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COVID-19 has thrown up a raft of leadership and corporate affairs issues: how to turn a crisis into an opportunity; ScoMo’s performance; politicians answering journalist’s questions (at last!); the communications hazards of staff working from home. Peter Wilkinson and Liam Cox discuss.

Video Transcript

Liam Cox:

The coronavirus has created chaos and panic. Peter Wilkinson in terms of crisis communications, what can we learn from this situation?

Peter Wilkinson:

Well, as a crisis, as crises go. This one’s been handled very well, but I’ll make a couple of observations. The first is often a crisis presents an opportunity. And one example of when that happens is when there’s fear and because there’s fear with the coronavirus, it does offer the government opportunity for instance, and others. For instance, the chief medical officer could, if he wanted to, and if he thought it was his remit, start talking about ways that people can reduce the impact of the coronavirus by being more healthy. And so change is much more easy to facilitate when there’s fear and I’m obviously not medical person, but you can talk about, lose some weight, do some exercise, reduce your smoking, don’t use alcohol and drugs to excess, all the kinds of things that would weaken your immune system in the event that you did contract the coronavirus

Another example might be with the prospect of a recession. There’s an issue of productivity, the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Productivity Commission want to increase productivity. And Ross Gittens wrote a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald talking about how our productivity has fallen behind and is less than the Netherlands, Germany and the United States. Well, it’s an opportunity for someone to say, given that we’re heading into difficult economic times, again, as the motivation of fear, it’s a good opportunity for every business to increase the budget on R&D, research and development, or innovation, those kinds of things. So that’s what some crises offer. They offer an opportunity to create change.

Liam Cox:

Scott Morrison got plenty of criticism for his weak response to the bush fires. But with the coronavirus, his response has been vastly improved.

Peter Wilkinson:

Yes. So, I don’t know whether you remember, you did say to me in an earlier quick take, can he recover his reputation? I said, “Yes.” All it’s going to take is a couple of issues that he handles really well. And this is a real lesson for CEOs. Things can go really badly and you feel as though your reputation’s trashed because of an incident, but if you can come back and improve the way you do things and people can see that you’ve improved, the way you do things. Australians are very tolerant. And what you’re beginning to hear now is, “Oh, well, ScoMo sort of learned his lessons from the bush fire, he’s beginning to get things right. And that’s very much what happens in a situation like this. I’d make this observation. He’s been the leader and Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer has been the technical expert. It is so different from the bush fires when Shane Fitzsimmons was the Commissioner for the Rural Fire Service and ScoMo was absent. And the difference is so apparent.

Liam Cox:

And Morrison’s language it’s been strong, it’s been decisive and that’s been backed up by action. And that’s given the public … It’s instilled some trust when there’s been a lot of fear in the situation.

Peter Wilkinson:

People get a lot of confidence, there’s obviously people aren’t very confident about what’s about to happen with the coronavirus, but they get a lot of confidence that ScoMo and Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer between them have got things in hand and are really on top of what’s happening around the world, particularly going ahead of the crowd on blocking travel from Iran and stuff like that. Yes.

Liam Cox:

Peter Dutton, he’s another man that has received intense criticism over the years for his PR, but he impressed you over the weekend.

Peter Wilkinson:

So on insiders, we talk a lot about our politicians must answer questions and the Dutton interview’s worth watching because despite what anybody may feel about Peter Dutton, he answered the questions really well. He sort of fumbled a couple on to do with security and China, but what was notable was he was on message and answering questions, was very impressive. But there’s one other thing that’s worth noting about the coronavirus. And that is, there’s talk about people working from home. Working from home comes down to internal communications, which is another important aspect for corporate affairs and for CEOs.

It’s not just a matter of sending people home, and then assuming they’re going to work as well. People get quite discombobulated if they’re working from home and all they’ve got is a wall to stare at. So, they need extra internal communications, but as well as that, the culture of an organization can get upset very quickly. And so the people who are their managers, the people who are working from home, their managers need to be very conscious of the impact that it has on the individual working at home, who’s not used to it and how it impacts the culture of the organization.

Liam Cox:

Absolutely. Peter Wilkinson, thank you. We’ll see you next week.