We need an agile approach when dealing with any crises

As policy makers around the world are seeking ways to fight the Covid-19 pandemic that is escalating rapidly, they are responding quickly or slowly, rationally or not, leading to corresponding results. For example, Europe and the United States took too long to take action, which gave the chance for the pandemic to spread. And in countries where the response went very wrong like Italy, the pandemic has turned into a disaster.

As managers, what can we learn from the way countries deal with the unprecedented challenges of the rapidly expanding crisis.

I will take New Zealand as an example:

  •  Feb 3, 2020: When a pandemic breaks out in China, NZ decides that all people (who are not NZ citizens or residents) from China will not be allowed to enter the country.
  • Feb. 28: the first person infected with C19 comes from Iran. The government immediately prohibits people from Iran from entering the country.
  • March 14: All 6 cases of C19 are from abroad. All who come back from abroad are required to isolate themselves for 14 days.
  • March 21: Two cases are thought to be contagion within the community: The Prime Minister declares that the country has gone to a third-level alert, effective immediately. In 48 hours, the entire country will turn to a fourth-level alert, which means closing all businesses (except for essential service providers).

March 31 (now, as we write): Despite the rapid response, the number of people infected with C19 in New Zealand continues to grow, and nobody knows exactly what to do to stop the virus. Experts have not fully understood the virus and its spread, but we will have a long way to go before we know it. In addition, significant latency between action time (or inaction) and outcome (cases and deaths). We need to accept that we are not clear about which solutions will work, it may take months or even years for us to know.

However, there are two outstanding aspects of facing a crisis that we can learn.

  1. There is no time to waste due to the fast progress of the situation. When faced with a crisis, we must remove all bureaucratic barriers to respond quickly to it.
  2. The effective approach to a major crisis must be the same as in a state of war: All resources, people and finances should be mobilised with close coordination among departments (if at an organizational scale),  in both the public and private sectors, and society as a whole (if on a national scale), and between countries (if on a global scale).

This means that reacting effectively to a crisis requires a very different approach and decision process than normal: We need to be agile to change as fast as circumstances change.

If policymakers want to win the battle against Covid-19, they need to adopt a system in which priority is learned, learning from what is happening, from how other countries  succeed. Experiment and learn quickly from there, then expand the scale. And it is also important to DETERMINE THINGS NOT EFFECTIVE AND STOP IT IMMEDIATELY.

In crisis, it is necessary to set principles and implement them in a disciplined manner – without discipline, every principle is meaningless.