the order. Phew. We will get to eat another day.

However, one thing I noticed was how unprepared many suppliers were to manage orders. Some relied on social media channels, telephone and overloaded websites, individually or in a combination, which generally added to the frustration. To be fair, most of these small businesses would never have anticipated the surge in demand for their products.

A little-known fact is that many, many small businesses in New Zealand fail through unplanned expansion.  They just don’t have the infrastructure or systems in place to cope with customer demand after a certain point. Most are too busy trying to find customers in the early days of their business establishment to focus on putting the necessary structures in place, so when things take off and the orders come flying in they can’t always deliver to the quality or promise that they made to their early supporters, so these invariably leave to find someone who can. The new customers expect better and also move on and the business eventually folds.

Often in these situations the business is started up by a technician (the person with the product knowledge and skills) and operates without a manager (the person who can create systems and infrastructure), so the business is doomed once it starts to grow. [If you’d like to know more check out The E-Myth by Michael J Gerber. It’s been around since the 1990s but still makes great reading and a lot of sense.]

But back to being prepared. There’s an old expression ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and it couldn’t be more true at the moment. Organisations that delayed, either through procrastination, distraction, or inertia, to progress or complete projects during normal times are paying the price now. Suddenly there’s a ‘call for action’ from their board, shareholders or elsewhere, to communicate with their stakeholders, clients, customers or members and they’re not ready to respond. This creates a huge pressure on all concerned which is really unfortunate when everyone is already facing more stress in their lives than we ever imagined possible.

Delays can be avoided by simply preparing in plenty of time. The basic planning steps for most projects consist of the following according to Clarizen.com:

  1. Create and analyze the business case
  2. Identify and meet stakeholders for approval
  3. Define the project scope
  4. Set goals and objectives
  5. Determine deliverables
  6. Create a project schedule and milestones
  7. Assign tasks
  8. Carry out risk assessment

Too often we find our daily ‘business as usual’ work gets in the way and the project gets relegated to the backburner and the project stalls at #7 – Assign tasks. This is where we work ‘in the business’ instead of ‘on the business’ so the project goes into a black hole where it languishes until an incident forces it to the forefront. In normal situations the project gets dusted off and put back into circulation and ultimately reaches completion, though there might be changes along the way, with the end product not always looking like the initial projected one.

In uncertain times like the ones we are experiencing at the moment, some things need to move at a much faster pace, so the pressure goes on those who are expected to deliver them. I recall seeing a sign on the wall of an office years ago that said “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine” (source: Bob Carter). How true!

How many ‘emergencies’ are now being created for others as a result of poor planning (not being prepared) or a lack of decision-making (ownership) by someone you know? And what are the consequences of this for all involved?

Survival really does come down to being prepared.


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