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Lessons for COVID-19 – Part 4: Strategies to influence behaviour during a pandemic


Part 4: The ability of leaders to make better decisions is crucial during challenging times

As discussed in Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3 of Isaac Baker’s 7 part series on applying behavioural insights to drive behaviour change in response to COVID-19; pandemics pose a dangerously real and significant threat to businesses and their people.

Business leaders have been thrust into creating and implementing emergency management plans in response to COVID-19.

Despite the uncertainty with unfolding events and potential futures, you can apply techniques grounded in behavioural science to influence people’s behaviour towards individual, business and societal good – a process broadly known as behavioural insights.

What barriers can get in the way of making sound decisions?

Barrier: Uncertainty within a dynamic environment

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a burden has been placed upon the shoulders of leaders to drive collective action of masses of people.

A barrier for leaders in making better decisions throughout this period arises from the uncertainty inherent in the ever-changing business, social, economic and political landscape.

Let us say you make a decision as Time 1 under certain circumstances; it may very well be the best possible decision at the time. However, if circumstances continue to change, and quite rapidly, the initially “good decision” can become swiftly and actively harmful to the business and your people.

The key issue is the uncertainty of the context in which people make decisions. If we take an assessment of the environment at Time 1 to make a decision, then it will become unhelpful at Time 2 if situational factors change. This can occur on the timescale of days and weeks. If an environment is uncertain with low predictability of what is likely to happen in the near future, then the decision-making approach must be modified appropriately.

Solutions: Flexibility and Optionality


The first solution to uncertainty in dynamic environments is to maintain optionality. That is, when making decisions, ensure there are numerous and varied options that allow yourself to pivot in response to continuously changing contingencies.

Think of these as your ‘get out of jail free’ cards. You want to keep them in your back pocket. You need them to avoid making decisions that leave you limited and constrained during future decisions. This is crucial to responding to the swiftly to new and emerging information. You need options to effectively pivot.

  1. Create decisions trees that contain contingency plans and ‘opt-out’ solutions.



Generating alternative approaches and options are useful if you are not open to adapting to changing circumstances. This is where your flexibility is crucial. To identify the appropriate response to new information, you need to be open to this information and the possibility of changing tact in response to it.

Here, the world of tomorrow can not be used to inform your decisions for the future. Taking this approach is necessary for adapting to the changing business, social, economic, and political landscape you are facing as a leader.

  1. Create a schedule for how often new information will be collected and analysed to inform the possibility of adopting an alternative approach.
  2. Make decisions that address the short term, and frequently update these decisions until the certainty of the environment increases and provides an opportunity to look farther into the further.

By applying these and other techniques grounded in behavioural science evidence, you give yourself the best opportunity to make better decisions as a leader.

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This article is Part 4 in a 7 Part series applying behavioural insights to drive behaviour change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about the Behaviour Change Toolkit from which these insights are grounded, or if you would like to discuss the application of behavioural insights to your organisation during these challenging times, please reach out to Isaac Baker here.

Alternatively, contact us today and one of our Mapien workplace strategists will be in touch within 24 hours.

Isaac Baker
Isaac has a thorough understanding of the science of human behaviour and creates effective, specialised interventions to solve complex people problems.