Defeating the Kobayashi Maru, the No-Win Situation

My 13-year-old came to me last week and said “Mom, we are living through history. In five to ten years, kids will learn about this pandemic in history class and I’ll be able to say ‘yeah, I was there’!” And he’s right. 

Students will hear about how our world came together to fight COVID-19. They will be amazed by the fact that we quarantined, that so many businesses had to close their doors, but hopefully, they’ll be inspired by the way we innovated to overcome this pandemic and support those in the front lines. 

I don’t know that we ever could have been fully prepared for what this virus has presented us with, but I do think we could have been more prepared than what we were. In my fifteen years in HR, I’ve only had one client that had the forethought to create a Pandemic Response plan. Even during my time in healthcare, the facility I worked at had a plan for outbreaks, we managed the H1N1 flu with ease, but wouldn’t have been prepared for something of this magnitude. 

While we as a nation weren’t prepared for the worst-case scenario, and we’ve quickly exhausted our usual resources, we’ve stepped up to the challenge and begun to think outside of the box. So many people and companies have come forward to help, from people around the country sitting at sewing machines making masks for healthcare providers, using 3-D printers to make masks, veterinarians donating their equipment, reconfiguring CPAP machines to function as ventilators, automakers shifting to make ventilator parts, breweries making hand sanitizer, and the list goes on. 

There’s a saying out there “expect the unexpected, then it becomes the expected.” Imagine how much quicker we could have responded if we had thought outside of the box before a pandemic hit if we had imagined the absolute worst-case scenario instead of just what we were used to. That company I mentioned above that had a Pandemic Response plan in place, together we took that plan and turned it into a full-scale Business Continuity plan. They were prepared for the worst-case scenario, they knew what to do if they had to shut down their facility if their employees all had to work remotely. They went into this pandemic prepared, simply implementing the plan they already had in place. And in speaking with them recently, that implementation went very smoothly. And not only were they prepared for a pandemic, but they’re also prepared to handle other worst-case scenarios such as a natural disaster. 

How could having a Business Continuity Plan have impacted your organization’s response to this pandemic? 

  1. Assess. Business Continuity plans help organizations consider the Kobayashi Maru, the no-win scenario. What major events could impact your organization’s ability to function? Plans help organizations assess the risk of a pandemic, a natural disaster, a blizzard, a major power outage, data loss, and other “it would never happen here” situations. 
  2. Prepare. Business Continuity plans allow organizations to do just what Kirk did in Star Trek; redefine the problem to create a winning solution. Once you’ve assessed those worst-case scenarios, you can start to determine how your organization would need to react in each case. Who is considered a key employee to help get your organization through the situation, who is responsible for communication, how will you keep your employees working and continue to be able to pay them? What resources might be at risk and how do you acquire alternative resources? How do you implement remote work, do you need to stand up an alternative work site or data center? Is there something your organization can offer others in each scenario to help minimize the impact or provide necessary resources to your community? Once your plan is complete, practice it. Make sure everyone knows their role and responsibilities. And review the plan annually to make sure it is up-to-date. 
  3. Respond. So many companies are struggling right now because they didn’t have a plan in place. Some struggled to figure out alternative work solutions, set up remote access for employees, determine how to manage a remote workforce, who is considered key employees, how to keep from having to furlough or layoff their workforces. By having a plan in place before disaster strikes, when it does strike, your organization is prepared to respond. You’ve already figured out the critical tasks that need to be completed to stay afloat, it’s just a matter of notifying your Disaster Response team that it’s time to act. And your response will be much faster and must smoother than organizations that didn’t plan ahead. 
  4. Recover. While the response is critical, planning for recovery is just as important. A major part of any good Business Continuity Plan is the recovery phase, which must begin almost immediately. Most Business Continuity Plans address the short-term needs of recovery, looking at recovery in three phases- the first 24-hours, the first week, and the second week. During these phases, organizations should be assessing their long-term needs and planning to meet those needs. As the recovery phase continues, some of those needs may change, so you must constantly be assessing and reassessing long-term needs. 

How could your organization have been more prepared for this Kobayashi Maru? 

For more information on Business Continuity Planning, check out Preparing for the Worst: Business Continuity Planning


Lorrie Coffey

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