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Reset, not return

Let’s choose not to go back but to emerge from COVID-19 smarter, faster, and better in both our businesses and our communities.

By Matthew Prichard, KPMG
28 Sep 2020
Athlete's feet running on road

History tells us that fundamental shifts come out of times of significant disruption.

The Spanish Flu in 1918 triggered the social security and universal healthcare movements in place in most developed countries today. World War II saw the single biggest shift ever in women’s participation in the workforce. SARS in Asia normalised the wearing of face masks in affected countries, and was one of the original catalysts for the uptake of e-commerce in China.

Although we’re all still in the middle of crisis management from the economic upheaval of COVID-19, it’s time we all had at least half of our energy, imagination and brainpower focused on what shape we want New Zealand to be in out the other side of this crisis.

Not everything about before was ideal. Some things about before are not on the table for us to choose, even if we did want to return. But we do have choices.

We can choose to reset our message to the world

We’ve spent the last two decades telling the world that we’re a nice place to visit. It served us well, and made global tourism an enormous export earner and employer for us. Those tourists aren’t coming back in big numbers in the near future.

But suddenly we’re on the world stage for different reasons. We have the world’s attention for our leadership and our response to this crisis. The world is listening to us and watching us. We have the opportunity to say:

  • “Move your high tech / high value business here!”
  • “Move your talented people here!”
  • “Move your capital here!”

We can choose to reset some things about ourselves as a nation

We’ve had good growth in GDP, low unemployment and we’ve taken some real steps to address our challenges with the environment. But we’ve struggled to generate high value jobs, struggled to make real gains in productivity, struggled to modernise our health, education and other services to our people, and we’ve had creeping growth in inequality between different groups within our society.

Politicians of all flavours are digging deep with promises designed to attract our attention and support. So far, in my view, those are too focused on short-term relief (hundreds of millions of dollars for wage subsidies, $148 million for jobs killing possums and other predators, $100 million ripping out wilding pines and altogether close to $800 million to create jobs in regional environmental projects).

Put that alongside this recent headline: “Government to invest $11.4 million on developing the country’s agritech sector”. This crisis creates space for bold thinking, backed with bold spending – let’s see more ambition in jobs for science and technology alongside the labour-intensive work schemes.

COVID-19 has made us think harder about our communities. It’s harder to ignore the gaps and the cracks when they’re expanding under our feet. Let’s reset our communities – the way we live, work, learn and interact.

A lot of this needs to be driven by data. We’ve had some steps over the past several years to be more targeted and joined up in changing outcomes for the hardest hit people and whānau in our communities. This has to be accelerated in this time of crisis, where needs will go up and individual agencies could be stretched more than in any living memory.

Let’s reset the way we deliver to our citizens – digital, smart, everywhere, everyone. Today, Auckland parking wardens have smarter, hand-held, joined up technology to do their “essential” jobs than the doctors in our emergency departments, or the social workers and mental health workers on our frontlines.

This “infrastructure” is as underinvested and important as the roads and railways we’re committing billions to. 

Let’s choose not to go back. Move faster. Get smarter. Stay kind. Mō Aotearoa. Mō tātou.

We can choose to reset the DNA of our organisations

We’ve made a good start on moving from volume to value. From low-value food commodities to high-value food tech and IP. But it’s been at the fringes. COVID-19 showed up the fragility of two dominant markets. It showed up our lack of control over key supply chains. It showed up the weakness of our fragmentation and lack of collaboration.

As businesses, iwi, and government organisations, it’s time for a tune up. Time to collaborate. Reset our ambition. We’re well placed to beat most of the world out of this event and lead by example. Reset our delivery model – digital everything, from education in Te Tai Tokerau to chilled fish to the door in Seoul. Reset our skill base – attract the world’s best, and retrain and educate our own. Reset our attraction of capital – there’s plenty of it out there looking for a safer, high-growth home.

We don’t confront these kind of fundamental shifts in normal times. But now we’re confronted by them – like it or not. Let’s choose to reset.

KPMG logo

Read more in KPMG’s “Reset – The future of New Zealand after COVID-19”, which is available at kpmg.co.nz

The article is featured in the August/September issue of Boardroom magazine.

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