“The toughest year of our lives…” Managing through a crisis and learning from the past

“A crisis like nothing we have seen before”, “economic tsunami” “the Coronavirus recession is here” “a hundred years on, will there be another Great Depression?”

The magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis reminds us (those of us who are old enough to remember!) of September 11, the GFC, “the recession we had to have” and even World War II. Pivotal events that reshaped our world, the way we live, the way we interact, the way we travel and right now, COVID-19 is doing all of these things – and like nothing I have experienced in my lifetime (and a survey of my parents confirms the baby boomers agree) it is changing the way we work, if we are indeed fortunate enough to still be working.

What past crises have taught us is that when our financial survival is threatened, the black and white between right and wrong often looks grey, as individuals, co-workers, suppliers and competitors fight to survive.

What most of us know is wrong, such as a bribe to ensure a contract is kept or concealing a couple of weak results in monthly management reports sent to the Board, can be rationalised as necessary for the ‘greater good’ in times of crisis and managements hope that there will be a quick recovery.

Coupled with this, comes a shift in management and regulator priorities. ASIC recently advised it will “recalibrate” its regulatory priorities to focus on COVID-19 challenges. By necessity, we are seeing a shift from longer term regulatory change to short term crisis management. This is not at all surprising, and it is what (virtual) boardrooms around the country are also battling with right now as programs are being disbanded, and line management and front line staff are facing redundancy. The change has been swift and unnerving.

We certainly do not have all of the answers. In fact, right now I think most of us do not even know what the right questions are. As we adapt to this new world of working remotely and social distancing, for however long it may last, both the physical and metaphorical distance between line management, executives, and the Boards and committees that govern them – feels enormous.

Five key steps your organisation can take:

Now is not the time to look away, ensure that someone within your organisation is conducting a gap analysis to determine what internal controls fail in our new ‘remote office’ environment and how these gaps can be closed.
Consider how Boards and executives are now receiving and interrogating information and how do they ensure that what is being presented is correct? Is there any concern that information being presented either inaccurate and incomplete?
Don’t ignore the early indicators or warning signs, one of the greatest lessons out of the GFC – if it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
Make sure your staff, suppliers and customers know what your expectations are and where to report matters to during this time of crisis.
In the past, we have observed that staff who disengage with their employer have only then come forward with information that you may not consider a high a priority right now, but be prepared to listen and take action on this information as the insights may reveal real misconduct (and the new whistleblowing legislation is here to stay).



Sara Deady

Sara Deady
Director, Sydney
T: +61 2 9248 9943
E: sdeady