Navigating the COVID Crisis

02 Apr 2020

Navigating the COVID Crisis

Recommendations for Senior Leaders in Aerospace Defense & Security Sectors

As we enter another week of uncertainty with COVID-19, stress remains high and planning remains challenging. While organizations need to navigate these challenges, it is important for leaders to consider both the immediate “crisis response” actions as well as the ways COVID-19 will alter organizations from a strategic, leadership, and talent standpoint—with the goal of never again being unprepared for an event such as COVID-19.

If past crises like 9/11 are a guide, once the immediate crisis response phase begins a transition into steady state, organizations will develop lessons learned and a playbook to better respond to similar surprises in the future. Much like after 9/11, organizations and the nature of work will evolve in some critical ways. It will be essential for organizations to train or hire the best agile leaders for this new environment, develop the right organizational structures, understand what skills are now critical to success, and anticipate what new roles may be needed.

If the past serves as a guide, organizations will both revert to and refresh planning documents and recommendations that were “hiding in plain sight” as they think about the future. In 2017, for instance, the Department of Health and Human Services developed the Pandemic Influence Plan, which provided seven key recommendations:

  1. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Activities—Better detection and monitoring of seasonal and emerging novel influenza viruses are critical to assuring a rapid recognition and response to a pandemic.
  2. Community Mitigation Measures—Incorporating actions and response measures that people and communities can take to help slow the spread of a novel influenza virus.
  3. Medical Countermeasures: Diagnostic Devices, Vaccines, Therapeutics, and Respiratory Devices—Aggressive translation of applied research in diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines may yield breakthrough MCMs to mitigate the next influenza pandemic.
  4. Health Care System Preparedness and Response Activities—Delivery system reform efforts of the past decade have made today’s health care system dramatically different.
  5. Communications and Public Outreach—Communications planning is integral to early and effective messaging when a pandemic threatens, establishes itself, and expands.
  6. Scientific Infrastructure and Preparedness—A strong scientific infrastructure underpins everything HHS does to prepare for and respond to pandemic influenza and other emerging infectious diseases.
  7. Domestic and International Response Policy, Incident Management, and Global Partnerships and Capacity Building—HHS will continue to coordinate both domestic and international pandemic preparedness and response activities.

Going beyond this, however, and taking a whole-of-Government approach, we need to better leverage our military and the military industrial complex to respond to future outbreaks. The US military has a broad array of communications technologies, situational awareness tools, transportation, best-in-class supply chain management, a health system used to operating in new and adverse conditions, and extensive capabilities in training and simulation that will provide real-world readiness when it’s most urgently needed.

By harnessing their existing capabilities in rapid response, military logistics, war gaming and extensive training, we can ensure that we are prepared to meet future pandemics. We could affordably develop a civilian medical reserve corps, pair our military with civilian medical personnel for rapid response, and train them through advanced simulations in “germ gaming” instead of war gaming.

With this in mind, here are a series of roles and technologies that we will need to develop, expand, and evolve to meet these needs:

  • Advanced biometrics and monitoring—With the prevalence of phones, satellite mapping, and lessons learned from South Korea’s extensive testing, health monitoring and surveillance (illness, temperature, etc.) will provide early warnings of—and therefore an ability to preemptively manage—future outbreaks. This will evolve around military facilities, manufacturing sites, and with government contractors where outbreaks can have the potential to impact national security as well as with airports and other venues with large groups of people (stadiums, train stations, etc.). Bag searches and scans may soon be accompanied by body temperature scans.
  • Cyber leadership—With the additional strain on networks and increased vulnerability as adversaries look for potential weaknesses and increased numbers of people working at home, organizations now need stronger and more cybersecurity experts and leaders than ever before.
  • Supply chain leaders—There is an urgent need to solve short- and medium-term medical and equipment shortages—a global logistical problem that requires creative, adaptable leaders able to navigate supply chain complexities and find the right global partners to work with going forward.
  • Innovative and scalable technology—The military has invested in small technology companies whose innovative technologies—including portable ventilators—could be scaled and/or repurposed to respond to emerging threats. Expect formats like Air Force pitch day to continue to promote technology acceleration and entrepreneurs who can provide rapid solutions to complex problems.
  • Contingent logistics—We need organizations and people that can provide rapid support at scale at the federal, state, and local level. The U.S. has significant military and contractor experience in this area, but ensuring these capabilities are available in local geographies and able to respond to the regional requirements of a global health pandemic will require systemic, organizational, and leadership changes.
  • Digital transformation—Given the nature of large scale manufacturing facilities and cleared facilities along with classified materials, working from home is not an option for many in the aerospace, defense, and national security sectors. That said, determining functional work from home, co-location, and shift design, are all areas of important potential.
  • Emergency health care force—We need to identify potential additional healthcare resources to support the existing capabilities. This may require the creation of a civilian healthcare reserve corps, composed of ready response medical personnel who can supplement the existing health infrastructure in times of need.
  • Government affairs—Given the importance of government in all these roles, government affairs leaders who can be strategic partners to their business and government will be critical to the success of organizations throughout this sector. This is especially true given the enormous stimulus being poured into the economy.
  • Interim roles—Companies that have historically favored long career tenures for its employees may find it necessary to consider different career trajectories when bringing in key leaders, particularly in critical functions or on an interim basis.
  • Board directors—Whether bringing in a health expert or supply chain expert, boards need to oversee war gaming exercises and executive training initiatives to make sure that their executive leadership is able to anticipate and respond to future shocks.
  • Scenario planners/training and simulation—Going forward, we will see greater emphasis given to the pressure testing of scenarios and risks, especially as they pertain to economically disruptive pandemics and other potential Black Swan events.

What to do?

Changes to the status quo inherently create winners and losers. The winners are those individuals and organizations whose agility and structural preparedness allow them to navigate the near-term crisis while positioning themselves for success on the other side.

A major component of this positioning is their ability to see and shape future roles for both their company and their human assets. What the future looks like in three or 12 months will be determined by actions taken now. We will see non-traditional players moving into areas that are not typically “in their lane.” Airlines, airports, and commercial aerospace, for example, could now have an accelerated interest in biometrics in order to assuage the health concerns of travellers and therefore return air traffic to its previous highs. To weather this crisis while expanding into new lanes, organizations need to ensure they have the right talent—leaders who can begin to shape the post-crisis world into which we are heading.

We are available to further discuss how to best conceptualize and shape the day after tomorrow.