Published on The Trade Post

Managing organizational performance in Customs during a crisis period

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, a tremendous impact on our societies and economies. Individuals and organizations around the world have had to adjust very quickly to new ways of working. Managers had to change how they worked with their organizations and teams during a very difficult time. For many, little guidance was available and they had to adapt rapidly as the situation progressed, including managing teams which were working remotely.

The pandemic is dramatically increasing the demand for leadership and management capacity within Customs administrations and border agencies globally – particularly to ensure the sustainability of critical reforms to enhance the efficiency of cross-border trade.

For Customs administrations, managing staff performance in a crisis period and beyond necessitates active leadership and an extensive set of learning tools, underpinned by consistent application of feedback loops and active dialogue across and between teams. Adopting a learning and leadership framework provides a pathway for organizations to develop their most precious people resource and cement a learning and innovation culture in which teams can continually learn together, and where creativity and innovation are encouraged and celebrated at all levels.

Transforming Customs administrations into entities that remain agile and are able to respond to crisis situations, both in the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic and in the future, requires a long-term approach.  Adopting incremental building blocks will contribute to a shared vision for the organization. These building blocks include systematic problem solving, experimentation, learning from past experience, learning from others, and transferring knowledge.

In addition, integrating and communicating milestones and innovative approaches for learning can assist in reinforcing the necessary organizational culture change. These may include shifting from training to learning; creating learning and innovation labs to test and pilot interventions; encouraging scenario planning; sharing results with organizations across borders to underpin Customs as the lead agency at the border; and ensuring active dialogue at all levels within the organization to reinforce innovation and learning – dialogue is a key cross-cutting tool. An integrated system of these approaches to ensure sustainability.

In summary -- "It's all about the people"

Leading a 21st-century organization was already complex given the rapid pace of change and digitalization. With the pandemic, this has accelerated. For Customs administrations to respond and recover from this and future crises, a number of critical workforce strategies are needed. These include strategies and measures to develop leadership and management capacity. The concept of a “learning organization” provides a set of guiding principles and tools to integrate innovation, team learning and the agility to respond when needed.

This article is based on the presentation by the authors at the World Customs Organization (WCO) webinar “Managing HR through a crisis and beyond” and was published here.


Bill Gain

Global Product Specialist

Erich Kieck

Director for Capacity Building at the ISO Central Secretariat

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