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If a person on the street named a disaster requiring government response, the answer would probably be a hurricane. We have effective playbooks for mitigating hurricane impact.

There is a key difference between COVID-19 and a hurricane that makes it time to start talking about a new playbook.

When hurricanes form on the horizon, there are three tried and true phases of mitigation:

  1. Prepare: Initiate protocols, pre-mobilize staff, activate Emergency Operations Centers
  2. Respond: Execute plans, assess evolving situations; mobilize, coordinate and support front line response; search and rescue; urgently protect life.
  3. Recover: Mobilize supply and temporary infrastructure; restore critical operating infrastructure; establish health and safety infrastructure; rebuild and restabilize.

We are currently confronted with a completely new and different challenge. This is not a chaotic and temporary force of nature like a hurricane – this is a terrible, and terribly efficient, pathogen on a sustained assault, requiring response from every level of government.

Our government workers are in active response, not for days or weeks, but endlessly and without a projectable end. Procurement professionals have been moved from the back of the Emergency Operations Center to the front and center, as supply chain has been one of the most critical elements in this response.

However, we need to begin acknowledging and discussing the fact that the standard arc from respond to recover has been broken. Response is not giving way to recovery.

Response is defined by heightened urgency and singularity of focus. When will the response phase transition? Will we recognize it when it happens? And what will it mean to recalibrate operations under a new normal?

The intensity of our protracted response is leading to sustainability factors Chief Procurement Officers will have to resolve:

  • Individual Staff Sustainability: We will need essential staff for the long run. Retirements, mental health days, and, of course, the risk of exposure will require us to assess how to leverage staff without individual burnout.
  • Reinforced Team Dynamics: With a staff distributed into remote work managing highly urgent needs, how do we keep acting as a team rather than individuals connected by an email address?
  • Contract Portfolio Risks: Our standard contracts have been deprioritized due to urgent demands of response. But these will need to be given staff priority weight again so that these deferred responsibilities do not become the next crisis.
  • Capturing Change: Change is everywhere today in procurement offices. Are these changes temporary or systematic? How will we roll back the changes that were temporary and extend changes that should be made permanent?

Next week I will propose a framework approach to assist procurement officers to overlay a level of control while leading their teams through this long-lasting, but eventually ending, period of response.

Let me know how you are planning for these issues, and what lessons you think can be incorporated for the community.

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