Why Weren’t We Ready for COVID-19 and How Should We Have Been?

The COVID-19 disease is the latest adversity to hit our world and it’s the worst yet.  It also should be the last in how we deal with adversity because how we’ve been dealing with adversity has just been outright awful.   

COVID-19 started late December 2019 in China and had spread around the world three (3) months later.  People got sick, nations closed borders, supply chains stopped moving, and businesses slowed if not closed shut. 

Many organisations had no playbook, protocol. or contingency plan, to deal with COVID-19.  Many measures taken were akin to knee-jerk reactions.  We just weren’t ready.  And we should have been. 

Adversities are part and parcel of enterprises and society.  We encounter them all the time.  From natural disasters to daily traffic, adversities come in all scales, shapes and sizes.  And they always differ one day to the next. 

Organisations develop risk management strategies to combat adversities.  Risk management just has not been effective, however, as many organisations don’t treat risks as high-profile priorities, that is, risks are considered important only when they turn into threats or problems. 

For instance, a company would invest in fire safety equipment and delegate a safety officer to monitor compliance to prevent fires.  But executives would prioritize reports and presentations on issues such as sales, costs, and customer service.  Managers wouldn’t ask about fire safety reports unless there was a fire. 

Risk management also has traditionally been limited in scope such as to security, safety, and secrecy.  It wouldn’t include adversities such as unexpected price increases in commodities, sudden imposition of tariffs, the surprise inability to collect from a customer, and diseases—these would be the responsibilities of respectively different departments and they wouldn’t even be called risks. 

The COVID-19 pandemic offers us the lesson that what we’ve been doing in terms of adversity mitigation has simply just not been enough.  We need to change how we anticipate and mitigate adversity.  We should start by saying that it is not risk management but adversity management, that is, we treat adversity with wider ranging scope and priority. 

It requires a change in mindset.  Adversity is not risk.  It’s a whole different category that encompasses risk.  We need to realize we have become more vulnerable to it.  How we’ve dealt with it in the past and with COVID-19 hasn’t been the right way; we need to formulate a new right way. 

If we didn’t get sick from COVID-19, we should at least be sick and tired of how we responded to it and to all the adversities beforehand.  We need a new approach, because not only can we will be able to save lives, we will be able to save our livelihoods. 

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