Trending / March 19, 2020

A CEO’s Perspective: Remain Calm and Thoughtful in a Time of Complete Chaos

It is clear that our world has changed. It is also clear that a number of commercial and social characteristics will change permanently as we adjust to the new norms, and the full impact of COVID-19 is understood. While fear and uncertainty represent two of the most dramatic immediate impacts for humanity at large, as corporate executives we need to focus on how this new climate not only impacts business, but can potentially be embraced as organizations provide new services and products to help cope with the current threat, and enable growth in consumer confidence, country GDPs and global financial health.

COVID-19 surprised everyone. The far-reaching impact of a virus that originated in the heart of China has wiped trillions of dollars from global markets, has hugely impacted business and personal travel, entertainment and social industries, and has changed the way that humans interact. I have no doubt that with the metrics now highlighting a declining detection and death rate in China, establishing appropriate containment and latency will ultimately slow the spread, but we still have a number of months ahead where commercial operations will be impacted and potentially disrupted.

Responding to the pandemic and the associated advisories from the World Health Organization, Center of Disease Control and others requires a thoughtful prioritization and balance between the protection of employees and their health, continuing to serve and support customers and the install-base of products, and maintaining the concept-to-delivery flow of new and evolving products.

With the current WHO/CDC recommendation being to have the majority of staff work from home for the foreseeable future, the near-term challenge is to maintain organizational effectiveness with a significantly distributed workforce. A number of commercial teams operate with a work-from-home model for the majority of their careers (sales personnel, logistics operators, etc.), but a significant percentage of employees lack experience with this new work style.

With the change to “remote work” as the norm for the foreseeable future, the communications infrastructure that serves the employees will come under new and significant pressure. The in-the-office communications of a few weeks ago are now traversing external infrastructure, and the scale, performance and security of this environment was potentially never built to serve this new world. Our CTO recently published a blog regarding considerations for IT professionals as they look to scale and maintain this rapidly evolving environment. Clearly, moving employees home established a new “edge” to the corporate IT infrastructure, and the attackers and attack vectors will recognize and respond to this new opportunity.

With the inherent responsibilities of a named executive officer in a public company comes the obligation to characterize and communicate the new risk envelope to the board of directors. Although the risks have changed, with the right leadership in the IT organization, they are not necessarily worse — but they are different. In parallel with this obligation is the need to maintain a relevant business continuity plan that should include the actions and processes to be implemented in the event of a global pandemic. If it doesn’t exist, the learnings of the last few weeks and the next few months will provide a strong opportunity to document the steps that have (or should be) taken.

The majority of corporate BCPs include disaster scenarios where buildings are taken out of commission for protracted periods, but not all of them include the plan associated with the closure of buildings on a global scale. Attributes to consider include employee health and well-being, communications with customers, the maintenance of logistics and supply chains, and the information technology infrastructure, to name a few. Including the action to establish a pandemic response team will also empower a group to monitor recommendations and directives from the WHO and CDC, provide a structure to interpret those directives and disseminate company-appropriate actions to all employees, while also being the calming voice of logic and reason in response to employee enquiries and questions.

I never expected to have to open the Pandemic Response Plan at Gigamon. I don’t think anyone — aside from a few in the world of epidemiology — believed that our world would be facing an outbreak of this nature. However, we are, and we will face this scenario again. In a world that is clearly in panic, it is the role of the executive to be that calm, thoughtful and balanced leader.

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