I had a couple of conversations recently – the first one was when I was speaking with my executive assistant who is on a sabbatical and is playing primary caregiver to her old parents-in-law. She is someone who has been with me for the longest time and I was missing having her to work with. I asked her when she would be back, and she mentioned when COVID-19 would end. The second incident was when I was speaking with some friends on a zoom call and the conversation drifted into the next holiday that we would all take together. A few of them mentioned that with a vaccine on the way, we would be flying off to a new destination very soon.
This unbridled optimism combined with what is the news, leads to us believing that before we know it, all of us will be vaccinated and ready to take on the world. After all, a hopeful future is what each human being wants – and we hope that with the vaccine – our lives and our worlds will go back to being COVID-19 free and healthy again.
These conversations got me thinking about the human capabilities that would be required to take on a public health project for 1.4 billion people. I saw this activity through my corporate lens and realized how it would be a gargantuan task to develop capabilities at every level to make this happen. Developing a strategic mindset and exemplary execution capabilities at the top echelons of power would be critical and these would need to percolate down to state levels and then district and village levels. Ensuring that we have health workers who are trained in the administering of vaccines and handling any challenges will form the other end of the spectrum. Documentation and record keeping of 1.4 billion people will be larger than any census that may have been undertaken. Maintenance of the cold chain and coolers will become critical and capabilities will need to be built up there as well.
So how does one go about building capabilities at such a large scale? And how does one go about doing it in such a short span of time? Drawing from my experience in building capability for some of the largest organizations in the country today, I can only attempt to extrapolate from the way we bring about large-scale capability building.
It starts with defining clear outcomes not just at a macro level but also at a micro level. Strong outcomes act as the north star is moving an entire juggernaut of a country. The Important questions to ask are:
- What does 1.4 billion people getting vaccinated actually translate into on a daily basis?
- When does each district, village, town, and city get touched?
- How many vaccines must be transported, and to which location?
The more minute the detailing on the outcomes –more the measurability gets woven into the process. The more outcome driven we become – the more the chances of “spot-on” execution.
The outcomes that need to be achieved together with the current capability levels drives the capability building strategy – a chosen strategy built on the real-time variables that we cannot ignore. The important questions we need to ask are:
- Do we have required number of trained and qualified resources to do this job?
- Do we have the required number of people who can be trained to do this job?
- How will we build the available number of resources and train and qualify them?
- Do we have the capability to train and qualify the resources who have been identified for this project in the specified time?
For capability building strategies to work, the strategists need to be grounded in reality, while visioning an unseen future. They need to be able to create a large strategy map but be clear about how it translates into line items on a project plan.
The drawing up of the learning architecture that will bring the strategy to life needs to be robust with internal checks and balances. In building capabilities, opinions have no place. A public health project like this cannot have hits and misses and it depends on a large number of people to execute it just right. The important questions to ask here are:
- How will I assess current capability in a situation like this?
- How will I set the minimum benchmark to establish if the person is ready to be developed?
- What knowledge and skills will be focussed on – how do we identify the most critical capabilities to build?
- How will knowledge and skill transfer take place – and what learning technologies will we use?
- How do we ensure long term learning effectiveness and sustained learning application?
All learning architecture needs to focus on consistency of assessment, knowledge and skills transfer and a strong evaluation of learning effectiveness. This becomes a critical step in before moving the behemoth.
The realignment of leadership at all levels to look at this new challenge from a disruptive perspective will become critical – agility and innovation will become mainstays of a project of this magnitude. Some of the important questions to ask here are:
- Does the Leadership structure allow for flexibility and agility?
- Are our leaders in the gargantuan public health project aligned with the outcomes?
- Has a common Leader Speak been developed?
While leaders will need to draw on their expertise, they will also need to challenge their experience. The need of the hour will be for leadership inspire people to deliver their best and ensure exceptional execution.
A large part of the success any large-scale capability building is recurring communication. This needs to focus on the significance of the exercise, reinforcing learning and information about progress in capability building to stakeholders. Some important questions to ask here are:
- How can we keep inspiring people and building passion as they build capabilities in themselves?
- What are the communication platforms that can be used to reinforce learning?
- How should progress on the capability being built be captured in a credible manner?
When you want to build capability across a country, there is no such thing as too communication.
India was considered one of the biggest challenges when the world decided to eradicate Polio. And it has been over 6 years since we have remained polio free. But it took multiple decades to eradicate polio – the vaccine was administered orally to approximately 170 million children over this time. In case of polio, it was a simple low-cost oral vaccine. In case of the COVID-19 vaccine, the task before us is monumental – and while it is true that the vaccines are coming – it is also true that our world will not change overnight, and this may still be one the biggest challenges of the Public Health System in India. So, caution and planning for things to remain the same for some time may be wise and in our best interest.