In our second COVID-19 insights, Dynamiq CEO Jarrod Wilson looks at how organisations and their leaders have responded.

When we face a crisis situation, our body goes through a range of autonomous physiological responses.

We have auditory occlusion where we can’t hear anything and tunnel vision where we can’t see outside a narrow area. Our large muscle groups fill with blood and our blood pressure rises, all so we can get on with the task of getting out of the crisis.

These responses are designed to get you out of trouble as quickly as possible, or at least more quickly than the person next to you, without any particular idea of where to go. It’s about removing yourself from the problem and preferably not landing in even more trouble.

First responders, military, police and other emergency service providers work hard to overcome these automatic responses so they can make the right decisions at the right time, every time.

It’s the same for an organisation’s leaders. Whether it’s responding to a slow burn issue, a critical incident, a natural disaster or a combination of incidents, they too need to overcome their autonomous responses.

With all hands to the wheel, we activate our Crisis Plan, but with everybody busy following the plan, we sometimes get lost inside the problem and can take our eye off the business and its future.

In the physiological context, corporate blood is pumping, excess waste has been shed, we see only the current problem and the external noises are not distracting us from the job ahead. We have reduced spending, cut all non-essential programmes, refocussed funds and efforts to operational areas.

An initial response requires a laser-like focus. However, often organisations can be so immersed in following systems and so busy reacting to specific problems, they forget the bigger picture.

Yet it is in the immediate response that the board needs to take time to focus on future opportunities almost as much as it needs to ensure there is a focus on the current situation. While business units are focused on fixing the immediate problems, there are opportunities to optimise production both current and future.

A coordinated and collaborative response, and understanding of the knowledge, attitude or skill gaps, allows the board to establish and set and even demand a sense of strategic optimism that looks outwards rather than inwards.

In this context, we take a look at optimised, proactive and reactive organisations during the COVID-19 crisis. What did they do to fix the problems or the processes and how did they forecast opportunities and optimise both current and future production?

Optimised – Optimised teams activated their COVID-19 responses early and in many cases ahead of the declaration of the global pandemic. Moving quickly from the declaration of a Public Emergency of International Concern and in some cases even earlier, they conducted early scenario planning and updated business continuity plans and reviewed government and other stakeholder relationships.

They exploited supply chain capacity to ensure a supply of PPE and test kits to maintain current operations. They identified critical staff levels and implemented appropriate health screening and protective measures. They scheduled staff in blocks to maintain production and they initiated additional staff hiring as needed, early on.

Recognising the importance of stakeholder engagement, they looked outwards to communities, taking steps to support local community initiatives and thus enhancing their existing social license. These optimised teams worked to their well-defined, practiced and cohesive roles, using well practice checklist and Standard Operating Procedures.

Proactive – Proactive companies have little proven capability but reacted quickly because of recent training and exercising. In this case they were able to quickly activate their teams in some cases very early on in the development of the pandemic, and they quickly started scenario and business continuity planning. In many cases this was playing ‘catch up’. However the serious issues, such as critical staff levels and appropriate health screening and protective measures, were being addressed.

They scheduled staff in blocks to maintain production and commenced investment in community initiatives to protect social licence. These proactive companies were keen to put their investment into action and jumped in quickly to get Standard Operating Procedures and checklists up and running or developed.

Reactive – These companies had not defined an approach for managing disruptions or significant events. Many of these companies either reacted to the implications and solved problems as they arose, or simply became overwhelmed and failed. These organisations activated their teams post declaration the WHO global pandemic declaration. They really had no defined structures in place and without an ‘all hazards approach’ in place, had to spend a lot of time defining, reassessing roles and structures as the situation developed.

They switched their workforce to working remotely where possible and took steps to reduce their workforce to save money and started to identify and update long overdue technology and work practices. Still playing catch up, using COVID-19 and its business impacts whether they be at the rapid or slow burn rate, they are at least now focused on identification of triggers for resumption of business and starting recovery planning. Just as we might ask for someone to help deliver CPR because we lack the skills needed – those who recognise that they lack skills in certain areas, are quickly reaching out for help and guidance.

An interesting point to note is the size of the organisation has not really had much impact on its capacity.

Optimised, proactive or reactive organisations have the same opportunities to survive and thrive in this environment. Just as with a first responder who trains through the body’s natural physiological responses, so to can an organisation train through to success. Once the skills are acquired, it is all down to training, exposure and confidence in the body or the organisation’s muscle memory and trust, whether in individual skills or the leadership of the team.

Focus should not be confused with tunnel vision nor with a linear approach to problem solving. If it is to be useful, it needs to be cross cutting in its approach – allowing business units at both operational and regional levels the chance to check in on the problem solving, check up on current opportunities and check out future opportunities.

In order to both survive and to thrive, organisations must focus on what is happening outside the automatic and planned responses as much as they do on ensuring the quality and accuracy of the automatic response.

Has your COVID-19 response been up to scratch? Contact us to discuss your organisation.


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