Lessons for the Second Wave

A new Korn Ferry reports looks at the critical indicators and levers that can help—or hinder—countries managing through crisis

It started with one infection, then another. Soon, two infections become four, and four turned into eight. By the first week, cases were in the hundreds and continued to rise rapidly.

The COVID-19 outbreak changed the world overnight. The severity, lethality, and infectious nature of the disease has led many countries to shut down large chunks of their economies in order to stem the outbreak. Bustling cities turned into ghost towns. Stores shuttered or closed down for good. Millions of people found themselves out of work, while others had to work from home, sharing space with spouses, children, and roommates. Hospitals everywhere were overwhelmed with cases, and doctors and nurses worked around the clock. “With the flap of a butterfly’s wings, we began realizing how interconnected our health, economies, and social systems are around the world,” says Evelyn Orr, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Korn Ferry Institute.

Whether China or the United States, countries battling the COVID-19 pandemic faced all of these same risks. They also shared the same immediate and long-term objectives: to bring the number of infections under control and reduce community spread as much as possible—ideally to zero.

In its latest report, Countries in Crisis: Lessons for the Second Wave, the Korn Ferry Institute takes a look at those collective skills and attributes that have impacted the ways in which countries manage the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And what the Institute has learned is that societies will need to act with speed, cultivate collaborative behaviors, and take stock of some cultural characteristics like assertiveness or sociability if they want to mitigate future waves.

Indeed, after combing through data from more than 200 countries, researchers found that certain factors have contributed to how well countries have responded to the first wave of the pandemic. In case of social distancing, for example, speed is of the essence: countries faster to restrict gatherings at the onset of the virus outbreak saw case numbers that were six times lower than countries slower to do so, according to the report.

Without a doubt, a country’s initial response to any new crisis will depend on both their culture and their assets, such as their economic strength, healthcare infrastructure, and past experiences with pandemics. Yet, as Korn Ferry’s report shows, what truly differentiates a country is not only its core resources and unique cultural legacy, but also its awareness, willingness, and ability to do what it takes to quell possible risks or limitations due to this legacy. “People’s health, like economic development and individual fulfilment, is the outcome of informed and deliberate choices,” says Jean-Marc Laouchez, president of the Korn Ferry Institute.