For those of us interested in systems and institution-building, we no longer have the freedom to imagine a “return-to-normal” as some may say.
We did not know we were living in “condition green” before September of 2001. We came to understand the world would swing from yellow to red and back from now on, and we only fondly remember the days before we knew the threat. In just this way, the world will never be precisely the same now that we have entered the pandemic era.
Whether it takes months or years to get past the presence of COVID-19, we are responsible right now to improve and adapt our systems to account for the new reality. Another microorganism will arise after a COVID vaccine is developed, if an effective one is developed. Regardless, it is our responsibility to respond now and prepare for the future.
So, we come back to risk mitigation.
How do we function in the presence of pervasive and deadly micro-organisms?
We return to the basics of all risk management: Clear-eyed analysis of metrics, developing and testing new methodologies and technologies, and establishing proven feedback-loops from results on the ground.
For me, it becomes easier to imagine if I make it personal.
My goal is not and has never been a life without risk.
My adult life outside of work has been filled with activities such as riding motorcycles, open-ocean and whitewater kayaking, and flying small aircraft. I have not allowed myself to miss out on certain joys of life just because there is risk.
Most motorcycle accidents happen either in the presence of alcohol or when the motorcycle is operating more than 20 mph outside the flow of other traffic. So, I take a professional approach to riding and maintain my personal limits to ensure I remain in the statistical region of lower risk. I still ride, but I do not drink and ride. I do not race on public streets, and I moderate according to environment and road conditions.
Since Orville and Wilbur, the primary causes of aviation accidents have been running out of fuel, and pilots unqualified to fly into instrument conditions allowing themselves to be trapped into blind clouds. So, I still fly, but I study to understand my equipment and my environment, I run my checklists to ensure I don’t miss a critical issue such as short fuel, and I keep a weather-eye on maintaining visual flight conditions.
In our business lives, we do not have the option to stay home. There is important work to be done, and many depend on our efforts. Employees and their families rely on the jobs we create, our customers depend on the products and services we provide, and public activity relies on the infrastructure maintenance and improvements we manage. We know the economy will not survive without our effective efforts.
So, we look to our data and proven methods. We adapt policy and institute new guidelines. We distribute our workforces with investments in hardware and software and training. We adapt existing work spaces to remove obstacles to social distancing.
The tenet of “fewer clicks” online translates to every day life. People will follow a path if there is an institutional approach to removing friction from desired behaviors.
Mandating masks is not enough.
Make quality masks readily available, free to employees, encourage sharing even outside of our workplaces. Establish rewards for those who best contribute to collective health – and therefor the overall success of our teams. We do not just publish hygiene guidelines… we install handwashing stations. We do not just require self-monitoring, we provide medical wearables and phone apps to track temperature and other vitals.
We do not have the option to stay home.
We will do our work.
We will, as we always have, focus on working smarter than harder, and on building systems and institutions that enable and promote the success of our teams.
We will move forward. We will overcome this crisis, learn lessons from our failures, and prepare for the next challenge.
Leadership is not optional. It is essential.
Our eyes are on the future and we are going back to work.