President’s commentary: Why risk professionals — and boards — must learn from the COVID-19 pandemic

There are so many lessons to be learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic. But one of the key learnings for organisations is that there clearly needs to be a much stronger focus on business continuity planning. And in the context of what the world is experiencing, that focus really needs to turn to business recovery planning.

While an event of this scale and impact was understandably not on many organisations’ radars, so many were caught completely unprepared for the major shifts that the pandemic demanded.

Good preparation means having solid risk management and crisis plans in place — before a crisis hits — and this plan must be tested regularly. However, as our recent Risk Management Survey of almost 400 senior executives showed, close to 40 per cent of businesses are not regularly testing their risk and crisis plans. This is a worrying statistic that has been thrown into the spotlight thanks to COVID-19. Good business recovery planning will include having a strong risk and crisis plan that can be used swiftly and seamlessly if another crisis, such as a resurgence in COVID-19, hits. 

Those risk and governance professionals who were across key IT issues as part of their role were among those who responded most effectively at the beginning of the outbreak. 

One observation I have made from the perspective of Governance Institute and other organisations with which I am involved is that those risk and governance professionals who were across key IT issues as part of their role were among those who responded most effectively at the beginning of the outbreak. Less impact was felt by organisations who could shift their workforce to working from home quickly and seamlessly and of course enabling secure IT and technology has a large role to play in that transition. 

Timely business recovery may also require, for many organisations, a shift in the mindset of the board. The board will need to be more trustful and willing to empower their management team and employees. Organisations will need to be ready to respond to challenges with agility and governing bodies need to enable, not frustrate, this. For many boards, this will be an overhaul of current, or pre-COVID-19, dynamics. But it’s an essential overhaul and the key elements to focus on must be: Trust, empowerment and agility. 

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We need to ask whether any of the old rules still apply. And in many instances, they probably don’t. In other situations, it’s timing that counts. And waiting until the next scheduled board meeting for approvals may not enable an effective response. Risk management professionals have just been served up a major ‘lived experience’ by COVID-19. 

Now is the time to look at the lessons, learn from them and feed them back into the organisation.

Ask your board for that greater level of trust which will help ensure your organisation will be an effective responder (and indeed survivor) in the event of another pandemic or other crisis. 

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