I’ve learned through decades of working at the intersection of business and government that there is nothing valued more than predictability as those two sectors co-exist.
It is worth focusing at this extraordinary time in our lives on alignment about the importance of predictability, even from two politicians as diametrically opposed on most things as Rand Paul and Bill Clinton. The reality is, government at all levels functions best when both the sources of funding and the needs of citizens are well-defined and even predictable. And reality is, businesspeople don’t expect the government to guarantee their success, or even give their companies particular advantage—they want to have a fair chance to compete, and predictability from government is critical to that sense of fairness.
”Giving someone a one-time stimulus check, or a one-time tax cut that expires doesn't allow the predictability that business needs.Rand Paul
”In a world with no systems, with chaos, everything becomes a guerilla struggle, and this predictability is not there. And it becomes almost impossible to save lives, educate kids, develop economies, whatever.William J. Clinton
These realities help underscore the most fundamental struggle facing decision-makers in both sectors as they work to navigate the pandemic of 2020. Questions that need to be asked in order to move us toward levels of predictability and enable decisions to get made: Who can go back to work, when? Which businesses can resume operations? Which businesses must accept necessary changes to their previous operations in order to re-open? How can workers on the front lines be protected and/or compensated commensurate with the risks they have been taking? And as importantly, how might policy be altered to enable society to gain benefits of innovation and transformation that are occurring even as we await surviving the acute phase of this experience?
One thing that keeps being noted: the scale of testing must be increased exponentially, though it doesn’t seem to be clear yet exactly what that might mean or look like on the ground across our vast and diverse world. So, one thing that must happen: public health leaders and political leaders must converge on a clear game plan about testing.
Last week, the CDC issued guidelines saying it is OK for essential employees to keep working after potential exposure to Covid-19 if certain conditions are met. Workers’ rights advocates fear that safety standards for food workers are eroding. https://t.co/uyEfMAfbgL— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 14, 2020
A second precondition for reclaiming predictability is getting ahead of the need for PPE and other medical supplies. Lifting restrictions that seem to be working to ‘flatten the curve’ can’t ethically be done if we aren’t confident that the hospitals and providers are fully prepared to handle the inevitable consequences of an uptick in people being hospitalized. Given the global nature of the supply chain for many of these items, and the fact that they are needed simultaneously around the world, another thing that seems clear: Much of the supply for the needed equipment must be reinvented at local or regional levels. The phenomena of people and small businesses shifting into production mode on their own signals to me that lots of people figured this out even before officials did—or at least before they were willing to say it out loud. Here in Minnesota—like other places around the world—people are making masks, sewing gowns and producing sanitizer; the University of Minnesota even has people creating ventilators out of spare parts around their labs. It will be great when the global supply chains catch up with demand, although it also seems likely some of those relationships will not survive the trauma of the shortfalls we’ve seen.
I know that the one thing most desired by the majority of business leaders is a timetable: We can develop scenarios and models for bringing businesses ‘back’ to normal operations if we can have one data point of certainty. This is a rational demand in normal times, but not now. The governments’ responsibilities for public health and safety are meeting the private sector’s responsibilities for value creation; and the current reality is that public health and safety must prevail for now. Given the challenges noted above, certainty about timelines seems not yet achievable. So, putting all our energy, our innovative capacity and our commitment into solving the equipment challenges and the testing questions is the answer for now. Lean in.