Covid Consequences

The Ten Dilemmas Every Country Must Face

At the Transcend Strategy Group, we take dilemmas very seriously, and believe they offer a short cut to deeper understanding and insight about complex and difficult situations. In 2004, we wrote The Power of the 2 x 2 Matrix, a primer on dialectical thinking and problem-solving, and we have been putting those lessons to use in courses and with clients ever since.

Dilemmas are challenges comprised of two competing interests which are inextricably connected. We want our food to be tasty and it also needs to be safe and healthy. In making career choices, we seek meaningful work and we want to earn a good salary. Any situation with sufficient complexity and uncertainty can be and often is a dilemma. Viewing an issue as a dilemma enriches our perspective and focuses us on the dynamic nature of the situation. Rather than choosing one or the other of the key dimensions at play, our task shifts to retaining or achieving some of each through careful and creative integration. How can we produce food that is nutritious and tasty? What job options offer both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards?

Grappling with COVID-19 has focused everyone’s attention on the primary challenge of saving lives and preventing further spread of the disease. The long-term success in addressing this threat however, includes considering and planning for other important factors, some economic and pragmatic, and others more moral in nature.

In this piece, we’d like to share our take on the most important dilemmas facing leaders around the world (note, dilemmas are not listed in any order).In subsequent writing, we will take a run at modeling each of these dilemmas more fully, and exploring implications and advice that arises from the analysis.

We offer this in the spirit of dialogue, and would love to hear readers’ thoughts on what the biggest dilemmas are and how they need to be managed.

#1 – The economic dilemma – Save lives versus protect jobs and the economy

As countries begin to see results from aggressive social distancing, pressures mount to lift restrictions and return to a state where gatherings of all kinds, both work and play, are again the norm.We value our health, and we also need to work and feel productive. Headlines today herald experiments with lowering restrictions in parts of Europe, China, Brazil, and some US states. Reopening economies may prove to be as much an art as a science, as leaders strive for the perfect balancing of these two essential needs.

#2 – The personal freedom dilemma – empowering governments to take necessary action versus preserving personal freedom and democracy

Crises sometimes require extraordinary measures. In the face of emergencies, governments need to be able to act decisively and quickly. We all get that. In some countries, like China and Israel, this has led to an acceptance of behaviour-tracking technologies that seriously encroach on personal freedom. The danger lies in emergency measures becoming the new normal once the threat has receded. The question then becomes, safety and efficiency at what price?

#3 – The whose self-interest matters more dilemma – local interests versus broader, shared interests

In times of danger, it’s natural for us to want to protect our families and loved ones. The ability to defend and pursue ones’ self-interest is fundamental to democratic and free market models. But balance is also necessary for the larger system to work and stay healthy. Without such balance, we risk distortions in the distribution of benefits and power that eventually undermine the system’s viability.Fighting an infectious disease presents an even greater challenge, since each of our individual vulnerabilities depends so heavily on the success of others. This suggests sometimes choosing global actions over local needs, never an easy choice.

#4 – The compliance dilemma – voluntary compliance versus laws and penalties

Governments are asking their citizens to help defeat the virus by dramatically altering their lifestyles: self-isolate, work from home, segregate your kids, and more. This works well when people choose to cooperate, but what do you do when they don’t buy in? What happens in parts of the world where a robust publicly funded safety net is not available, and people decide that breaking distancing rules is safer than conforming with them?

#5 – The rapid cure dilemma – speedy cure versus tested, reliable & safe cure

It is exceedingly difficult and rare for leaders around the world to agree on matters of importance, and yet, there is near universal consensus that a return to “normal” will not happen until there is an effective vaccine. This is creating great incentive for creative research, and there are promising signs. We know from disasters like thalidomide in the 1950’s the potential human cost of unintended consequences. Yet, there is tremendous pressure, from fearful populaces to Presidents, to advance the timetable any way we can.

#6 – The care-giver risk dilemma – Put medical staff at risk (to attend to the sick) vs. protect them at the cost of more people suffering and dying

We are asking a great deal from those in professions that put workers at personal risk of contracting the disease. This is especially true for medical staff in hospitals and care providers in seniors’ facilities. To make the matter worse, these health care staff often find themselves working for low wages and under dangerous conditions. How much exposure can we fairly expect, and what does, society, owe these people in return?

#7 – The framing dilemma – reassure and encourage people versus scare and threaten them

People are turning to prime ministers, presidents and premiers for guidance and support. In most countries, there are regular briefings being delivered on the radio and online, keeping citizens updated on progress and plans. At these briefings, leaders get to frame the situation as under control, tenuous, threatening, or even more dire. The goal is two-fold; to reassure people and to elicit their compliance. They need to take the situation seriously, but not panic.

#8 – The affordability dilemma – exercise restraint (only spend what government can afford) versus maintain a complete safety net

Most countries are spending their way through the pandemic, shoring up households and businesses so they remain viable and can recover after restrictions are lifted. But surely, there are limits to spending, beyond which the price is simply too high to bear. What is the right balance between debt and life support? A slightly different way to define this dilemma is to assume there are limits to spending capacity, and to ask which costs government should carry, and which should be pushed out to companies and individuals.

#9 – The moral dilemma – cost containment versus equitable and fair access to medical and related assistance

COVID-19 is being felt by everyone, but arguably, not equally. The wealthy, the young and the well-housed are far better off. Providing everyone in our society equal access and quality of support is expensive, but aligns with our better values and sense of ourselves. This dilemma becomes even more acute when we widen the definition of “us” to include the whole world. How much can we afford to spend to protect the poorest and weakest, and how little can we spend and still maintain self-respect?

#10 – The looming global environmental crisis dilemma –unlimited focus on COVID versus retaining capacity for climate change

A mere four or five months ago, COVID-19 didn’t exist, and world leaders were already grappling with how to prepare for a global environmental crisis. Climate change and its disastrous effects 

are scientifically understood and accepted (97% of scientists agree), but this has led to limited capacity building and investment in preparedness. We appear to be walking into this abyss with our collective eyes wide-shut! The current pandemic can either rob countries of any surplus response capacity, or, it can be a timely wake-up call and learning moment.

OK, those are the big 10! Do you agree with our list and how we have described the dilemmas?

What have we left out? How well are your own national and local governments faring on the dilemma front? We look forward to hearing from some of you about this. And, we will be following up in the days to come with more detailed looks at what each of these dilemmas really means and how leaders and policy makers need to approach them.

Formal Versus Casual In Time And Things: An Exercise In Empathy

Consultant, author, and speaker Mimi Donaldson is an expert in training, education, and supervisory management, among many other things. She honed her skills as a Director of Educational Media and an internal trainer at Rockwell teaching presentation skills to supervisors and managers. Since 1984 she has helmed her own company, consulting clients and speaking. When one client had a problem with relations between customers and front-line staff she was called in to define the issues and then train employees. And, it is there, that she came across this map of people’s attitudes about time and things, which I’ve turned into a perceptual map, called Formal-Versus-Casual. She developed the idea behind it in an effort to teach managers and front-line personnel to show more empathy toward employees and customers, respectively. After I heard her discuss this experience in a public speaking engagement last year I knew I’d eventually write about it.
Formal Versus Casual
Her insight was that there were people who are formal about time, and those who are formal about things. And, conversely, there are people who are casual about time, and those who are casual about things. Donaldson says “Formal=Time people get to the meeting early. They always want to arrive early. Casual-Time people, on the other hand, dash in just as the speaker is beginning, at which point, really formal people may become passive-aggressive. and let out a rushed sigh sound. You know that sound? [Strong, slow exhalation of breath]. At that point a casual-time person my respond “What’s your problem?”)
In person, Donaldson’s stories about formal versus casual people are funny. But her point is that these were not merely choices. People rarely change. They may mature and become flexible in their behavior. They may have a backup style. But they are who they are. The Formal-Time manager carries a grudge against an employee who is late for meetings; but the Casual-Time employee wonders “What’s the big deal?”
Some people mix the two: Formal-About-Time, Informal-About-Things. They get to the airport on time usually, but always lose their keys. “This” says Donaldson, “is my style.” Others have a place for everything from the library card to sunglasses to parking stubs. Always the same place. They hate wasting time looking for things the same way the Casual-About-Time person hates waiting three hours in an airport. The Formal-About-Things person actually gets physically ill when the Casual-About-Things person is looking for his or her keys because it means they’ll be late, too.
Donaldson discovered that many conflicts between managers and employees and employees and customers could be ameliorated with some rules that helped imbue any situation with empathy. She taught front-line employees to say…
“I understand how frustrated you are. Especially on Christmas Eve (or insert other reason). Here’s the situation: The electric company is here and working on  it right now and the lights will be on within an hour.” Nine times out of ten, Donaldson explains, the customer will then say “Thank you.”
In effect her rule was: First, Empathize, and second, let them know you heard their complaint. Third, then say “Here’s the situation:” Not “But,” and never “However” because the brain hears those as “No.” Instead, saying “Here’s the situation” engages the left brain to hear important facts. “And, if you can, explain to them how the problem ultimately will be solved,” she adds.  “Even if ‘Here’s the situation’ means there is no budget for what the customer wants, at least he knows know that people share his feelings and they are hearing him.
Empathy Matrix

Much like a personality test, the four quadrants define a personal approach to the world.
Upper Left–Casual/Formal: The always-late person who has the details memorized but is overbooked at work.
Lower Left–Formal/Formal: Highly organized, but somewhat rigid in approach.
Lower Right–Formal/Casual: A flexible person who tries to be timely but is challenged in paying attention to details.
Upper Right–Casual/Casual: Late AND messy. This person sometimes is a subject matter expert, a procrastinating creative.

Blatant And Critical Closes The Sale

“You will never reach your goal if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” Winston Churchill

The Blatant-Critical Matrix is a model taught by Mark Skok, a principal at North Bridge Venture Partners. He specializes in working with tech startups selling software into enterprise markets. The matrix is a tool used to help entrepreneurs focus, to help them strip away the barking dogs that cloud their market vision. Though his particular focus is enterprise software startups, the concepts of the matrix can easily apply to other markets and be useful in planning exercises.

The following is based on a lecture Mr. Skok gave at Harvard. The article version is available here.

Enterprise markets differ from consumer markets in key ways. Product features typically are driven by specific technical needs of customers. Cost considerations are crucial. And, issues that are important to consumers, such as color, packaging, and some of the warmer, fuzzier brand attributes are less important in the enterprise world.

Mr. Skok says software startups need to ask two question of their solution. The first is “Is it BLAC and white?” “BLAC” is an acronym which asks if your solution addresses customer needs that are Blatant and Critical. “White” is shorthand for “Does your solution address a market white space?” a gap in the market that is not served well by current offerings. Let’s discuss what these mean.

The Axes
Vertical Axis: Visibility. Blatant problems are ones that are obvious to the client. Latent problems are unknown or unacknowledged. Latent problems may well be worth solving, but they require educating the customer about the value of solutions. For a startup software business, that education requirement greatly lengthens the time from first contact to adoption, adding costs most startups can ill afford.

Horizontal Axis: Customer Need. Critical problems are important and relevant. They affect business outcomes. People’s careers can be made (or broken) by how such problems are addressed. The customer needs for these problems to be solved now.

Aspirational needs are those that meet customer needs for success and social status or prestige. Meeting these needs are not germane to today’s enterprise results. Skok makes the point that Aspirational solutions are crucial in consumer markets where enormous profits come from identifying the unexpressed needs and ambitions of customers. Consumers may not have known they needed cat videos, disappearing photos, or a device carrying 50,000 songs in their pocket, but creating such products unlocked huge markets and profits.

The Matrix
Upper left: Blatant/Aspirational. The problem is obvious but not critical. For example, a firm may want to transition its solution to a new interface that addresses future computing trends. But the company may be averse to solving that problem in its current budget. Customers are not ready to pay more for that solution yet.

Lower left: Latent/Aspirational: In a sense, this quadrant represents the unknown/unknowns. The market may harbor emerging challenges that have not yet coalesced into a problem for companies or end-customers. These require education and imaginative products in order to build a fire under the prospect.

Lower right: Latent/Critical. Unforeseen crises and future challenges reside in the latent/critical corner. These are problems that will hurt results but are not currently in the customer’s frame of reference.

Upper right: Blatant/Critical. These are the problems that are affecting financial performance now. Skok says these are the only problems most software startups should try to solve. It’s not enough to identify the Blatant/Critical problem. Solutions that succeed in the market must offer a performance gain great than the cost of changing software in the client company. In Skok’s view customers need a 10x gain in costs, time, and competitive advantage in order to justify the cost and pain of changing solutions. He offers a complete methodology for that analysis.

This strategic matrix actually recalls some earlier models in other domains, such as Stephen Covey’s highly influential urgency and importance matrix. Covey’s work on the tradeoffs between tasks that are important (similar to blatant), versus those that are merely urgent (critical) sent many a manager on a lifelong quest to optimize his or her time.

New Workshop For Leaders And Teams To Launch

Transcend principal Phil Hood and Steve Zlotolow, former associate dean of international and extended studies at San Jose State University, have announced a new Bay Area course that will be available to managers and teams beginning this fall. Change Management and Business Problem Solving: An Integration of Process and Practice updates a program they first delivered in 2006. It’s a condensed workshop providing a solid overview of concepts in change management, decision-making, and problem-solving. Rapid, intuitive tools are introduced that enable leaders to quickly cut to the heart of strategic and organizational challenges. Implementation exercises that enable students to work on their real-world problems and the challenges of executing change management plans are introduced throughout the two-day program. The course will begin this winter at CSU East Bay. Private workshops are also available.

Course Goal
The course provides a model for systematic change with a framework for problem-solving.  It gives participants practice in using tools on their team’s real-world challenges.

Course Overview

  • The Change Process
  • Social and Organizational Context
  • Stages of the Process
  • Roles For Change Leaders and Team Members
  • Analytical Tools for Problem Solving
  • 2 x 2 Thinking and Practice
  • Strategic Frameworks
  • Organizational Frameworks
  • Individual Frameworks

For information on other executive courses or consultative workshops, contact Phil Hood.

The Six Dilemmas Of Strategy Execution

6 Dilemmas Of Strategy Execution

The conversion of strategic intentions into plans, actions and outcomes, falls to organizational leaders who find themselves pushed and pulled between running day-to-day operations, while at the same time changing them according to a strategic plan that promises future success.  Alex Lowy’s latest article, “The Six Dilemmas Of Strategy Execution,” in the most recent issue of Strategy & Leadership (Vol. 43 No. 6, 2015)provides a roadmap for executives to consider and address these challenges.

Rather than being a sign that strategies are failing, or problematic, dilemmas are, in Lowy’s words “part and parcel of the strategy implementation process; they present consequential choices that need to be understood and addressed, and when they are, rewards and success are likely to follow.”