Balancing Covid-19 and the Economy

There is an ongoing debate in the U.S. with the framing “How can we best balance the Covid-19 virus with the realities of the economy?”  The premise of this question is faulty.  It sets up a false tradeoff that limits creativity and ingenuity.  A better question is “How can we best integrate the realities of Covid-19 with our economic needs?”

Customers can choose a car that is “high quality or low cost.”  This was the framing offered by Roger Smith, GM’s Chairman from 1981 to 1990.  Toyota soon delivered cars that were both “high quality and low cost.”  Toyota accomplished this by integrating quality into production.  In the 1990’s I worked with a consortium of global airline maintenance organizations that integrated safety, reliability, availability, and cost.  The airlines were able to achieve excellence by integrating all dimensions simultaneously.  This is one of many examples that demonstrate how we can overcome pressing challenges and achieve high performance by integrating multiple goals and perspectives.

Here are the 5 steps needed to achieve effective integration.
  1. Lead by framing challenges and questions to foster integration rather than balanceScientists, engineers, and workforces respond to such framing that guides their ingenuity toward the integrated outcomes we want. 
  2. Connect experts across all relevant disciplines. Our most intractable challenges today require input from multiple functions and disciplines.  It is useful to derive initial insights from the people who are most knowledgeable.
  3. Coordinate experts and stakeholders to integrate initial insights with ideas that emerge from the interaction of the stakeholder group. The group should seek to understand initial insights and assumptions, engage in co-creative dialogue, and develop plausible alternatives. They should integrate their multiple perspectives into a unified set of decisions and plans.
  4. Act in unity to effectively deploy the plans and take the appropriate actions.
  5. Evaluate and adjust using measures that anticipate effectiveness, enable early adaptation, and verify performance.

For Covid-19, after much push and pull among health experts, economic experts, and politicians, it appears, that the US has decided (at least for now) that health recovery should precede economic recovery. However, there is little evidence that a process such as the 5 steps above is being followed. Absent such a process we can expect further pushing and pulling as health advocates, economic advocates, and politicians jockey for position.  

Lessons for Leaders

Just as with Covid-19 and the economy, you might look for opportunities to integrate the perspective of multiple stakeholders; you might ask:

  • “What situations within my groups, organizations, and systems might benefit from integration rather than balance?” “
  • How might we best integrate the perspectives of multiple stakeholders to arrive at better ideas and solutions?”

By David Sherman, Founder, Recreating Leadership, LLC.  David equips and supports leaders to develop and integrate the cooperative power of people, organizations, and systems to advance a better future.

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