PANDEMIC

Covid-19 has uncovered the fragility of organisations

Public and private institutions have stumbled in their response to the pandemic.

In Summary
  • The Covid-19 pandemic as a health crisis is not responsible for the economic and the associated social turmoil.
  • It is our response or lack thereof, that has touched off a complex, blistering crisis of global proportions
Some defiant traders and market goers carry on with their business outside a closed market.
Some defiant traders and market goers carry on with their business outside a closed market.
Image: Musembi Nzengu

The Covid-19 pandemic has wrought a catastrophic health crisis. The world is on the cusp of a second wave of Covid-19 infection surge since China reported a cluster of cases on December 31, 2019.

A virus has triggered a socioeconomic turmoil of proportions hitherto unforeseen. Economies have tumbled. Businesses—micro, small, medium and larger—are in turmoil. Health systems have been strained to near collapse. Relations, social and inter-governmental, are fraying. Leadership at every level is faltering. All this, thanks to Covid-19.

What is unique about the SARS-Cov2, which causes the coronavirus disease 2019? It is a respiratory illness that can cause severe, even fatal illness. It is highly contagious. Each infection can cause up to four new infections. Moreover, there is growing evidence that even infected but asymptomatic individuals can infect others through respiratory droplets.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic as a health crisis is not responsible for the economic and the associated social turmoil. It is our response or lack thereof, that has touched off a complex, blistering crisis of global proportions. The pandemic is a monumental adaptive challenge. Responses by governments, organisations and individuals have generated behaviour change, complex patterns of feedback and new relationships.

Just as Covid-19 has ravaged the bodies of individuals with pre-existing health conditions – obesity, diabetes, heart disease and respiratory conditions – it has been unforgiving on certain kinds of businesses such as aviation, hospitality, retail and transportation. The pandemic has also exposed the soft underbelly of the leadership of major organisations.

Typically, leaders thrive when they grapple with technical and deterministic problems where decision outcomes have a direct and linear correspondence with the inputs. Inherent underlying weaknesses that have been assailed by Covid-19 include organisational and business models. Media houses that rely on advertising and newspaper circulation are experiencing a catastrophic revenue decline and are haemorrhaging journalists.

The pandemic has demonstrated the gulf between the magnificent rhetoric of America’s declaration of independence and enduring health, economic and racial inequalities. Countries that have invested and built universal health systems such as Canada and Germany have fared better. More importantly, hospital-based care modes have proved to be inadequate in a pandemic. Countries must invest in population and community-centred care models.

While the pandemic has revealed the depth of global interdependence, it has exposed the incapacity of global institutions to cope with manifold connections in the era of globalisation. Global collective governance and cooperative action has floundered in the Covid-19 regime. The United Nations Security Council is polarised and dysfunctional. The credibility of the World Health Organization has eroded inexorably.

Public and private institutions have stumbled in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Lance Pritchard writes about systemic isomorphic mimicry. It is an apt analogy in the Covid-19 regime. Institutions have presented outward forms of organisational capacity and financial sustainability. But deep inside they are fragile. We must learn to manage adaptively to cope with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.