Whether your politics are deep red, deep blue, or somewhere in between, the Affordable Care Act is making your life more difficult—or at least more confusing. There’s no end to the speculation on what Obamacare may cost companies. And if yours is a smaller company, the possibility of receiving the new Small Business Health Care Tax Credits—which require switching to plans purchased through a government exchange—adds an extra layer of complication. Frankly, all the handwringing and second-guessing has you paralyzed. You just don’t know what to do.
Actually, says Glenda Eoyang, the answer is fairly simple: Stop awfulizing, make some decisions, and get back to work. In short, break your Obamacare paralysis.
Why are so many business owners feeling stuck? Quite simply, it’s because they have to make their healthcare decisions in a complex, shifting, and uncertain landscape of regulations and options. No matter how much research you do, no matter how many experts you consult, the future of healthcare in the U.S. is as unknowable as the future health of your employees. Your insurance decision space is wide open, dependent on many variables, and tied up with complex interdependencies.
“And here’s the thing: These kinds of decisions aren’t just about the raw numbers,” adds Eoyang. “One must factor in ‘intangibles’ like employee engagement and goodwill and the long-term benefits of high productivity and low turnover.”
Only one decision-making method can serve in such a complex landscape, and Eoyang and Holladay call it Adaptive Action.
Adaptive Action consists of three simple questions that help you deal with any complex problem: What? So what? and Now what? The discipline of Adaptive Action can help you get the greatest opportunity out of your current healthcare-related challenges.
What do I know for sure about health insurance options for my organization and employees? What can I find out? What is totally unknowable until the future reveals it?
“Consult experts or do your own research to fill in blanks in what you can but don’t know right now, but don’t waste time on the unknowables,” advises Eoyang. “Name them, write them on a piece of paper, and put that paper into your bottom drawer. Take it out once in a while and ask yourself if any item has moved into the realm of the knowable or known. Until then, don’t waste any more time speculating.”
What has worked well in the past for my triple bottom line of profit, employee engagement, and sustainability? In these complex times, you do not have the luxury of thinking of only one thing at a time. Not only are your major measures and concerns massively interrelated, but they are also related in unpredictable ways. A small change in profitability, employee engagement, or sustainability may have tremendous and long-lasting effects on any one of the other factors. Or not.
What opportunities for growth and expansion do I see for my business in the next 5 years, and how will they affect our triple bottom line?
What am I willing and able to invest in a healthy and satisfied workforce?
So what are the best and worst scenarios for our balance sheet? For my employees? For the future of my business? Your decision is sure to have many consequences, but you can predict only some of them. Whatever you decide, there are likely to be unintended consequences—there always are in chaotic situations.
So what are the expectations of my employees? Their hopes? Their fears? You may not be in the habit of consulting your employees on issues of policy, procedure, and practice. But on this issue, it is critical that you consider their perspectives because healthcare is literally a matter of life and death for them.
So what is the health profile of my community, and how likely is it to support healthy behaviors for my employees and their families?
So what are my real options for action, and what are the risks and benefits of each?
Now what will you do in this decision-making cycle, realizing that you will have other chances to make different decisions as more evidence accumulates? When you’ve identified your options, all you have to do is choose one. You may want to include other people in your decision-making process as you consider your Adaptive Action questions above. You may want to wait awhile to see if some of the unknowables become knowable.
Now what indicators will I use to evaluate consequences of this current decision and prepare for decisions in the future? Because the environment is changing, your assumptions will change, the answers you’ll give to these questions will change, and your choices should change along with them.
Now what should I communicate, to whom, and how? What should I say about my choices and the reasons behind them? You do not have the option to keep this decision to yourself. This is a topic that is out in the open, and it is loaded with fear for every one of your employees.
Now what have I learned, what do I need to learn, and how will I learn it to be better prepared the next time such a challenge/opportunity arises? Learning is the most important leadership competency in times of complex change. You have to stay awake, keep your options open, and focus on Adaptive Action.
“The simple questions of Adaptive Action will not give you answers, but they will help you make the most of the information and options you have,” assures Eoyang. “Then, they will help you do it again. And again. And again. Repeating that cycle is all you will need to do as this complex environment of health and healthcare continues to evolve toward an unknowable future.” ■
About The Author:
Dr. Glenda Eoyang and Royce Holladay are coauthors of Adaptive Action: Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization (Stanford University Press, 2013). For more information, visit www.adaptiveaction.org.
Modern Contractor Solutions, December 2013
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