Category Archives: COVID 19

What’s New?

Problem solving at S-II works really well as long as we have solved the problem before. Elliott’s problem solving schema related to states of thinking –
S-I – Declarative (trial and error)
S-II – Cumulative (best practices)
S-III – Serial (root cause analysis, single system)
S-IV – Parallel (multi-system analysis)

S-II – Cumulative state is one of connection. Given a problem, a person with S-II capability can see the pattern causing the problem AND only has to match the pattern to an existing (documented) solution. This is the world of best practices. Best practices work well as long as the problem is one we have solved before. Forty percent of the population can effectively use best practices to solve problems (which is why “best practices” are so popular in management literature).

But, best practices are of little use if the problem is new (we have never solved it before).

S-III – Serial state is one of cause and effect. This is where NEW problems are solved. And, only 4-7 percent of the general population can effectively engage in root cause analysis. COVID-19 presents itself as a problem in all four states of thinking. Initially, COVID-19 was characterized as something we have seen before and could be dealt with using best practices (treat it like the flu). When it became apparent that the contagion rate was higher and the (yet to be defined) mortality rate was higher, the medical community responded with trial and error problem solving (S-I), recommending social distancing, initially no masks, then masks. Trial and error solutions became best practices and now the world is mask-wearing (go figure). But, root cause analysis (S-III) will provide the only inroads to a lasting solution (vaccine).

S-IV – Multi-system analysis will confront the longer term problems of vaccine distribution (capacities and priorities, medical systems) along with economic impacts (economic systems) and social behavior (social systems).

How much trouble do we create for ourselves when we mix up an S-I solution to an S-IV problem?

Too Busy

“But I am busy,” protested Byron. “How am I going to find time to read resumes?”

“Schedule it. You need to be thinking, each and every day about your team and what would happen if any of them needed to make a change. Your most important function as a manager is personnel and recruiting. In fact, if that is all you ever did, was to build a high performance team, and then walked away, I would describe you as one of our greatest managers. Because you left behind, a high performing team that could carry on.”

“It’s that important?” Byron tested.

“Top priority. In the past 120 days, your labor pool has gone from record low unemployment to record high unemployment. Now is the time to look.”

The Good Stuff

Negative thoughts are unconscious. We don’t have to think about having negative thoughts, they just arrive. The primal brain is always on the lookout for bad stuff. Its constant question – is this experience going to kill me. Your primal brain cannot distinguish between fact and fiction, that’s why we cry in movies. Your primal brain is always subject to hi-jack.

Positive thoughts require conscious activity. I often ask the question, what good happened today? People struggle to respond. No part of your brain is on the lookout for good news.

Unless you train your brain to look for good news. And, you have to train it long enough for it to become a habit. And, that habit can be easily broken the next time your primal brain gets hijacked.

So, thank your primal brain for sharing, then get on with the good stuff.

New Behaviors and Habits

Muriel took a measured breath. “I have an uneasy feeling, and I don’t know why,” she explained. “Things are going okay, but, as we ramp back up, I think things are going to change. And I am not sure I am prepared to adapt quick enough.”

“Things are going well, now?” I asked.

“Going okay, not great, but okay, kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“When did things start to go okay?”

Muriel laughed. “You are right, it’s been a tough few weeks. I don’t know if I just got used to it, or if I got better.”

“So, things got easier. New unknown problems became familiar, you knew what to do and how to do it.” I said.

Muriel nodded affirmative.

“And, we know things will change, again, because they always do. Change in your company, on your team and with yourself. And when things change, you are faced with your own incompetence.”

Muriel winced. Close to home, perhaps. I continued. “But you do adapt and you do change. But tell me, when you successfully perform something new, for the first time, does that make you competent?”

“No,” she responded. “Competence requires practice, doing it well over and over, until it becomes a habit.”

“So competence is not simply acquiring an occasional new skill, but acquiring a new habit.”

Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Yesterday, someone asked me, as we move from shelter-in-place to a re-open of the economy, what should a CEO think about? Of course, there is work to be done, and we will bring people back to do that work, but what should the CEO think about?

  • What does my market environment look like in three months time, one year’s time, two years time? This includes market demand, regulations, capital requirements, availability of labor and technology.
  • What should my company look like in three months time, one year’s time, two years time?
  • What are the internal functions necessary to support my product or service in that market demand?
  • Inside each function, what is the level of decision making and problem solving?
  • What roles do I need to make those decisions and solve those problems?
  • Do I have people on my team who can effectively play those roles?

There are two concepts embedded in these questions.
Necessity
Levels of work (levels of decision making, levels of problem solving)

Necessity
If your company considered the purchase of a $100,000 machine, and it was NOT necessary, would you buy it? That same decision has to be made about the roles inside the company. Now, is an opportunity to examine your organizational design and ask, is this necessary?

Levels of Work
Most CEOs do not think about the work necessary to make the product or provide the service. Understanding the level of decision making and the level of problem solving are specific clues to the talent you need. Now, is an opportunity to examine the levels of work and ask, do I have the people on my team who can effectively make those decisions and solve those problems.

Time to Re-think is Over

The time to re-think is over. The time to adapt is now. Actually, never too late to re-think.

  • Employee shuttle buses will have spaced seating, one person for every six seats.
  • Employees will wear face masks, take the stairs and walk one-way around the office.
  • Lunchrooms will have only 25 percent seating capacity.
  • In-office meetings will still be virtual.
  • Larger conferences are canceled through 2021.
  • New budget lines for PPE.
  • Building admittance will see temp screening and self-declared wellness protocols.
  • Flying will be more rigorous than entering a building.
  • Shopping inside a store will see a transformed retail experience.
  • Cash and checks will disappear, in favor of touch-less (NFC) digital transactions.
  • Drive-thru shopping will see re-marked traffic lanes around stores.
  • Restaurants will shift from dining rooms to take-out and delivery.
  • Arena sports will yield to open-space sports.
  • Movie theaters may never re-open, throwing film distribution a curve-ball.

All of these things will impact your business model, the way your customers interact with you, the way team members interact with each other. Intrinsically, we are social animals who want to be together.

These permanent adaptations will seem clumsy at first, but permanent nonetheless. And the clumsiness will become practiced, and those among us who practice will become competent at a new way. And the new way will improve on par with the old way. And, we will wonder what took us so long to get over our resistance.

In Three Months Time

Things look dire. We are on the precipice of disaster. Twist of fate with permanent consequences.

All these headlines are designed to hijack the primal brain. The primal brain only asks this one question – Is what I am about to hear going to kill me? If it is, then I will pay attention. And, it does.

The leader has to engage beyond the primal brain. But, how? We cannot deny the primal brain was stimulated to cry out an extreme warning. We simply have to thank the primal brain for sharing, “thank you for sharing.” And, move on.

It’s not a matter of what is happening now. The leader has to think, how will things be in three months time? How will things be in six months time? This emergency will be over, and then what?

The Crisis is Over (Soon)

We created our crisis response. Uneven across the landscape, some more affected than others. By now, we are doing what we thought prudent. For some, that will necessarily be maintained, others may see dramatic shifts in the next four weeks.

Get Ready
While your crisis response is set (one way or the other), it is time to plan for a transition. It is time to blend your crisis response team with your transition team.

Time Frames and Scenarios
Look at the extremes that may happen in your what-if scenarios. Look at the time frames

  • April 30 will see the expiration of current “essential services” guidance. Some places will see continued guidance, other places will see re-definition.
  • Four weeks out, there will be some re-mobilization, and that experience will teach us more about how we will proceed (or retreat).
  • Two months out, we will begin to understand our companies in the midst of this chronic condition. And we will learn more about what is possible and not possible given the circumstance.
  • Four months out (August), we will gauge our ability to cope and determine how to leverage our assets in the face of circumstances.
  • Eight months out, we should see what we will look like going forward into the future, however modified, however different.

This is not something that will just get fixed. This is more likely a chronic condition we have to adapt to. Even if herd immunity kills off COVID-19, you can rest assured there will be a COVID-20.

Here is MY Position

This pandemic is not simple, it is incredibly complicated with tons of uncertainty surrounding it. And, I observe a deepening divide between medical conservatism and getting the country back to work. Some of these discussions are emotionally heated, vociferous.

Some have asked about my position. The instant we take a position, we stop listening. When we stop listening, we stop learning. You may think you are listening, but you are listening with bias, selectively seeking out only what you want to hear.

In our dramas, there are three groups of characters, heroes, victims and villains. One cannot exist without the other two. It is a co-dependent relationship, they draw and feed on each other. For any of the three characters to win in the drama, the strategy is NOT to be a more vile villain, a stronger hero, or a suffering victim. The winning strategy is to get off the stage.

Levels of Listening

  • Ignoring completely.
  • Pretending to listen.
  • Selective listening.
  • Listening to respond.
  • Listening to understand.
  • Listening for intersection, where we have common ground.

It is only when we find common ground that we can build a relationship.

Emerge As a Better Company

How will your business emerge as a better company?

What elements of your business need to be retired? What processes should be eliminated? Reminds me of Tim Ferris‘ five step program, with my extra credit step.

  • Eliminate what is not necessary.
  • Simplify what is over-complicated.
  • Combine things that should be done together.
  • Outsource those things that are not part of your core.
  • Automate (digitize) what is left.
  • (Extra credit) Employ humans to do only what humans do best.

This is a time to accelerate the steps. Perhaps, your business will emerge as a better company.