The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic presented the world with a unique set of challenges, forcing us to adapt the way we live, work and interact. From the onset of the rapid and widescale spread of the virus, a group of BMMI employees have been working together behind the scenes to help keep our team, customers and all stakeholders safe. We sat down with our CEO, Marek Sheridan, to learn more about BMMI’s Crisis Management Committee.
Why did BMMI create a Crisis Management Committee?
It was essential to have one group that included people from different functions to spearhead not only our response, but also our plans for the future so that we can stay one step ahead.
When a crisis like this happens, what people need is leadership. But I don’t think a single leader can necessarily have all the right answers or know all the best options. At BMMI, we’ve always been collaborative in our approach, as a result I believe it was best to get together a group of people that represent our different businesses. They would be able to present a different outlook on how a crisis would impact us, whether it is from a safety point of view, customer perspective, interruptions to the supply chain or more.
With the committee, we are able to immediately channel all of that into one place so that we can take a coherent approach to how we manage the multifaceted issues that come out of this crisis and then to cascade them as needed.
What does the committee do?
Initially, the meetings were focused on trying to understand what the impact is going to be, where it would take place and what we need to do to prepare. In the beginning, it was a very fluid situation because we were dealing with issues as they happen.
As the outbreak of the pandemic progressed and we started to understand more about the impact and consequences, a big part of the committee became about dealing with things before they happen. Our focus expanded to include how to best be ready for any possible challenges.
Of course, with how unprecedented this crisis is – and this goes for everybody globally – no matter how well you prepare, you don’t necessarily have all the answers. I have no doubt we’ve made some mistakes and that we could have acted a bit quicker in some aspects. But what I’m really sure about is that we’ve learned really quickly, and by far, the committee has allowed us to stay a step ahead for the most part.
For example, we were already setting up our working from home policy even before the government began encouraging remote working. This included things such as payroll being managed remotely and grouping people into squads and teams to try and minimise interaction.
Nowadays, as the crisis has become a part of our lives, we’re shoring ourselves up to getting ready for the next stage. We work on reinforcing key messages because people tend to get complacent. We have to reinforce messages about safety being our number one goal for our people, customers and other stakeholders. The committee also works on reinforcing business continuity measures, particularly in businesses such as Alosra and BLS. As we continue to move through the crisis, the committee continuously discuss what we have to plan ahead, such as eventual plans for returning to the office, and how we can make it safer for our people onsite.
At the end of every single committee meeting, I make sure to go around the group and ask people to bring up any specific points they may have so that everyone has a chance to put something on the table. No matter how small it seems, it might have ramifications somewhere, so we give each other the opportunity to discuss our concerns.
Who is currently involved with the committee?
We have together a group of people from across businesses, departments and divisions. Firstly, Robert Smith, our COO – Contracting and Logistics, represents the logistics and supply chain side, as well as being a member of the SLG, alongside myself.
We also have Jaffar Alasfoor representing Alosra as a key part of that business is dealing with customers. Our supermarket is at the front line during COVID-19, as people have to rely on their food supply. Our team in Alosra are putting themselves effectively in harm’s way every day, in order to service their community. We always want to make sure that they stay as safe as possible and are always on top of all the things happening for our branches in both Bahrain and Saudi.
Shilpa Ajith is involved in her capacity of driving a lot of the change, as well as Marwa Rasti representing HR, and Suttish Boodoo for IMS. Sami Haji represents IFM, which also includes how we deal with our tenants, while May Almousawi, is involved in terms of communications and how we can best communicate our key messages. We also have Aiman Alorayedh from IT to ensure our systems are prepared for any actions that need to be taken. Hasan Al Sharaf is involved with overseeing financial ramifications and commercial continuity.
As you can see, some of the aspects represented in the committee are quite obvious. For example, we know we want to keep people safe - so what are we going to do about wearing masks and gloves, and how we deal with outbreaks when they eventually come to us. But some things are less obvious, such as how can we leverage our relationships with some of our key suppliers to ensure we have better payment terms; how do we provide some rent relief to some tenants, and so on.
So, there is a commercial angle where we have to mitigate the impact on us commercially as a business. Thankfully, with the help of the committee’s collective effort and the hard work of the entire BMMI team, we’ve managed to do that really well. As expected in such circumstances, we’re not hitting our budget. However, we’re still making profit and managing these commercial strains very well.
How can we benefit from the lessons learned from the committee for future crises or problematic situations?
That’s a question we constantly ask ourselves. A big part of what we’ve learned is the importance of communication!
It is crucial to be consistent in your messaging to all your stakeholders, including your people, customers, shareholders and directors and more. In our current times, social media is very active and unfortunately sometimes rampant with false claims or incorrect information. Any gap in communication could create real turmoil. It might not be intentional and could just be people filling gaps of information with their own opinion. At times it could be malicious, but we’ve found that it’s normally people panicking or worrying and trying to offer their opinion. Therefore, clear and consistent communication to our stakeholders from our side is key to clarify misinformation.
Secondly, we’ve had to learn which communication or messaging you actually need to listen to, rather than have a knee jerk reaction to the first rumour you hear. The COVID-19 situation is unprecedented and has created a hot bed of rumours: about when more things will open up, which places are overcrowded, which are good, etc. There’s truly all sorts of rumours and you just have to be careful on what you decide to act upon or disseminate.
So, what we have learned is to always make sure to thoroughly study which source to actually rely on, and only then do we feed that information through the appropriate channels that everybody can access. Then we can decide, only based on those formal information sources, how we react, because otherwise you can find yourself going off in different directions.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I want our team to always be confident that their safety is paramount. One of the reasons we do so well as an organisation is because our employees continue to live our values every day and they work so hard to make a difference day in and day out. Now, more than ever, is a time where BMMI wants to demonstrate the same faith our employees show to make sure they are as safe as possible during this crisis.
But we all have a part in being accountable when it comes to acting responsibly. As an organisation, we can put all the right guidelines and things in place, and we are already doing that. From floor stickers, to informational posters, protocols in place and more. But each one of us has to take it upon his or herself to behave in a responsible and safe manner by following all guidelines put in place.
Always wear your mask in public and maintain social distance. When at home, although it is very tempting to gather to celebrate or commemorate special occasions, we’ve seen from previous events what happened when people ignored advice from health authorities and got together in big groups. Whole families were impacted and then an even wider group. People have to be aware that they play a role in their own safety and that of everyone around them in the organisation and the community.
We must all be sensible and adhere to guidelines, and most importantly, we need to be transparent. Unfortunately, there is a stigma people attach to COVID-19, especially when it was first emerged. But the truth is, there is no shame in catching COVID-19. It is very unfortunate if you get it and it can be tragic in terms of consequences, but you must be transparent. We will do anything we can to help our employees who happen to become positive to get through it, as well as to minimise risk on other employees. To do that, we need complete transparency.
We are also working really hard to manage our business continuity so that we can still continue to service our customers and to also prepare for when the hospitality market opens up again. Hopefully, once we get towards the end of the year, we will see more momentum. So, keep fighting the good fight and stay safe. We will get through this challenging time together, and we will come out better for it – both stronger and wiser!