The subject line in the parade of garbage emails caught my eye, which is exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. Right there, in the middle of offers of great leads for attendees at the 2021 FABTECH show in Chicago and requests for me to export some high-quality alloy steel was this strange query: “U.S. Businesses Must Accelerate Pandemic Planning.”
Was this correspondence stuck in electronic limbo for the past 36 months and just now getting to my Inbox? Was it a sick joke?
Nope, it was neither of those. Rather, it was from an outfit called SaferMe, a “global leader in contact tracing and pandemic readiness.” And the group was citing a Center for Global Development study that reveals the “Next pandemic could be much sooner and more severe than we think.”
First of all, I feel this is more than a little unfair. Generations of business leaders and company owners went their entire careers without facing a massive, economy-altering pandemic. None of us should be forced to deal with two. Let’s spread this around.
More important, I’m not really sure how important it is for current businesses to accelerate their pandemic planning. If you’re one of the ones who made it through unscathed – and why on earth would you be reading this column if you weren’t? – you’ve got a pretty good understanding of what a pandemic entails and how to manage your operation through it. It’s not something any of us is going to soon forget.
However, and you knew there was a however, it’s valuable to look at this in terms of the larger picture. Not a pandemic per se, but of any large-scale disruption to the economic picture.
A few years back, I attended a disaster planning/business continuity workshop held at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, which if nothing else made me feel smarter than I had any right. The daylong program, aimed at professionals in the field, discussed all the ways disaster could wreak havoc and what were the steps necessary to combat them.
Looking back on it now, I’m almost positive that in that entire day’s worth of sessions, hosted by and attended by all of the best minds in preparing for the worst, the word “pandemic” never came up.
I think that’s instructive. The next great disruption is almost certainly something we’re not envisioning now, which is what will help make it so disruptive. And it seems to me that rather than plan for a specific event or disaster, businesses such as yours are best served looking ahead at the possible side effects of disruption (loss of employees, major suppliers cut off, no access to data, transportation grid immobilized, etc.) and strategize from there.
But I guess it doesn’t hurt to keep the social distancing posters in storage, just in case.