Top-down or bottom-up: who makes the decisions in a pandemic?
We live in a blizzard of regulations, requirements, guidance and advice that changes regularly as the Government tries to find ways of guiding us out of lockdown. People crave clarity so they know exactly what to do but in reality there are so many different circumstances that we must all to some extent find our own way forward. For companies, how we solve the riddle of getting back to viable business activity whilst at the same time protecting staff, customers and everybody else, is going to be largely a matter of making local decisions. We will all have to take our own ‘baby steps’, review the implications and gradually in an iterative way find our own ‘new normal’. Government may be treating getting us out of lockdown as a top-down decision making process but there will be a lot of bottom-up decisions to be taken as well.
So how can we prepare for the bottom-up process? Here are four action research suggestions:
Set up a task force to ‘design’ the new way of working and monitor how well it is achieving its purpose
Work out what is a regulation that is enforceable by law and what is advice or guidance. This will define the discretion the task force has to create ways of working that meet local needs. Schools may have to abide by the social distancing regulations, for example, but they may be able to decide for themselves whether children come back full time or part-time, what spaces they can press into service for teaching, how to manage lunchtimes and playtimes and so on.
Be clear what the new system is expected to achieve and measure whether it is being achieved. Are people able to work following the social-distancing rules and face-mask wearing or do further adjustments need to be made? Above all are customers confident they are safe and are they willing to follow the procedures that have been set up?
Make regular reviews and be ready to change. The results of internal ‘research’ may suggest changes but there may also be outside changes. Government may change the regulations and create new restrictions or opportunities. Mandatory face-masks today: who knows what tomorrow.
Agility and invention will be needed. There are plenty of examples of how organisations are adapting that can be our inspiration.