Proactive innovation: how organizations are changing COVID’s impact

COVID-19 is changing our daily lives creating a paradigm shift on how we live, work and think – from the impact of quarantine, shelter-in-place, wearing masks and social distancing practices – and organizations have also had to adjust to a new norm. Remote work is here to stay and more acceptable than before as companies across industries are figuring out creative ways to build sustainability into their business and harness innovation through change. The pandemic has forced organizations to solve previously unimaginable problems quickly. 

Fortunately, technology and innovation exists to facilitate solutions that enable sustainability—instead of being held hostage by economic shifts. In governments and businesses, answers to tough questions and scenarios are rapidly taking shape, from implementing well-planned strategies to using data analysis to make informed decisions to utilizing emerging technologies for addressing equipment shortages—and other solutions that will have far ranging, long-term impact. 

By looking for examples of the best responses to COVID-19 across the globe, you can develop your proactive strategy for navigating the health and economic challenges to come.

Effective Governmental and Institutional Responses

Governments and institutions that leveraged digital technologies created insights and outcomes that saved lives, and they serve as short-term case studies for businesses.

Asian governments’ early response to the pandemic and collaboration with business put the region in a strong position due to technology-enabled interventions. They developed this six-category grid for guarding health and economic strength:

  • Implement a watertight track-trace-test quarantine cycle.
  • Leverage technology resources to respond to healthcare capacity surges.
  • Communicate transparent and timely information to the public.
  • Go all-in on digitizing services and products.
  • Embrace work-from-home to maintain economic activity.
  • Effectively safeguard and redeploy labor. 

As just one example of how the region employed these measures, Seegene of South Korea leveraged developed a COVID-19 test in 2-3 weeks, as opposed to the 2-3 months it took other countries, a major factor in South Korea’s rapid mitigation strategy.

Innovative data dashboards to display disease burden, created by various organizations, have helped governmental bodies and pharma track COVID-19. For example, the Singapore Ministry of Health gave business-intelligence leader UpCode access to its data to visually display infection trends and predict recovery time while the Johns Hopkins University created a coronavirus dashboard, with a web-based platform called HealthMap, that offers up-to-date visuals of global COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Throughout different parts of Asia and abroad, women in positions of leadership in business and government across the globe employed innovative approaches to combat COVID. For instance, the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, made a bold move at the very outset of the pandemic and led her country with the whole truth. 

The female leader of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, made a swift, decisive decision in January 2020, implementing 124 measures designed to stop the spread—and didn’t include lockdowns. Using technology, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir offered all citizens free testing and employed a thorough tracking system to prevent closing schools or locking down the entire country.

In Norway, Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister, took yet another innovative approach, holding a no-adults-allowed press conference and talking directly to children about how it was OK to feel scared about the pandemic. The care and empathy demonstrated by these female leaders offer key insight into how governments, institutions, and business can use leadership styles to effectively lead in a crisis and during change management.

What COVID-19 has made clear is that change management is most successful when technology, policy and leaders work in unison, creating clear, data-based decisions that mitigate both human and economic impact. When collaboration is added to this trifecta, the impact and speed are magnified, a takeaway that will be valuable well beyond COVID. 

Technology Companies Collaborative

For business leaders planning the change management they will need to lead in the near future, tech companies and digitally-minded organizations provide a glimpse into best practices as they leverage the value of collaboration, innovation and data.

Here at ABInBev, with 630 beer brands like Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona sold across 150 countries, we experienced a dramatic global impact; within the first two months of 2020, the estimated loss in revenue from the Chinese market alone was $285M. However, we have been busily preparing for recovery as soon as the government guidelines allow us to return to business as usual with company leadership creating a COVID-19 “crisis room” in China to facilitate the crafting of its response strategies for doing businesses in each of China’s 30 provinces. 

Tech giants are also helping fight COVID-19. Arc launched “Code Against COVID-19” to connect developers with projects designed to combat the virus. WhyHunger, 10x Management and two software engineers created an open-source, crowd-sourced interactive map of the U.S. that shows where people can get free meals. 

Tableau created a data hub for COVID-19 designed to vet high-quality sources of data as the pandemic evolved. Users can create premade or custom dashboards of data collected from Johns Hopkins University, the WHO and the CDC, with pharmaceutical companies employing the data to determine the best strategy for distributing COVID-19 testing kits.

Spurred by unreliable data challenging effective response to the pandemic, Apple and Google have pledged to develop technology tools to help fight COVID-19 and reduce the spread of the virus. With digital tools like smartphone apps and wearable devices replacing century-old public health strategies, countries are able to quickly respond to and scale measures to respond to the pandemic via better data and containment tactics. 

Case in point, Asian nations in particular had already modernized their public health approach to a pandemic, motivated by previous challenges with SARS and H1N1. As a result, when COVID-19 arrived on the scene, they harnessed valuable data for effective contact tracing, monitoring and early diagnosis. European countries and the U.S., however, lacked these upgrades and, unfortunately, struggled to combat the virus due to unreliable data. In the future, technology tools created by Apple and Google should help to mitigate these problems.

While some solutions may be focused on tackling COVID, these advancements show promising long-term impact, ushering in policy and practices that may prove useful for treating other illnesses and overcoming shortcomings in health systems. 

Tackling Digital Health Technology

The race for digital health technology solutions is also worth noting. 3D printing has been assisting with the shortage of medical equipment, in particular, personal protective equipment (PPE) and respirators. Telemedicine is experiencing a boom during the pandemic, allowing doctors to continue seeing patients without putting patients at unnecessary risk of exposure to the virus. In fact, India recently legalized telemedicine when the pandemic hit. 

Several countries are employing smartphone tracking to help with contact tracing, but some have met resistance in many other countries where privacy concerns prevail, showing the need for organizations to consider the cultural reaction to the policies they implement.

In every case, the speed of innovation has been key to bringing about meaningful change. While any response to COVID is somewhat reactive, organizations have the option to either wait even longer, increasing their risk of future challenges, or innovate now and prepare for the opportunities and fallout of the post-COVID era.

Change Spurs Innovation

Your business does not have to be subject to the whims of ever-changing regulations for doing business and economic shifts. In the coming months, you can drive change and innovation by learning from other business’ unique responses to COVID-19 and employing effective change management practices. Future articles will dive deeper into creativity and innovation that is emerging at the national, institutional, organizational, and individual levels during this time of crisis, and how you can effectively lead through disruption in your own business.

Share your take on the best change management solutions during COVID with a comment below and follow my blog and LinkedIn for additional insights.