Louis Kahts, CIB, Head of Underwriting makes some interesting comments about our industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on page 17 of this issue. Being in a privileged position as editor of COVER, I followed with great interest, how companies responded to the challenge. The first CEO I interviewed after the lockdown was Garth Napier, MD of Old Mutual Insure. I still remember him saying, if I had asked him if 90% of their staff could work from home, he would have said
it is impossible. Yet, they did it in less than two weeks. No weeks of planning, no strategy, simply action and management.
The term “burning platform” originates from a worker living on a North Sea oil rig who awoke one morning to a loud explosion and an all-consuming conflagration. The man stumbled to the platform’s edge, where he was confronted by a 30-meter drop to freezing waters. Not a good choice to face. He decided to jump. In ordinary circumstances, nobody would ever consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times and his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a ‘burning platform’ caused a radical change in his behaviour.
There are various ways to benefit from burning platforms. When unexpected, such as in the case of the oil rig guy, all you can do is improvise, prepare as well as you can
and take the plunge. The industry took the plunge and managed spectacularly. The wellbeing of employees, clients and various other industry stakeholders were continuously re-evaluated to ensure the health of the full ecosystem, with fantastic results. (as mentioned in Louis’ article.)
The best thing to do is obviously to plan for the unforeseen, by building flexibility and adaptability into our leadership and staff, moving to greater acceptance
of change and uncertainty. What we should be doing now is to learn from the fact that we did so many things we would never consider doing under normal circumstance, to great effect. Staff stepped up and did what most leaders struggle to grasp; the fact that staff can work with little supervision if the purpose and common goal is there. In this instance it was fighting a pandemic, understanding the threat and working together to ensure survival of all stakeholders.
We are faced with changing consumer behaviour, very low economic growth over the next few years and political uncertainty, calling not just for “out-the- box” thinking but for “out-of-character innovation”. Leveraging off the way we managed the pandemic could just be the best strategic planning platform for our prosperity.