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Alfonso Sanchez-Tabernero Sanchez, President of the University

Five strategic lessons from the pandemic

Wed, 17 Jun 2020 12:35:00 +0000 Published in Expansion

Stellar moments of humanity. With that degree scroll, Stefan Zweig published a text that collects fourteen historical essays referring to a time span of two thousand years: from Cicero's role as leader of the Roman Senate after Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C. to President Wilson's failure in the peace negotiations of 1919 after the First World War. "Each of these stellar moments," Zweig writes, "sets a course for decades and centuries.

In the last 50 years, we can perhaps identify only three "stellar" events: the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which reflected the decline of the communist bloc; the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001; and the Covid19 crisis, which has led to the confinement of almost half of the Earth's inhabitants.

It is important that we understand these stellar moments: why they happen, what consequences they have, what we can learn from them, and - above all - what role each of us wants to play. The pandemic has shown that we are more vulnerable than we thought, in a way it has reinforced our sense of community, it has warned us of the advantages and disadvantages of globalization, it has reminded us of the importance of biomedical research and health attendance , and it has reinforced some values such as security, austerity or love of nature.

Now that the health crisis has been largely overcome, with a very painful toll in terms of deaths and personal suffering, the economic crisis must be addressed. The virus has paralyzed many countries and restarting the engine will require a large dose of talent. As always, it is up to the organizations to take the lead in the recovery and to mobilize their resources for a huge task. The pandemic offers us some useful lessons to face this challenge. I propose five:

- Identify strengths. The organizations that have responded best to the crisis have been clear from the outset about their priorities; they have used what makes them unique as a lever; they have not forgotten where their competitive advantages lie; they have based their actions on a purpose that goes beyond the profit motive. Inditex, El Corte Inglés, Mapfre and AC Hotels - to cite just a few examples - have shown that their social responsibility makes them stronger and more capable of facing unexpected challenges.

- Strengthen leadership. In times of difficulty, everyone looks up: they want to know if whoever is in charge has a clear plan, knows the way, has enough courage and determination. Crises can only be overcome when professionals decide to give their best. And to achieve this, they must trust their bosses, share a project, and act with initiative and commitment.

- Giving priority to the public. Uncertainty generates doubts and confusion, also in those who govern. It is easy to get lost and look at what others are doing. Each organization is unique and imitation strategies have short legs. The best compass to avoid getting lost is to think about the people we serve: what we must do to live up to their expectations, where we cannot fail, how we must react to make them proud of us.

- Change what is not working. No one can maintain maximum tension permanently. Over time, routines emerge, fat accumulates, motivation and innovative spirit are lost. Crises are the perfect excuse to review processes, analyze team performance, re-examine indicators and renew the entrepreneurial character of organizations.

- Improve communication. With the storm, questions arise: Is the ship prepared to withstand the big swell? Is the captain experienced? How far are we from the nearest port? The answers must be clear, understandable, quick, empathetic. This is how we must also act when the calm returns.

In the past, citizens had real access to a few newspapers, radio and television stations. In a way, public opinion could be bought: by inserting advertisements, editorial content could also be influenced. Now it is no longer possible to put gates in the field: a dissatisfied Username can make his complaints go viral. Therefore, corporate communication is not about hiding what is embarrassing, but about making sure that what cannot be told does not happen.

Breakthroughs happen with the steady work of ordinary days. But extraordinary circumstances serve to build the epic story that makes organizations unique places, with committed professionals and loyal audiences. I experienced this on October 30, 2008. That day ETA planted a bomb at the University of Navarra. After verifying that -almost miraculously- there were no casualties or serious injuries, we announced that the next day we would continue our task professor "without fear and without rancor". That day I knew that every crisis would be a new opportunity for us to move forward.