How Can We Emerge From The Covid-19 Crisis ?

Author: Paolo Gallo & David Ulrich

At times you stumble in a phrase that is going to stay “inside you” for the rest of your life. 

“Between Stimulus and Response, there is a space…in that Space is our power to choose our response. In our response, lies our Growth and our Freedom”. 

[This phrase is from Viktor Flankl, Auschwitz Survivor and author of “Men search for meaning” by many considered the most influential book ever.]

So, during the “COVID19 -moments” where the “Stimulus” we have received is similar to a Tsunami, the question is clear: what is going to be our response? How can we reflect and then move to action rather than just react or, worse, remaining still with no action and learning(s)?

Surely, we have been under unprecedented pressure. Under severe pressure, some rocks become diamonds and others become dust. In this present crisis, many have expressed a version of “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” which comes from learning more than lamenting, moving forward more than reflecting backward, and pausing – resetting – restarting—and learning.

There have been many stresses of the pandemic (social isolation, loss of routines, health concerns, home schooling, and so forth) as well as affirming experiences (Andrea Bocelli singing Amazing Grace in Milan, local heroes, renewed relationships, and so forth).

As people and organizations now slow emerge from this global timeout, it is useful to not waste the chance to turn demanding experiences into significant learning and change.

The transition out of quarantine and social distancing can be either unremarkable by simply reengaging in customary habits, or transformational by creating an inflection point for reinvention. We suggest four insights for making diamonds as people and organizations emerge from this crisis:

  • Principles for emerging from the pandemic
  • Boundaries of work
  • Responsibility for new working conditions
  • Dangers of recidivism
Principles for Emerging From the Pandemic

We hesitate to propose a definitive new normal or to speculate with precision what new practices will emerge from this virus. Rather, we suggest four general principles in progress that may follow this coronavirus pandemic by labeling them with an “-ing” adjective.

Increasing customization or personalization.

Even with worldwide stipulations (social distancing, lockdowns, health care), the global pandemic affects individuals and organizations very differently.  Being home bound with children to home-school or in a small apartment is vastly different from being home bound without children or in a larger house.

Many entire industries (e.g., entertainment, transportation, consulting, retail) have been devastated; other industries (e.g., virtual or digital connections, delivery services, personal health providers like masks, grocery stores) are thriving.

Mass customization or personalization is not new, but may get increased attention as organizations may customize services to unique customer requirements and personalize work to fit needs of individual employees. There may be fewer “one size fits all” approaches to work.

Navigating paradox

The simple calls for shifting practices from A to B miss the complexity of organizations. In this crisis, leaders have recognized and been forced to navigate paradoxes, including:

  • Care for the individual AND create a competitive organization
  • React to the short term with bold decisive actions AND envision the long term future with sustainable values
  • Take care of yourself AND offer care to others
  • Be divergent to seek new ideas AND be convergent to make things happen
  • Practice social distancing AND avoid social isolation

Leaders and organizations navigate these paradoxes by recognizing and avoiding predispositions and unconscious biases, encouraging disagreements without being disagreeable, and constantly adapting to current circumstances.

A great leader once said “Run with patience.” Navigating paradox means therefore reconcile apparent dichotomies by creating an inclusive framework of solutions. For example Leaders need to take care of people while finding solution to re-create an organization that wins in the marketplace.

Harnessing uncertainty

The crisis reminds us how much we want certainty even when it is not possible. For example, people want to know they will be out of lockdown, when the government loans will come through, what will happen to their company, and when they can return to work. The reality is that no one really knows.

The Article is pre-published on


Dave Ulrich, Rensis Likert Professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan Partner, The RBL Group

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *