When a deer suddenly runs in front of your car, you need to be quick and respond with brakes and swerves avoiding not just the deer but any other obstacles such as pedestrians, other vehicles, and trees. Well, a deer in the form of a pandemic called COVID-19 ran across the globe this past year.
Countries needed to immediately develop policies for how they would handle the crisis, treat the infected, keep the economy running, and ultimately disseminate a vaccine. Hospitals have been overloaded in many countries and some have had to store dead bodies or resort to mass burials.
Businesses also had to quickly adjust their plans. With employees’ health at risk, enabling them to work from home was a major shift in operations. Customers were unable to shop in person and sales calls became virtual and oftentimes came to a halt. Supply chains were dramatically disrupted. And, as is well known, some industries were all but destroyed, such as airlines and hotels. It led to a global recession. It was anything but business as usual.
Nations and the businesses within needed a particular skill in response to this global pandemic – agility, the ability to alter plans and tactics to adjust to the circumstances immediately thrust upon them.
This year, for the first time, the 2021 Best Countries study added a new sub-ranking (and modified another) – this dimension is agility. This dimension is a composite of five attributes: Adaptable, Responsive, Modern, Dynamic, and Progressive. An agile country is one that can adapt and respond to whatever obstacles it is confronted with. To do this, a country needs to be efficient in its actions, adopt and accept modern solutions, and progress to meet the current circumstances.
Businesses and the citizens within a country also need the same ability to adjust to what is ahead of them. This dimension is incredibly important going forward because, even though we hopefully will not confront another pandemic next year, there is likely to be other major “surprises” ahead – be it weather crises, political hostilities, new alliances, or other situations.
Agility might also be viewed in response to positive changes that surround us, not just crises. It could be the ability to seize upon a situation, join an alliance, attract a new company, etc. Agility is about having both the ability to respond nimbly to a crisis and the ability to capitalize upon an opportunity.
The Agile subranking in our study is highly correlated to a nation’s gross domestic product per capita. It is both a cause, in that countries that are agile can mitigate a negative situation thereby helping to insulate the economy from the crisis, as well as an effect in that countries that are progressive might be able to be more agile.
The countries that were perceived to be the most agile are listed below in Table 1:
Table 1: Most Agile Countries
|Republic of Korea||6|
Some of the countries that seemed to handle the COVID crisis very well appear on this list, such as Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand, yet other countries with less success in getting ahead of the pandemic also appear. Of particular surprise is the U.S. ranking No. 1 overall.
The picture becomes clearer when we look more carefully into the specific attributes that make the U.S. rank so highly on agility. The U.S. was Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on both being “modern” and “dynamic,” and ranked No. 4 in terms of how “responsive” it is. The U.S. was not in the top 10 in terms of “adaptable,” coming in at No. 13, while Australia was the best country on this dimension. Unfortunately, Australia was not viewed as very “progressive.” Table 2 below shows country rankings for each specific agile attribute.
Table 2: Rankings for Specific Agile Attributes
|Rank||Most Adaptive||Most Dynamic||Most Modern||Most Progressive||Most Responsive|
|1||Australia||Republic of Korea||United States||Sweden||Germany|
But a country’s policies and actions aren’t the only thing that creates these perceptions. Companies within those countries can also have an influence. In fact, much of how a country is perceived around the world comes from the companies and products domiciled there. While we don’t have direct evidence of the impact of American businesses on how agile the U.S. is perceived, there are many U.S. companies that have risen to the challenge of the pandemic.
Never before have people been more dependent on technology with business, education, health care, entertainment, and more. Companies with a U.S. identity such as Apple and Microsoft, supported hardware and connectivity, Google and Facebook fostered interpersonal connectivity, and Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex made online meetings feasible. Those companies were able to connect users to each other around the world. Universities and schools were shut down, but kept their classes going, as everything continued in a virtual manner, no matter where students were.
Some of the most affected industries such as restaurants and hotels immediately adapted. Many restaurants turned to home delivery of food with UberEats, GrubHub, DoorDash, and other similar companies enabling them to keep their kitchens open. Even KFC started offering larger buckets so that a family could pick up a meal for multiple days, thereby requiring less trips or deliveries. Marriott quickly pivoted to acquiring individual homes that they could rent out to families, enabling them to still travel yet maintain social distance. Hotels in many other countries became “quarantine” spots for travelers from other countries.
The pandemic was not the only event that countries and the companies domiciled within have needed to respond to. With global weather events, political turmoil, and energy crises seen as continuing risks, how quickly a country and its companies respond to restore power, health and safety to its citizens is critical. It can have a huge effect not just on the reputation of the country but also on the country’s economic future.
It is the nimble that survives and thrives through a constantly changing world.