Let me begin by saying that I hope you are all healthy, in good spirits, financially strong, and you’re getting some quality time with yourself and your family during this pandemic. If so, you'll come out of it stronger than ever.
Last weekend, I began reading Deadliest Enemy by Michael Osterholm. He was on the Joe Rogan podcast last week. Though the point here is about planning and risk management rather than Coronavirus, below are a few bullets about the risks known many years back in Osterholm’s work:
- Currently, infectious diseases have the greatest potential for a sudden crisis that affects the whole world at the same time (Chapter 4)
- Largest collective concern should be “pandemic influenza” (Chapter 4)
- Today we live in a JIT delivery economy where virtually nothing is warehoused for future sales, let alone stockpiled for crises (Chapter 4)
- Commentary on Coronavirus genetically similar to SARS in bats in China & Taiwan that any day could be transmitted to animals in food supply with substantial human contact (Chapter 13)
For the rest of this writing, I’d like to touch on the parallels between Epidemiology and Supply Chain and the culture shifts that have to occur to be effective at both. Epidemiologists are studying diseases and potential pandemics on a global scale and we’re typically assessing individual businesses or organizations. Sounds much less impressive! With that being said, there are parallels with all forms of risk management and planning. Both require a delicate balancing act of multiple variables to come up with the best possible outcomes.
Though I’m not yet finished with the book, I couldn’t wait to write about some of the parallels in the cultural shifts that need to occur to better combat pandemic risks and those nearly all organizations need to make in society. Epidemiologists and Supply Chain Planners have quite similar observations. Lets begin:
“We don’t always make rational distinctions between what is likely to kill us and what is likely to hurt us, scare us, or simply make us uncomfortable. As a result, we don’t always make rational decisions about where to put our resources, where to direct our policy, and, frankly, where to direct our fear.”
Companies are quite similar. Teams spend entire days dedicating all of their time and energy into investigating individual outliers in their company performance rather than discussing the systemic risks to the entire organization. Break rooms and water cooler chatter are littered with observations about the "real problems" and venting about the focus on minutiae. Single sources of production or an over-dependence on a single customer is a huge risk to the company, yet how much more often does attention simply go to the fire drill of the day (regardless of size, scope, or systematic risk)?
Teams need leaders to prioritize energy and address true risk areas to the business to ensure sustainable success. In turn, teams will be energized by being deployed to solving real problems.
“Know the truth – and the first step to knowing the truth is wanting to know the truth.”
Osterholm here is addressing what is often “the elephant in the room," the subject of deflection among leaders and teams rather than the focus of the conversation. Too often, managers don’t want to face the truth that their team doesn’t have the skills needed to accomplish what’s being asked or that their process is broken and they don't know how to solve it. Leaders don’t want to admit a weakness that might lead to a large investment in people, machines, tools, or systems.
Companies spend years in mediocrity (or worse) while not having the culture to admit weaknesses and true opportunities that exist to improve. Admitting these gaps might lead to a need to bring in outside advising, which would mean there’s something that we don’t “know”!
Humility and hunger are displayed in team members that are willing to admit that they don’t know everything and constantly want to learn and evolve. Our organizations need a transformation.
“As epidemiologists, we have two goals. The first is to prevent. When that is not possible, the second is to minimize disease and extended disability.”
The first priority is always to make sure nothing bad ever happens. But guess what? Bad things always happen. Strong cultures celebrate the wins, which gives positive energy and engagement. Positive and energized teams care when, in turn, bad things happen. They are more easily mobilized, ready to eliminate the exception that went wrong, and then return to the positive feedback loop of success.
First prevent, and if that fails be ready to minimize the consequences of the miss.
“You don’t have to have all the answers to have the critical answer…..I often hear that we can’t act on this or that because we don’t have all the answers. That’s nonsense. We have to be prepared to into battle with the knowledge and resources we have, beginning with basic observation.”
People call this “paralysis by analysis.” Toxic cultures always focused on finger pointing and not problem solving lead to insecurity, and insecurity causes an unwillingness to be decisive in the face of adversity. While problems continue, the leader wants the next number or another research project. There is a balance between data-driven decisions and paralysis by analysis, as leaders we need to understand the right information needed to make an informed decision and be decisive.
The time for “additional research” comes in the Post Mortem phase, solve the immediate problem and get into future prevention after.
“As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.’”
The planner's biggest insecurity: forecasting is never 100% accurate. Too often, your peers diminish the usage of the forecast because it's wrong and teams never have 100% of the information. This does not eliminate the need to plan, and leaders should understand this.
Effective teams take the relevant information at hand, come up with a consensus plan, and execute. The S&OP process is essentially this, however silos and politics often prevent it. Agree on the relevant information, agree on the process and methodology, and agree on the go-forward. Most of the time you’ll be right, some of the time you’ll be wrong. The risk of being wrong 5% of the time should not prevent you for having a plan to be right the other 95% of the time.
Planning is indispensable. Have a plan and be ready, being right a majority of the time ensures you'll have more time to properly manage the minority of the time where you were wrong.
“If we approach science without policy, we will accomplish nothing. And if we try to institute policy without good science behind it, we will squander precious time, money, and lives.”
Planning isn’t just indispensable, it’s cultural and it can’t be done without a combination of alignment on relevant information, process consensus, and the right information to be decisive.
Maybe in business planning rather than pandemics, you’re not putting lives at risk. However lacking plans and information does waste time and money every day.
The parallels are striking, but managing risk is managing risk. We're in the optimization business. In closing, my top 2 actions to be better informed in life and business in this critical time that we’re living in:
- Read Deadliest Enemy by Michael Osterholm. Help support individuals like him who are doing such great work to benefit us all.
- Find a resource (hopefully Velocity Advisors, but truly any expert to help) to help your business transform culturally to have better plans and be more sustainable
My wish for you all is to be healthy, smart, and come out of this time better than you went into it!