Ask the experts - Emerging Risks
We recently caught up with Briony Morgan – Associate Director Resilience and Innovation at Escalate Consulting.
Briony has over 10 years of experience in key leadership positions with a passion for helping organisations achieve their Business Resilience goals (Strategic Response, Crisis Management and Business Continuity).
She has experience across the entire business resilience lifecycle, from gap analysis, strategy and plan development, and facilitation of training and exercise scenarios. She has extensive experience working across a range of industries and enjoys looking at emerging risks and how businesses can develop business resilience to mitigate the impacts and take advantage of the opportunities these present.
Briony has recently completed an Executive Master of Business Administration which enables her to understand and apply business strategy, workshop facilitation, project management and analytical problem-solving skills.
We wanted to chat about all things emerging risks and whether we are thinking forward enough!
Briony, you work in business continuity and crisis management, how do you think this landscape is changing now Covid19 appears to be 'over'?
In Australia, there is the sentiment that we are increasingly moving to a pre-COVID normalcy in how we live and work. Staff are returning to the office either by their own volition or by direction, students are returning to face-to-face teaching at schools and universities, and recreation venues (sporting events, festivals, theatres, restaurants) are welcoming the public back with ever less prohibitive restrictions. COVID has all but disappeared from the front pages of our newspapers and social media feeds and we’re no longer dealing with saturation to the point of drowning in “information”. But the idea that COVID is ‘over’ is a dangerous perception, which has the potential for organisations to fail in how they focused on preparation for the wide range of inevitable business disruptive events that will befall all businesses in some shape or form in the future.
COVID continues to wreak havoc at a global scale in an enduring fashion that is no longer front-page news yet has the potential to be far more damaging to business continuity in the long term – the current congestion at the Port of Shanghai, a global hub for supply chains, is a great example of this. The long-term implications have been discussed in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2022 , which raises the issue of the widening disparity of economic recovery from the impacts of COVID between countries will make it more difficult to control future pandemics, or more immediate, the subsequent variants of COVID that will continue to emerge as we shift to this being an Endemic part of our lives. These are just two examples of how COVID continues to have direct and indirect impacts on the threat landscape for Australian businesses, and how we cannot afford to ignore the ongoing impacts of disruptive events in how we plan, prepare for and manage the inevitable crises of the future.
As people, the fatigue of our teams and executive leaders in managing COVID disruptions to business operations and work-life integration with our families (home-schooling, caring for sick family members etc) over the last two years has resulted in a shift in how people view resilience. The shift forced by government policy and public safety in the immediate term has resulted in an enduring mental health deterioration, and ‘crisis fatigue’ that few if any could have predicted in March of 2020. The impacts on personal capacity as a result have shown a greater prevalence of key people not being available (through either circumstance or inability) for timely critical decision making, empowering staff through clear intent is a vital consideration for how organisations ‘build their bench’ to manage a disruptive event while continuing to support the wellbeing of their staff in the new COVID landscape.
The impacts of COVID are far from over, and we are seeing this at a local level (crisis fatigue) as well as global (supply chains, emergence of new variants), with new challenges and opportunities that are presented for all organisations to potentially gain a competitive advantage through robust business resilience strategies.
What risks are you seeing emerge that as WHS professionals we may need to be forward planning for or getting onto emerging risk radars?
As we enter what will be the increasingly a Post-Pandemic new-normal environment in Australia, I believe WHS professionals are now going to have to balance a shift from a prescriptive control and compliance focus to a future-proofing of staff through development of support frameworks while dealing with the resurgence of traditional WHS exposure related concerns as people that have been working in different ways return to workplaces.
WHS practitioners have been forced to deal with an immense workload over the last 2 years centred around managing the risks of COVID exposure at the workplace, development of ‘Condition of Entry’ policies, and discussing the ethical implications of mandating vaccinations in the workplace has largely come to an end. In its place is the need for increased awareness of mental health and crisis fatigue, as well as already existing illnesses and ‘re-emergence’ of workplace exposures that have been deprioritised (or minimised) in the age of COVID. Respondents to the World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2022 reported that mental health deterioration would likely become a ‘critical threat’ to the world in the next 0-2 years , exacerbated not only by the anxiety of a Pandemic, but loneliness of working from home and isolation from support networks.
Emerging risks over the coming years for WHS professionals see a move from traditional ‘workplace’ risks and exposures to a holistic view of wellbeing for our staff, particularly taking into account the impact of threats on the horizon such as the impact of severe weather, climate action failure and erosion of social cohesion (public distrust of Governments, political polarisation etc).
What should I do if my management are not on board with seeing our top risks? Any tips to 'escalate' the issues?
An opportunity that has emerged from the Pandemic is that we are seeing executive leadership teams turn to WHS and business resilience advisors with greater certainty and trust. But, as I’ve pointed out, there is a danger that organisational leadership teams will revert to pre-covid mindsets and forget how disaggregating and empowering our teams in critical roles has delivered some huge benefits to mitigate some traditional WHS risk events. My advice would to be capitalise on the trust that has been built over the last two years before the opportunities and creative solutions that the needs of adapting to Covid are allowed to be forgotten and lost from future operating concepts.
We must prioritise looking beyond short-medium term (0-5 years) risks – these are largely already known and should already underpin your current strategies and policies. These might include things like climate action failure or infectious diseases. Providing clear strategies is the responsibility of leadership, and as team players all staff must endeavour to keep management at every level aware of the risks perceived at each level and bring solutions not just problems.
Emerging risk workshops are an excellent place to start to look long term, 5-10+ years, while exploring how key drivers today, could influence the horizon environment. Depending on your industry, these could be as broad as how regulation (or lack thereof) of crypto currencies could change the Australian financial services landscape, how emergence of Artificial Intelligence could present opportunities for agriculture, or how the geopolitical landscape might influence trade in the long term. Use blue-sky thinking to explore how these key drivers should influence your organisation from a WHS and business resilience perspective.
Be up to date with the latest resources – the World Economic Forum is an excellent place to start, with reports written in simple language supported by visuals. Continue to network with your peers in forums such as this one (Women in Safety)
And finally, engage external consultants to provide independent, ‘apolitical’ observations and recommendations, facilitate risk discussions and workshops, and build your business resilience from the foundation.
Thanks so much Briony! A lot for us all to think about!