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Frameworks and the coronavirus

We know that frameworks are essential tools for businesses. But to what extent are they known or used by decision-makers elsewhere? Following recent announcements from governments trying to deal with the coronavirus it raises the question what use, if any, they make of frameworks in devising their plans. One of the most important requirements of any government is to safeguard its people. The coronavirus is a major threat to all governments and they need a strategy for dealing with it. Let’s see if frameworks can help.

The first thing we need is a framework that helps us understand what is happening - we need a situation analysis. A business carrying out a situation analysis would look at the macro environment, the market, carry out a SWOT and learn as much as possible about the target audience. In dealing with the coronavirus we should cover similar subjects. We must understand the threats from the virus and how these work. We have to look at the population demographics. We need to explore the technology known about the virus and the resources required to contain it. A situation analysis is the first thing we do so we understand and have an analysis of the problem.

We now need to work out how the coronavirus is going to move through our population. For this we turn to the life cycle framework. All products, businesses (and viruses) have a life cycle. The life cycle framework looks to the future and so various assumptions have to be made about how the virus will spread. As a starter we can look back in time. The Spanish flu epidemic that began in January 1918 lasted two years but saw the vast majority of deaths packed into the last few months of 1918. Conditions are different today. In 1918 the transmission of the virus was aided by closely packed troops returning from the war. That scenario is different today but even so we have packed populations in football grounds, transit systems, and workplaces. Much depends on the virulence of the virus and how it is transmitted. We know it is highly contagious. If someone with the virus (who may or may not know that they are infected) passes the disease to two people, and the gestation period is a couple of weeks, it won’t be long before millions of people are infected. Take the US for example, this doubling up of infected cases every two weeks means that 1600 people with the virus in mid March could result in half the population being plague ridden by the end of the year. It is the same for every other country. This scenario is an oversimplification because as more and more of the population become sick and recover, their new immunity reduces the chance of further infection. Simple though it may be, our life cycle framework gives us an indication of what might be expected by when. We now have some targets to work with.

It is clear we will have to have resources available to manage the pandemic. For guidance we turn to the McKinsey 7S framework. This audit tool uses seven factors to deal with a problem. First it tells us there must be an over-arching “strategy”. Then there must be “structure” in terms of which government departments take responsibility for actions. “Systems” must be in place to manage the pressures on hospitals and other resources. “Shared values” are important so everyone understands what is to be done and ensures everyone pulls in the same direction. The behavioural attitudes of top management teams must influence people down the ladder (McKinsey call this “style”). Then there must be “staff” in sufficient numbers, trained and capable of dealing with the virus. And finally staff will need new “skills” to deal with what is a new threat.

The success of managing the coronavirus is as much about changing the behaviour of the population as it is about having the resources and procedures to deal with it. It is critical that people understand how the virus is communicated, how it can be contained and the importance of hygiene. People will have to change the way they visit and work. They will need different ways of greeting each other. They will need a new approach for washing their hands, sneezing into the crook of their elbow and so on. This requires frameworks that help us communicate with the population and manage behaviours. We are not short of options. Malcolm Gladwell’s tipping point shows a great way to influence beliefs and target messages. Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s nudge theory shows how we can motivate using system 1 or system 2 decision making. And then there are semiotics, the means by which we can use signs and symbols to get our messages across.

At some stage we may brainstorm using Edward De Bono’s six thinking hats to generate new ideas.

The coronavirus is with us and must be managed. Without doubt the government will have its own thinking cap on and its own plans for dealing with the crisis. Let’s hope that they are effective and, let’s hope that they make use of tried and tested planning tools which we use in business every day.

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