SHIFTing the Mindset During COVID-19: Part 5 “Shifting Alignment to Generate Momentum”

It’s part 5 of our blog series “SHIFTing the Mindset During COVID-19,” written by Eileen Brown, co-author of Shift: A New Mindset for Sustainable Execution. This week, she looks at the second “shift” in the Shift-to-Execute framework that can improve execution during COVID-19.

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In my previous blog post, I discussed Shift 1: Capacity Building, as the first in a series of four sequential adjustments or “shifts” that can improve execution, as described in our Shift-to-Execute framework. The format is the same for each shift – structure, rhythm, and awareness are the key levers that must be orchestrated to optimize execution through a balanced approach. Today’s blog is focused on filling gaps in the execution system through Shift 2: Shifting Alignment to Generate Momentum.

Alignment

To harness the most power possible, all resources need to pull together towards the same goal. Everyone needs to know the boundaries of their job so they can stay out of each others’ “backyards”. If there are overlaps in role definition then there will be wasteful, redundant efforts. The goal of the alignment shift is to eliminate gaps by ensuring clear objectives, seamless handoffs, synchronization of effort, and a steady of flow of relevant data, without the duplication of effort. Alignment of energy within an execution system allows you to generate additional energy by building momentum. The topic of COVID-19 testing is a good example for this discussion, as it will require the use of all three levers to determine when the country will re-open for business again.

Structure: In this shift, structure defines “what” needs to be done. The testing strategy will need to be comprehensive and well communicated. The right skills, processes, and tools must be in place to ensure alignment in executing the strategy. Citizens must have confidence in the reliability of the testing. The role of testing is critically important to accurately assessing and controlling the infection rates of COVID-19 in various regions, so specifically trained and calibrated resources will be required. In order to support a country-wide assessment, it will also be important for all provinces/states to agree on the target groups for testing, with retirement homes, healthcare workers, first responders, and all essential workers at the top of the list. When the testing teams are ready to move onto broad-based random testing, they will need to decide what candidates are most representative – will they maximize convenience by testing those who visit an emergency room or a doctor’s office for reasons other than COVID-19? Or will the testing be more community based, and will temperatures being taken of those entering restaurants, grocery stores, and public transit to screen for potential test candidates?

Consolidated supply chain planning will be another important structure to put in place to ensure there is a robust supply of test kits and lab facilities to support the testing goals in each region. One idea might be to partner with pharmacies that already have an efficient supply chain and set up testing centres near their locations. A common technology platform and applications will also be required for data collection and analysis. Metrics will need to be precisely defined and agreed upon. Metrics must be linked to the goals, and defined early as they will be used to determine when the testing goals have been met.

Rhythm: Consistency in conducting the tests will be paramount to collecting meaningful test data. “How” the testing will be done will set the cadence or rhythm of the work through standardization. For example, what specific symptoms will dictate whether a test is warranted? What parameters will be applied to define these symptoms, such as, what temperature range constitutes a fever? Even the process for exception cases will need to be standardized so there is a place for every piece of data collected. The use of common terminology will help to mitigate risk in interpreting data. Regional labs will need to be calibrated to ensure consistency – thresholds, margins of error, and assumptions will need to be documented and communicated. What reports and criteria will be used to determine trends and alerts? How will the key metrics be calculated and reported by each lab and who will be looking at them and making related decisions?

Given 185+ countries are dealing with this virus, some uniformity across global testing practices will also be a consideration to ensure we can benefit from other countries’ efforts and share our findings, to draw appropriate conclusions. At the federal level, time and effort will need to be dedicated to aligning with other countries’ testing procedures.

Many organizations can create a rhythm or a “hum” in their operations when they are stable, but it becomes more difficult to do in ephemeral environments. Momentum will be built by making accountabilities clearly understood, communicating the appropriate sense of urgency, and maintaining as much predictability in the work as possible (even if it is a state of “expect the unexpected”).

Awareness: Highlighting “why” things matter creates alignment through objectivity. Objectivity can be achieved by clearly communicating the reasons behind decisions and working to identify and resolve any biases that exist in the decision making process. In some situations it can be difficult to identify biases as often people work hard to justify or mask their interests. The output of this testing activity will be scrutinized by many, and the public’s tolerance is low for any activity that is not transparent. Early on in Ontario there were 16 people who received a negative test result when they in fact tested positive. This error was quickly acknowledged and widely broadcast in the media by the Premier. This is not a time for politicizing or covering up mistakes. There was also a recall on 62,000 face masks that had been distributed to nursing homes where the ear straps were found to deteriorate too quickly. Again, the situation was broadly communicated and resolved without delay, so it did not impact the public’s trust in the government’s ability to execute. Transparency and freedom to identify and resolve mistakes quickly are factors that promote objectivity and contribute to building and maintaining momentum.

When I watch the daily press conferences, there is no doubt that relevant decisions are broadly socialized between the Prime Minister, the Premiers and the Mayors as their level of “buy-in” is evident when the tough questions are asked. There is no wavering on the responses indicating that they have had the opportunity to vet their concerns and fully support the reasons behind the decisions at all levels. This type of alignment creates momentum and incremental energy to keep going and do more, in good times and bad.

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Check in next week for Part 6 of the “SHIFTing the Mindset During COVID-19” blog series, where Eileen will be discussing the remaining two shifts, that aim to eliminate distractions that may be getting in the way and impeding the ability to execute.

Click here to find out more about Shift: A New Mindset for Sustainable Execution.