Factors that helped or hindered responses to the Pandemic

New Zealand businesses learned a lot over the last year about dealing with a crisis, and the Forum commissioned research so we could capture and share these valuable lessons.

The research will be published later this month but given the risk we could be thrown back into lockdown at any time, I’m sharing highlights from the research now. Below is a summary of factors that helped or hindered responses to the pandemic and lockdowns. These are based on feedback from 290 CEOs, directors and health and safety leads who took part in the research.


Key area: Crisis planning, scenario testing and plan-in-action

  • Hindered: Not having a plan, or having a plan that was outdated, didn’t fit a pandemic, or assumed everyone could come together. Inability to forecast demand, and the supply chain feeling close to being out of control.
  • Helped: Having a pandemic plan and having tested it. Being focused on agility and reviewing plans regularly during the crisis. Senior leaders being able to forward plan while crisis teams managed the organisational pandemic response.

Key areas: Buy-in

  • Hindered: Boards and senior leaders who were slow to understand or accept the threat, so slowed down the response.
  • Helped: Leaders who anticipated risk early, rallied crisis teams, and communicated well with the business. Teams being empowered to lead the response and deliver the work.

Key areas: Operating model

  • Hindered: The operating model changing rapidly, so people had to anticipate risks on the run.
  • Helped: Having built the business to be able to work more flexibly to respond to threats.


Key areas: Culture

  • Hindered: Having to wait for decisions to be made at the top or having to manage emotional outbursts. People missing face-to-face connections and suffering ‘Zoom fatigue’.
  • Helped: Having a strong, trusting culture with high autonomy and support for teams. Personalising communications. Seeing the organisation as part of New Zealand society/having a strong community spirit. Having good supplier relationships.

Key areas: Communication

  • Hindered: Where there was conflicting or no communication from government, unions, industry bodies and from within the organisation itself.
  • Helped: Where there were clear government communications. Visible organisational leadership with clear messages.

Key areas: Government

  • Hindered: Not having an existing relationship with government.
  • Helped: Having good relationships with government.


Key areas: People resources

  • Hindered: Dealing with workload pressures. Difficulties retaining people when there was variable or no demand.
  • Helped: Committing to paying people which gave them certainty. Prioritising work from home.

Key areas: Wellbeing

  • Hindered: The pandemic’s impact on mental wellbeing, including fatigue, isolation and loneliness.
  • Helped: People being passionate about work and feeling valued.

Key areas: Systems and financial headroom

  • Hindered: IT not being built for flexible working. Demand dropping, which impacted cash flows.
  • Helped: Having developed flexible IT systems and digital literacy. Having financial reserves to call on.