The Forum today shared key insights from research it commissioned into how businesses responded to Covid-19 – what helped and what didn’t. The research will be published in February, but in light of events over the weekend we’re keen to share highlights with now.  

New Zealand businesses learned a lot over the last year and have worked hard preparing for another lockdown, if required. It is encouraging to know these ongoing preparations are happening. The research is a way to capture and share some of those lessons.

Summarising feedback from 290 CEOs, directors and health and safety leads, it identified three key lessons from the pandemic and last year’s lockdowns: 

1. Relationships are key

Relationships, and the tools to build and maintain them, are critical for CEOs and organisations in crisis situations such as pandemics. These relationships needed to be developed as part of business as usual, before the crisis. One CEO described relationships as ‘currency’ and that CEOs and organisations needed to ‘put money in the bank before you need it’. There was no time to build trust in a crisis. CEOs and organisations found the trusted relationships they had going into the crisis were the ones that helped get cut-through where and when it mattered most.  

2. Invest early in culture and leadership

Leaders who had good teams in place, alongside a good organisational culture, reported more confidently about their organisation's ability to cope with a crisis, such as a pandemic. They could rely on their staff to ‘do the right thing’ for the organisation, and were more comfortable about delegating and allowing teams to act more autonomously during the crisis.

3. Plan and be prepared

While plans can’t always anticipate the reality of a crisis, they enabled organisations to practice responses so there was an understanding of roles and requirements during the actual event. Planning also enabled organisations to build financial headroom into their operations so that when the pandemic did occur, they had the resources to weather the storm. Some organisations used the lessons of other events to build crisis teams which could handle particular roles, enabling senior management to focus on wider issues.

The research found that most CEOs and organisations recognised that Covid-19 would be an ongoing event and were planning and preparing for what might come next. Interestingly, almost all of the CEOs  were pleased with their organisation’s response to the lockdown and Alert Level requirements in 2020 – and this was an energising and positive platform for them to build on in 2021.

However, the lockdowns made many aware of the stresses placed on people in their organisations. Many leaders found they were having more staff management issues after the lockdowns ended, as the adrenalin wore off and the stress and fatigue set in. Many CEOs said they had publicly recognised the work of their staff and were investing in mental wellbeing activities.

While at one level there is nothing startlingly new in these findings – relationships, culture and leadership, and planning are all business fundamentals – they are a powerful reminder of how investing in these fundamentals can pay off. With that in mind, below are some reflective questions to help you and your organisation prepare for any sudden change in Alert Levels over the coming weeks. 

At the end of this update is a list of Forum Covid-19 resources and upcoming activities. These are particularly focused on protecting mental wellbeing, as member feedback suggests this is the area where they’d appreciate the help.

The Forum is also talking with government agencies and other peak bodies to try to ensure businesses get early and clear information about any changes to requirements at the various Alert Levels.


These questions might help with your pandemic planning:

Key relationships

  • Have you identified your critical clients or suppliers and agreed main contacts and key relationship leads?
  • Are there any key government or sector relationships that need to be developed or reconfirmed?

Your people

  • Are your IT and remote working arrangements agreed and ready?
  • Were there any people or groups who struggled with digital literacy or connectivity last time? Is support in place for them now?

Credible information and communication

  • Are you clear which sources of information and advice you will access and rely on?
  • Do you have your communication plan ready? – channels, approaches, people?


  • Is your organisation’s well-being approach refreshed and ready for 2021?
  • How will delivery of activities and interventions occur remotely?
  • How are you looking after your own and the senior team’s well-being?

Banking the lessons learned

  • Have you reflected on and banked the key lessons of what worked and what didn’t from the last lock down?



Also, watch out for these upcoming events and resources:

  • Online sessions for CEOs and operational General Managers/Health and Safety Managers on making sense of the organisation’s role in mental wellbeing at work (Feb/March)
  • Surviving a Pandemic – Forum commissioned research report into factors that helped or hindered New Zealand-based organisations (Feb)
  • Guide on the CEO’s role in protecting mental wellbeing at work, and the role of good work design in achieving this (April).