American University of Beirut

Embracing Disruption: Coping and Transforming

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​I was writing an article on the post-COVID-19 digital transformation era when Lebanon entered the initial phases of Lockdown 2.0. Against our best wishes, we had not even reached the post-Corona phase. By monitoring companies (be it MENA or Global) during Lockdown 1.0, I drew key lessons to manage the crisis to “come out of it better than we entered it” as stated by Fadi Ghandour in his 2020 interview with Ronaldo Mouchawar (GM of Amazon Middle East).

People’s health and well-being comes first
First, corporate leaders must lead by example when it comes to social distancing. Send the message far and wide that people’s health come first, and we will only engage in business with companies that abide by this. Also, in times of severe economic downturn, it is important to extend the potential safety net for employees and the broader community. Gentle acts of genuine care may go a long way, such as paying them a partial wage and encouraging them to engage in beneficial activities. Companies with sizable balance sheets should take note: this is the time to do philanthropy, and it is the best form of corporate social responsibility.

Flock and talk: the antidote to panic and isolation
Fear is the most recurring response as the country faces Lockdown 2.0. The more people sit alone to just “think” about their problems, the more upset it makes them and the minute such thoughts are discussed with others, the “dark side” is pushed aside and the “hope” synapses light up. How many of us have “thought” ourselves to a near depression, only to be pulled back to reality by conversing with a relative, friend, or colleague? This might sound like psychobabble, but decenter your fear and send out good vibrations, allowing answers and solutions to replace helplessness and wicked problems.

Striking a balance: Hope and optimism versus trying times
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be” is the well-known paradox of U.S. Admiral James Stockdale. When circumstances are out of one’s control, both sides of the coin should be appraised. On one hand, no matter how unpleasant, one must face the facts as they are. An attempt to “sugar-coat” the brutal evidence will likely elicit a misguided and outright counterproductive response. On the other hand, and despite the harsh realities, the only way to keep going is to have unwavering hope and optimism that “this too will pass” and that triumph is inevitable. Hope means we can do something about it, and optimism means that the outcome is worth fighting for, even if it is unknown.

Start with workarounds to weather the crisis now
The initial responses of most managers to the Coronavirus evolution was to create workarounds and potentially use technology to overcome difficulties. A case in point is none other than my colleague at OSB, Lina Tannir, who co-owns and operates a series of retails shops that market health-conscious and environmentally-friendly cosmetics. Stores located in Malls accounted for the majority of their sales in Lebanon. This was a quintessential brick and mortar business: People walk in the store to touch and feel the product prior to buying it. Weathering the storm, she negotiated swift agreements with major supermarkets, devised an online catalogue, and used Google sheets and docs to place orders and input necessary information. After figuring out a way for the stores to primarily offer cash-on-delivery, she proceeded to convince her bank to accept debit card-based orders. Point being, by hook or by crook, most companies have tried to do as much business as they could have given the circumstances: a step as they digitally transform their business if possible.

Put in place the transition to post-COVID
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lay the long-term foundation for the business, business school, and society we want to see on the other side” quoting AUB OSB former dean, Steve Harvey. The new normal could be one of broadly shared prosperity, empathy, progress, investment in (and respect for) science and innovation, and new civic institutions that are resilient against the accelerating pace of expected change in the upcoming century. The envisioned “normal” is not going to happen on its own; we need to take action.

Wondering how to pivot your business strategy to face COVID-19? Click here to watch our insightful webinar.​​

© 2021 American University of Beirut, Olayan School of Business. All rights reserved.

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