I got pinged last week.
For those not familiar with the UK Test and Trace App that means that I have been judged to be in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid 19 and therefore required to self-isolate for a specific number of days.
Forgive me for writing this from a UK perspective; if reading this in another country, treat it as a case study as the principles will travel easier than the UK centric example.
My reaction to the ‘ping’? Classic change response and I could feel myself going through shock, denial, anger, blame before I got to the point where I asked myself, where could this have occurred, and had I mitigated the risk? That was the point when I booked a PCR test (understood to be more reliable than the regular lateral flow testing I had been performing twice a week) and, happily, 24 hours later I received a report to tell me I had tested negative.
The experience was actually helpful as it helped me to get some clarity on what a responsible course of action involves. And at a time when cases are steeply rising, restrictions are being taken off and there is much criticism of the aforementioned App, the scientific community and politicians (not necessarily in that order). I am reminded of the wisdom of seeking to control those things I can, and not worry about those things I can’t. I am helped here by recent exposure to the Growth Mindset thinking (Carol Dweck) and our collaboration with Matthew Syed on assessing Fixed v Growth Mindsets using Mindset Advantage©.
We are in uncharted waters and uncertainty is likely to prevail for some time to come. In the meantime, we have businesses to run and lives to lead. As individuals and as organisations we want, and need, to return to some sort of normality but the Covid virus will remain a significant factor. Getting in the way are daily news reports reminding us that government guidance is ambiguous and that the tools at our disposal for virus management may be flawed:
Vaccination, while broadly taken up, is still viewed with scepticism by some
Test and trace processes are in place but can lead to confusing advice and broader adoption of the App may be in doubt (with some deleting the App because of the perception of interference with personal social mobility)
Testing remains subject to false negatives and false positives
The efficacy of masks and social distancing is disputed
As a result, guidance across society is variable and confusing and this confusion is leading to the probability of a continuing unmanaged pandemic.
If there are many matters that we don’t know, there are facts that we do know:
The virus continues to spread and variants remain a threat. There is a real and present danger of serious illness and death (at this point, I reflect on the news of a past client of mine who despite being super fit, died of Covid last week in South Africa)
Even in Covid secure nations (e.g., Australia, Singapore) the virus has not been eliminated and outbreaks remain a threat
If we are to return to global connections, there is a long way to go before the virus is managed through vaccination. Our ability to travel freely remains threatened for some time to come
And this is where a Growth Mindset needs to kick in. Rather than dwell on what is not happening, there are opportunities within the current environment for each of us to assist with managing the risk of infection:
Vaccination and advice on applicability is now widely available
Lateral flow tests are free and available and can be administered from home. They may not be 100% accurate, but regular use will over time provide data to help individuals to manage their exposure to the virus and their impact on others
The Test and Trace app can provide information on possible contact with others who are infected. It may not be perfect but can provide an indication of personal risk and introduces individuals to a more rigorous (PCR) test
Traffic light data on safe locations, both domestically and internationally, can show where there is a higher risk of infection and can inform travel plans
The core advice (regular hand washing, social distancing, wearing a face mask (where recommended)) has been consistent over time
As individuals we have different attitudes to risk and this impacts on the way we run our lives. But when it comes to safety, organisations have a responsibility to maintain a safe environment. I believe we should extend this principle to the way we manage the virus with an organisational Growth Mindset in place:
It is an individual’s responsibility to manage their own risk of infection and
It is the organisation’s responsibility to create a virus safe environment
As with safety, there is a need to support individuals to manage their own risks and then to create an environment to keep all in touch with the organisation safe.
I want to focus on these two levels of responsibility before looking at what a government might do.
Risk management by individuals
There are some steps that every individual can take to manage their risk of infection, or the consequences of infection:
Get vaccinated. Some will have a deeply held belief that a vaccination is not appropriate and others will challenge its efficacy and safety over the long term. This will be a matter for each individual to seek advice and act on accordingly.
Test regularly. Some level of comfort that an individual is virus free can be provided by the use of a regular, home administered lateral flow test.
Install the App. It may be flawed, but it is a data source to help manage risk and it is a gateway to a more rigorous (PCR) test. The ‘ping’ leading to an instruction to isolate might be helpful to keeping colleagues safe.
Wash hands, social distance and wear a mask in higher risk environments. All help to keep individuals and others safe.
Take care on travel plans and monitor guidance on safer environments.
These are elements that can help us to make good decisions. There may be a cocktail of measures taken by an individual. For example, if there is a personal aversion to vaccination more regular testing and enhanced social distancing may be required by colleagues. And if you are pinged, you will be able to assess the extent of the unmanaged risk to which you have been exposed.
All these require a shift in mindset as many report that each of these areas is an invasion of their liberty. Is it? Or is it a price we pay for living in a civilised society?
If individuals’ mindsets shift, then organisations can support individuals to stay safe and create a virus safe environment:
Assist in the development of the mindset needed. Fewer rules and more consultation. Harnessing small groups of co-workers to assist them to manage their work environment and to keep each other safe.
Support for regular testing. Kits available and guidance on installing and using the Test and Trace App.
Guidance on hand-washing and social distancing. An approach ordinarily adopted for other safety policy and guidelines: unambiguous guidance and peer monitoring.
Physical environmental management: masks where needed, ventilation, partitioning and so on.
The exact level of support will depend on the nature and scale of each organisation, but over time, there will be an emergence of best practice and the evolution of a ‘standard’ that will apply to all organisations. Right now, and in the face of continuing uncertainty and taking a Growth Mindset approach, I think responsible employers will be adopting their own cocktail of measures to provide a Covid safe environment.
Is there a role for government?
Of course, there is. But the action they would take in an environment where individuals are taking responsibility for their own well-being, and organisations are supporting their people to act responsibly would be quite different to the measures in place now. A Growth Mindset at a governmental level?
Accept that enforcement can no longer work and ‘liberating’ the population will need a new approach from government
Examine the Test and Trace App, accept that it is at best a Beta application and that the ‘mass testing’ it has been through now requires it to be improved. Position it differently to provide advice and access to testing (right now, it is not clear that you can book a PCR test from the App; you need to access the government website in order to book a test in the absence of symptoms). Pinged in future, I should be able to reflect on where I was in contact with the virus and whether I had taken appropriate measures to manage the risk. Put me in control of the self-isolation decision, rather than require me to self-isolate automatically.
Draw a line under the unfortunate episodes of non-aligned behaviour by politicians and advisors and sign up to a leadership code to govern future behaviours. We need exemplars.
Be clear and consistent in future communication campaigns. We are far enough into this pandemic to discern what good should look like, so let’s get an agreement to a core message to inform all future campaigns.
If we each take responsibility for our own safety, over time there will be a body of knowledge owned, not by the scientists nor the politicians, but by us all to assist with managing the virus. That body of knowledge can be used to refine approaches and to optimise the allocation of resource to the health care system.
The virus is not going to disappear and we will have to live with it for some time to come. So it will be worth investing in new behaviours that will keep us all safe in the longer term as well as to enable us to enjoy the short term. Individuals will need to take responsibility for their own safety. And organisations, wanting to get on with their businesses will be able to take responsibility for their work environments; they are used to this anyway under existing health and safety legislation.
Yes, there will be others that will ignore the warnings and yes, there will be people who will need additional support. A well-run society will work out how to cope with both over time. And a well-run organisation will be able to adapt to a new way of operating safely and viably.
Blaming others or remaining in denial regarding the ongoing virulence of Covid, is not going to get us out of this mess. We can choose to shift our current mindset and take actions to develop a Growth Mindset.
It’s our choice.
Covid recovery: a joint responsibility
Written by Peter Ward, Senior Consultant at Telos Partners 19 July 2021