The first time I heard this statement was in the fall of 2001. My office was located on the fourth floor of an office complex facing Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. All day long, I watched domestic and international aircrafts land. Not a single flight departed.
The Federal government of the day had implemented the plan “Operation Yellow Ribbon.” The plan effectively grounded all domestic flights with the intent of receiving 239 planes carrying 30,000 people, redirected from the United States, Europe and Asia, across eight airports. An effective emergency plan was implemented and managed through chaos with little incident – and all within nine and a half hours.
This is one of many examples, including the 1997 Red River Flood in Manitoba and the 2003 SARS outbreak in Ontario, of Canadians responding in times of need with well-thought-out solutions, requiring flexibility and trust.
The recent outbreak of COVID-19 will test Canadian willpower and capabilities yet again. What is required from all levels is effective leadership and frequent, transparent communication. In their absence, fear, speculation and false information can quickly take hold and spread at lightning speed, causing considerable damage.
The agriculture industry must and will continue to operate. Food production is critical. Agriculture manufacturers, distributors, retailers and consumers understand the associated risks and will take the necessary precautions.
As business leaders of small to large ag corporations, what can we do to support employees and customers? It starts with being the leaders of calm. Admit all answers are not available and approach the situation with empathy and understanding of anxiety. This is not the time for off-hand speculation, blame or second guessing.
Develop a communications team to centralize information flow. Keep your communications clear and to the point. Communicate with employees frequently with the assurance things are being managed and review internal corporate policies to account for evolving situations.
Focus on what is important to your customers, like the safety precautions you’ve implemented, and communicate with them regularly. Make a plan to account for and manage disruptions and how customer inquiries will be managed. Reassure shareholders and stakeholders at the same time, communicating the immediate and longer-term challenges ahead.
Be proactive within communities. Ag retailers play a critical role within rural communities. How will the organizational actions you take least negatively impact the community as a whole?
A crisis is also an opportunity to demonstrate and strengthen relationships within local communities. Offering access to resources, equipment, logistics or supplies shows community commitment and organization credibility.
Admitting you don’t have all the information is not a reason to do nothing. Employees and customers require business leaders to state so, reveal as much sensitive information as possible and correct mistakes without fear of repercussions.
How we respond to challenges, failures and crisis defines who we are and how employees and customers react. Self-aware leaders demonstrate the characteristic of calm in crisis daily. As business leaders, we are trusted to provide responsible direction and actions as we work through the global disruption of COVID-19.
The agriculture community at large has demonstrated in the past – and will do so in the future – that no challenge is insurmountable. The federal government has indicated cross-border commerce and trade must continue. This includes agriculture commodities and inputs. The crop will go in the ground this spring, supported by manufacturers, distributors and retails of crop inputs.
We will work through it together and learn how to manage in the future.
For more information on how to develop a corporate crisis management plan, CAARPerk$ partner TwoGreySuits has developed 10 documents for download supporting COVID-19 business management.
We thank TwoGreySuits for providing the documents free of charge, available at twogreysuits.com.
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