I am looking at government response to the COVID-19 epidemic and thinking that a company would clearly be out of business by now if it had responded in the way governments around the world have reacted to the outbreak.
And the shame of it is that there are a relatively few, well understood steps that could have been taken to mitigate the effects of the outbreak. They include:
- Be prepared—policy makers knew this was going to happen it was just a question of when. But, preparing for something that is as uncertain (in terms of when) as a pandemic can’t compete with the high-profile issues that get politicians elected (I note I almost typed infected). “Be prepared” is number one on the list because good preparation means that governments know what to do and have had the time to carefully think through their responses.
Carefully thinking through responses, means:
- making sure that the response is effective. This means understanding both the problem and how the response is capable in terms of mitigating the issue. For instance, how does social distancing affect the spread of the virus and if so, exactly what social distancing practices are appropriate, i.e. work. Because if you lose credibility, the job of managing a crisis becomes immeasurably more challenging; and
- understanding the second order effects of the response and making sure that they are properly accounted for. For example, what how did the Federal Government not understand that a more complex entry process was going to require substantially more resources to avoid having hundreds of people ending up being constrained in tight quarters (exactly what we are being told we should avoid) for long periods of time?
- Make sure the right people are involved and listen to them—there is a reason that people are labeled experts. The label provides a good indication of who knows what. We have become much to at ease with believing that if you say something often enough it is or will become true. During a crisis we really can’t afford the time that is wasted by not consulting and listening to the real experts from the get-go;
- Deal with the crisis as the multidimensional problem that it is—while it is easy to say that the COVID-19 outbreak is a healthcare issue, responding to it not only involves healthcare, but economics, social services, logistics and the coordination of literally thousands of governmental agencies and NGOs. In fact, one might argue that the real challenge is project management (in terms of getting good outcomes) more than anything else;
- Act quickly—don’t put your head in the sand and hope there isn’t really a problem. Delays in response kill people. And, if you are prepared (see the first point above), you know when you have a problem (because you are effectively monitoring for the problem) and exactly what to do; and
- Be transparent—if you aren’t honest and don’t clearly communicate about the problem, the general population can easily be lulled into a sense of complacency and delay in doing their part to positively contribute to a resolution of the problem. And, when the message changes and morphs over time, the confusion caused by the lack of transparency makes it substantially more difficult to get the general population on board and believing what you are saying is now correct.
So, the list isn’t long. We obviously can’t change the past, but let’s get on board and follow these simple rules going forward.