How crisis management strategies of the past can help us navigate future challenges

Preparing contingency plans and diversifying revenue streams can help cushion the impact of a crisis

People working in offices located in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), Dubai, UAE.

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Last summer my cousin and I were invited to lunch by an elderly relative.

Then my cousin started complaining about the unbearable summer heat and wondered how our relative was able to live through the oppressive weather in her younger years without air conditioning and sometimes limited resources.

Today, business owners are adapting to the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, as they try and balance the expectations of society and their customers, while then adhere to social distancing and maintaining public safety.

Our generation is certainly living a more comfortable lifestyle than our forefathers. The crisis we are dealing with cannot be compared with the hardships of another era. Healthcare has advanced, technology has evolved and given the various resources available to us we can leverage crisis management strategies of the past and apply them to the present day.

Lead with open communication. One of the strengths of the UAE is that its leadership is close to the people. The concept of "open offices" is well embedded in our society. Known as an "open majlis" any citizen can come in for advice or to communicate a concern to their leaders.

This open channel of communication and access built strong ties among society members and helped them withstand the harshest of challenges throughout history. These venues assure people that they have been heard, are respected and are part of a strong unified unit that can survive turbulent times.

In today’s business world, owners can adopt this form of communication not only during a crisis, but also carry it forward. When your team know they are heard, that they can come to you to discuss their concerns and are acknowledged, it can boost their morale and help facilitate decisions that serve everyone’s interests in the best way.

Be resourceful. An elderly relative told me how they never took anything for granted, and how they always looked for ways to be resourceful even if the situation was stable. They always had a backup plan if things went wrong.

In business, we can adopt that strategy by not depending on one source of income and diversifying our streams to offset any losses that may arise. That can include setting up an emergency fund and having a crisis management plan in place for different scenarios.

We learned for instance that companies which leveraged technology and pivoted towards digital operations and communication infrastructures, were able to navigate through this crisis.

Work rotation is key. Today, we have people who are good in an area but may not know how different departments within their company operate and that can be problematic when faced with a sudden shortage of staff.

In the past, that was not the case. My elderly aunt learnt about palm date harvesting, the network of underground water irrigation and covered for her husband’s jewellery business when he was away on travel. She also learnt sewing and embroidery work. She had what we call a work rotation nowadays, and that made her skilful, knowledgeable, as she knew how her small town operated.

While it’s great to excel in a certain area, it is important for your staff to learn about other divisions of the business, so that if there are any unexpected circumstances, you and your team are prepared. It will also enhance your team’s expertise.

One day, the crisis will be behind us. When that happens, we need to ensure that our income and skills are diversified, that we have emergency funds set aside, and are always listening to our teams. That will help us navigate through challenging circumstances.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi