Decision-making Under Uncertainty

Wei Zheng: This is our first panel this semester which will be focusing on leading through uncertainty. This is organized by the leadership portal which is one of our new initiatives at the School of Business to provide resources and community to all leadership practitioners and learners. We are especially focused on the intersection of leadership, technology, and inclusivity. My name is Wei Zheng. I am a Richard R. Roscitt Chair professor in Leadership, and co-founder of Stevens Leadership Portal. I will be very honored to be today’s moderator. Today, our first panel will be focusing on Leading Through Uncertainty, especially making decisions under intense uncertainty during the pandemic.
So, our panelists today are three. First one is Molly Ketchum. She’s a senior director of strategic planning and operations at Accenture federal services. And our second panelist today’s Anthony Scriffignano. He’s a senior Vice President and chief data scientist at Dun and Bradstreet and our third panelist is Kevin Nepveux. He’s the Vice President of global supply and Pfizer so we have a wonderful panel today, from mostly large organizations and how Covid has disrupted probably and has triggered and prompted all kinds of innovations and breakthroughs, and today we’ll have a chance to hear. So, without further ado, let’s welcome our panelists. My first question is what is your proudest achievement during the pandemic? You probably have a lot of achievements that you feel proud of. Could you share with us just one of them and what kind of circumstances with it, and what kind of challenges and hurdles, you have overcome to achieve those things? So, Molly would you like to get the conversation started?

Molly Ketcham: Sure, so thanks for having me today. So, what was my proudest achievement during the pandemic? So, you’re right there were a lot that we were particularly proud of in our organization, I was responsible for. In our company made the decision to require vaccination of our employees and we thought that was the right thing to do, for the country and for our people. And one of the challenges that we had with that was potential attrition and what would that really mean to our workforce and how would they react and estimates from other companies was that you would lose 5-10% of your workforce and as you can imagine, with Accenture that would be a significant impact on our business and so, I was responsible for the vaccine mandate and for everyone returning to office which we can talk about later, but because of how we handled it and the high touch that we did with our people and that people could reach out individually, that we had individual ways to handle accommodations etc. I was particularly pleased by how few people we lost. We lost less than a half of a percent. So, between 5-10% is what we were looking, but because of the change management and communications and the support we had for our people, we really, only lost a handful of people, so I was quite pleased with the outcome on that.
Wei Zheng: That’s impressive. Thank you, Molly. Can we go to Anthony? Would you mind sharing one of your proudest achievements?

Anthony Scriffignano: Sure, I don’t like the word proud, because I try not to be proud and I’m gathering Molly felt the same way when you said that, but I’ll say, one of the achievements of which, I’m happy to have survived is that I’m a data scientist at heart, I lead an organization and I try to be a good servant-leader but, at the end of the day, I’m a nerd, right! And data scientists collect information, tell people what it means, and try not to bore them in doing so, and try to produce some sort of action. Well, during the pandemic, we had a situation where the world was changing faster than the data that describes it and so, you have to be really careful in a situation like that. You don’t just start using the data and pushing the machine learning button, telling everybody what you think it means, when it doesn’t actually mean anything, yet, because it hasn’t caused. So, the proudest moment for me was the way in which people rally around that problem, they realized that this is called a latency problem. This latency problem was real. There’s a very long-standing wisdom that every crisis contains opportunity right, so the opportunity in this crisis was to get people to realize that you have to think about not just using the data that we have with the data that’s available but questioning whether that’s the right question to ask of that data. Is that it even that a valid question to ask, in the context of what we can see, and what we know? It was really beautiful to see. Often in business people don’t care, they’re like, stop talking too many words, just tell me what the answer means. In this case, they didn’t. They realized that it was a very sobering moment for leaders across our organization. Of course, I think we have to understand what we need to know in order to ask the questions, we think we want to ask. That was a really beautiful time in that regard. Obviously horrible things going on, but in terms of being proud we didn’t just jump to the numbers and say this is what it means. We were humble with that.

Wei Zheng: So, how did you come to the right questions to ask? Because there could be a lot of questions to ask, right! So, what did you learn from that process of trying to come up with the right questions to ask?

Anthony Scriffignano: Well, I’ll give you an example. So, there’s a lot of disciplines around asking questions. There’s a science called brick Eliasch. There’s something called progressive decomposition, taking very large unanswerable questions and breaking them down into smaller questions. There’s something called propositional calculus where you can sort of name the pieces of your thinking and your questions, so that you can organize them differently. So, we used all of that, all the time on my team anyway, we don’t necessarily inflict upon the people that we work with. But one of the things that we did, in order to get to the right question was to ask questions that were answerable in the context of what was going on. So, when Covid first started happening, everyone was saying, we can look at the 2008 financial crisis because that was equally disrupt. And so, my first question is to what extent can we meaningfully compare those two frames. Covid wasn’t something that happened at one time, in one place all over the world. It was something that happened asymmetrically and traveled around the world. So, it’s very different. I use the analogy of like a ballroom dance, you can have ballroom dancers, and they’re all dancing beautifully but then, if they bump into each other, they have to change their dance and sometimes when they change their dance, they have to bump into somebody else, not intentionally, but that happens and so, there’s a technique for understanding how others’ reactions to change have influenced the change that you experience, so we had to impose that on it. A lot of the questions start with, to what extent can we meaningfully observe, learn, in the context of blah blah right! So, if you ask a question like that, to what extent can we meaningfully observe it, if that’s your first question, you don’t jump to the conclusion that you can do anything yet, until you’ve proven that you can see what you think you could see in the data. It’s frustrating but it’s very powerful first question, because very often, the answer is no, and you save yourself from answering a lot of other stupid questions, you had no right to ask in the first place.

Wei Zheng: Interesting well, thank you, thank you very much Anthony, for the example, and we’ll come back to in terms of tools and methodologies of doing predictions and planning. Let’s move on to Kevin. So, Pfizer has been the forefront of vaccines in the public eye, as well, and had a lot of really interesting stories and probably create a lot of the first in history. So, what about your experience? What is one of your proudest achievements or one of the achievements that you think you and your team have made, that your decision making contributed to it?

Kevin Nepveux: Yeah! Thank you. I work in the new product area and manufacturing at Pfizer so I was part of the team that was responsible for basically, developing and scaling up the commodity vaccine. So, it was quite an experience, quite an accelerated program and normally takes probably five years to develop a vaccine from identification through to regulatory approval and watch and actually I remember, we started development on St Patrick’s day of 2020, when we agreed to collaborate with Biotech and we got approval in I think December of the same year. So, we basically took a five year process and condensed it down to about nine or 10 months, which a whole lot of innovations there but also quite a lot of collaboration within Pfizer, with Biotech, with regulatory authorities, with governments and so that was a very different experience than the normal product development.

Anthony Scriffignano: Failure is kind of not an option, right!

Kevin Nepveux: Well, I think, at one point, we had committed a billion dollars in investment between capital investments, and R amp D investment before we got the first bit of clinical data back. So, I had never seen that happen.

Anthony Scriffignano: It was pretty amazing.

Wei Zheng: Yes, and I also wanted to just stay here a little bit. So, Anthony, you talk about when there’s not even data or enough data available we try to find meaningful ways to observe the data and getting to the best information possible and Kevin maybe in your situation, especially at the beginning of the development and, if I understand correctly, you had 2 plans, starting to do production related preparation, one in Michigan and one in Belgium, and then, on the other hand, the formulations is not settled yet. So, you have a jump into action, while you have inadequate data. So, how did you deal with that? How did you manage that?

Kevin Nepveux: So, we normally operate in a very sequential manner when we develop drugs or when we make a decision so like most big corporations, we have lots of different tiers of teams, so you know typically a drug product or a drug development team will meet and they’ll go through all the data in detail and then they’ll come up with some conclusions or recommendations and they’ll escalate that to the next level, and it goes up three or four levels and then, when decisions are made, they come back down and it’s a very efficient process, because everybody participates at the level at which they need to participate and there’s always pre reads that come out so you can look at all the data and develop your question so it’s very predictable and disciplined process, but it takes time and we didn’t have the time to do that, so we kind of bypassed all that and we got kind of 30 people in a virtual room twice a week, including our CEO down to the scientists who are doing the development work in the labs or at the manufacturing plants and we literally shared the latest information, because nobody could keep up with everything that was coming in, and then we debated where we needed to and we made decisions, and so it was a very unique way of governance and decision making. We effectively collapsed several levels into one somewhat chaotic meeting, but it was effective, we were able to make the decisions. Normally we do things, as I said in sequence, we did all this in parallel. We put four different MRNA constructs into the clinic at the same time. And as soon as we got data back on one of them that suggested that it was effective, we just went ahead and scale that up and started producing large quantities of it, without really even seeing. Normally we do the programs sequentially, wait for comparison, we pick the best one, we optimize it, and then we go again. So, we just bypassed all that.

Wei Zheng: Excellent! Thank you for sharing that backstory. Molly, can we come back to you a little bit? So, you mentioned about this attrition or avoiding attrition problems achieving a stable workforce, what kind of decisions when into it? What are some, maybe one or two methods or tools or some learning that we can carry away to other organizations.

Molly Ketcham: Sure! Actually you’d asked about what is specific decision problems that we face, I thought about something other than just the vaccine mandates, so I think maybe we’ll go there for you. So, one of the things that would be applicable not just after a vaccine mandate but, in general, with the uncertainty that we have around a pandemic is around right sizing your space, so how often people are going to go back into an office. what does that look like? Do we need the space that we have and, if not, what do we do with all of our spaces? And, as you can imagine, for Accenture, we have 650,000 employees. It is significant question. And so, for any of the people on your call that may be part of the real estate, or maybe going into real estate or operations moving forward, I would say that lease negotiations and space renewals and things was a really complex thing to answer right, because the way people do business and where they do business moving forward is changing. So, what do we do in this area? So, in the past, you would do long term leases to get the best rates out of what you’re negotiating. I actually did that differently. So, we did shorter term leases for some of our smaller buildings and then we did look at whether or not we should reduce square footage or the ability to reduce our square foot after a few years, so we just did different constructs of what our leases looked like, and one of the things people thought- Nope! being at home is the way of the future I would disagree with that. We are going to come back into offices. I do believe that people have connections that need to be made in person, and it really is going to impact cultures of organizations and mental health and all of the things surrounding that if people stay at home forever, so instead of getting rid of and jettisoning all of our space, which is what people expected me to do, I did not do that. Instead, I just looked at different constructs of building out our leases moving forward. So, that was a very different problem during the pandemic, because we really didn’t know and we still don’t know how people react coming back, but I do know that they will come back and so we had to adjust to that.

Wei Zheng: Thank you Molly. So, I wanted to shift our conversation a little bit. So, each of you faced different kinds of challenges, because of your specific work contacts. What are some lessons we can draw in terms of the decision-making process that led to those breakthroughs or led to those new perspectives? For example, the leases issue for you, Molly. How did you come to that decision that people are coming back and you just need a different way of working with leases and other sort of real estate?

Molly Ketcham: I would start with what is it that makes Accenture, Accenture? And for us it’s we are people’s business, right. Everything we do is around the people, and if we think that, the culture that we have is based on people, in their interactions and the connections that we make with our clients and our people, and my hypothesis was, you will not get that same stickiness within an organization if you’re all remote, right. It’s very easy to rebadge yourself. If you’re in your same office in your home and one day I work for Accenture on the next day I work for Google. It’s not very hard to change that if you don’t have that stickiness and that connection, and that culture. So, for me, the decision came to what makes Accenture, Accenture? And it’s our people and our culture is based on those connections. So, having places where people can connect physically was really important.

Wei Zheng: Thank you, thank you. So, Anthony would you like to weigh in on this question too, in terms of the decision making process and how did you come to some of the decisions that helped you to navigate Covid.

Anthony Scriffignano: Yeah I think you see me nodding aggressively, when Molly was talking, I mean those are some courageous decisions to make, and not without cost, and obviously what Kevin was talking about like a death, literally. We deal with risk and opportunity, so nobody’s going to die, but there are some very, very big expensive mistakes that can be made and Molly was bringing up something that there is a science behind it, something called it’s called Bayesian thinking, right. You look at all the things that might happen in the future. I’m grossly oversimplifying this, but you look at all the things that might happen in this future, credible things. You sort of weigh them out, you lay them out in a way that is as mutually exclusive, as possible. So, in her example, there will be no return to office, no one will want to return to office. That’s scenario one. Number two is everything will go back to the way it was before. Number three is there will be some hybrid where some people go back and other people don’t and number four etc. And then you sort of using the best information you have available you assign conditional probabilities to those outcomes and then you use that knowledge to take one step and then you take that one step and you re-evaluate all of the scenarios. Are they still credible? Have I changed how I think about them and you do that again and you do that again and you do that again and, as you get closer and closer to that uncertain future, your conditional probabilities become more sure, you know there are hurricanes coming or it’s not or whatever, and so by leaving optionality in your decision process, you can do something very Bayesian like that, if you say, nope, I’m going to bet on this outcome because I’m smart and it’s called intuitive leadership, sometimes. I know, through my years usually intuitive that you speak like this. I know, through my years of experience with blah blah, this is the way it would go and we will make our decisions this way. You might be right, you might be wrong at the end of the day, if you are right, you will congratulate yourself. If you’re wrong, you’ll explain why the information wasn’t available and you’ll move on. That’s really not a good idea with this kind of uncertainty. So, optionality I think is a huge advantage. I used to work in the same industry as Molly. The customers have some very big problems and they don’t really have a lot of patience, for your problems. They expect your problems to be kind of behind the scenes, and whatever problem you have, don’t bother me with it because you’re here to help me with my problem. I guess all of us could say that here today that our customers are probably sympathetic to our problems, but they don’t want to hear about them, because they have their own challenges to work through, and so we have to be careful about our thinking. This is the science of epistemology. What do you have to believe in order to act in the way you’re acting? And don’t you want to stop and think about it? Reflective leadership is huge and don’t just lead, think about why you’re doing what you’re doing, what has to be true in order to do what you’re doing. Stop and even if it’s just in the mirror to yourself, ask yourself the question- I’m about to do this, what do I think is true? what’s making me make this decision? Don’t just drive from your gut. I mean sometimes you have to, of course but when you’re driving from your gut, still ask yourself these questions, am I acting as if I believe and a lot of times you’re finding you can’t answer that question. And if you can’t answer that question, maybe you have to slow down, or maybe you want to get some advice, or maybe you better convened the Council of elders or maybe a better take a smaller step until you can see better, there’s lots of different strategies.

Wei Zheng: Great! Great! Do you have an example of applying this sort of thinking, where you have mutually exclusive options, and you take one step and then see what happens in the next?

Anthony Scriffignano: As a matter of fact, I do. So, I mentioned hurricanes before, right? When a large hurricane is coming, everybody knows about it, hear about it right, well, way before that hurricane is coming, there’s this thing called hurricane season and they call it hurricane season, because that’s when the hurricanes, are more likely to happen, and so, if you think about one of the problems that we might want to address is fraud. People just doing malfeasance things, it could be stealing money, it could be shipping goods into the area that’s about to have a hurricane that you know outdated, so that they can be destroyed by the hurricane, and then you can collect insurance on it, I don’t want to give anybody any ideas. I’m not even going to explain. There are lots of different things, you can do to take advantage, if you know a hurricane is coming. Well, the good news is that bad guys can’t operate in a vacuum when they leave a trail when they do what they’re doing and they sort of telegraph their intentions for these different types of malfeasance scenarios. So, if I set up three mutually exclusive scenarios, there will be a category four or five hurricane. That is scenario one. scenario two is there will be a hurricane but not that bad. And scenario three is there will be no hurricane. You see how those are mutually exclusive, and certainly one of those three things will happen. So, that’s actually the goal box, mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive. I have categorized everything that will happen. Now I sort of sign, with all the data I have I’m not predicting the weather, I’m predicting a fraud, right? So, I look at as it gets closer and closer to whether or not that hurricane is going to happen, I should see certain types of anomalies in the behavior wherever there’s more money there’s more fraud right, so if it’s looking more and more like there’s going to be a very bad hurricane, there’s going to be more and more bad guys getting ready to take advantage of that and when they move, I can see them, right? So, I look for the anomalies that they produce in the data, and I have all kinds of techniques for doing that. If it seems like it’s less likely there’s going to be fraud, they are more likely to be more dormant. And so, I use different tools to look for them, because they’re not moving that much if it looks like nothing’s going to happen, they’re probably going to do nothing, and maybe I should spend my time on something else so, as I get closer and closer to that scenario, with my objective of catching bad guys, I can change my actions based on the conditional probabilities and I know what to look for based on how I know bad guys tend to behave. Does that make sense?

Wei Zheng: Yes, wonderful. Thank you, Anthony. Let’s move to Kevin. So, Kevin what are some mechanisms or structures, you put in place to help you make decisions, those big ones? So, you mentioned these 30 people team meetings where you have various people to maybe across levels, across functions, across all kinds of things and to have input into your decisions. Any other mechanisms that help you to make decisions or big bets and all sorts of things that fundamentally change your process?

Kevin Nepveux: Yeah! I think that large pharmaceutical drug development is where we have maybe 100 different products in development at any given time, and we know that from the statistics, we know that only 5% of those are going to ever make it to the market, so the drug development philosophy is pretty much plan for failure and by that I mean you only do enough, you only invest enough effort to get to the next read out, be it a clinical read out or safety read out or whatever and if it’s good, then you’ll invest the next bit to get to the next one, and then as you’re going along, a lot of candidates are unsuccessful because of lack of efficacy or side effects or whatever, and the number you have, drops and then eventually you get to a point where there’s a higher probability that one will make it and you can start to invest more heavily, so that’s the normal paradigm, it’s one of the reasons why it takes so long. In this case we had to approach it as we were planning for success, so we had to not worry about when the next day to read out was going to be and what we could postpone until then we had to do everything that we could to move it forward and so we did that and we didn’t really know exactly how to do that, we weren’t used to it, and so I remember, we had one discussion where somebody said I’m not comfortable with that, being asked to do things more rapidly or do more than they would normally do and again I’ll go back to our CEO because he pushed us harder than we’d ever been pushed before. He said you’re not supposed to be comfortable, that’s the point. So, I guess the lesson is that we probably need different paradigms for different assets or different situations. There’s the normal paradigm for the normal drug where we’re still going to kind of plan for failure and invest only as much as we need to but there’s another that we’re going to have to use for the ones that are really important and need to move really quickly and as we went through that process we realized that small by a text with only one or two products, they have to do it that way, all the time they have to plan for success or they won’t be in business, and if the drug isn’t successful, then sometimes they go out of business, but the people go on to other jobs and that’s the way they work and they’re used to it, so we actually brought in a couple of small biotech people to teach us how to operate in that mode.

Anthony Scriffignano: Wait, can I ask Kevin a follow up question on something?

Wei Zheng: Please do.

Anthony Scriffignano: I’m thinking about that scene in Apollo 13 movie, where they realized that they were going to have to come together and figure out how to get these guys home using the equipment that was in space in a way that it wasn’t designed to be used. They had different options, one option would get them home safer two days later, one option would get them home faster, but not sure what to do when they get there. The whole world is watching, no pressure, that kind of thing and I think that movie is a great leadership movie, by the way. There’s a scene in the movie where they all come together, and the crisis behaviors come out. So, you get the one guy saying well I don’t know the Lunar module was never designed to be used as a lifeboat, I’m not really sure, and you get the other guy is saying you know well, what if we do this, and what if we do that, and you get the annoying guy that talks too much like me right? All these personalities come out and what I find in crisis leadership is sometimes the hyper political people become sneakier and more hyper political, the CYA people, they spend more of their time building their escape plan in case it failed, and they do try to focus on the mission, you get the people that are just all about the mission. I imagine that was going on as well, and I think you’re making it sound very cordial but I can imagine that there must have been times, where you wanted to just invite somebody.

Kevin Nepveux: I wasn’t. It wasn’t cordial. There were a lot of tense moments and a lot of people were pushing each other very hard and we came out of a lot of situations. I mean people were just setting targets arbitrarily, not asking you what you thought you could accomplish, but this is your target and you’d go back and say- okay well, this is what I can do, and you would hear that’s not enough, you got to do better, and it was very frustrating and that’s when you kind of got to the point where I guess I’m supposed to be uncomfortable, so you’ve achieved your goal. We did have one point, not as dramatic as the Apollo 11, but the actual vaccine itself is made in a high sheer mixer, and which in the laboratory when they had made because up until we got up, until March 17, this had only ever been produced them, hundreds of those was in a laboratory setting and they use high sheer mixer that was about the size of a silver dollar and so, we went in to the laboratory, we saw that and we’re like there’s no way we can make hundreds of millions of dollars using this, so we have to scale it out, so we took about two weeks, trying to make larger and larger mixers and for variety of reasons, we could not duplicate the same size of nano particles in the larger mixers, so we looked at each other, we said, what are we going to do? and we just said we’re going to go and buy all the small little mixers that we find in the world and we’re going to set them all up in parallel. So, rather than scaling up we scaled out and we probably had several hundred of those mixers on skids, all over the world that are making the vaccine.

Anthony Scriffignano: That’s a great story, one of the things, I tell people in the middle of crisis. I do volunteer work as an EMT as well. Sometimes you get that person that just needs a
quick pep talk and I pull them aside, and I say look, nothing’s fair nobody ever promised you fair but, when this is all over, you’re going to have a great story to tell you.

Kevin Nepveux: Thank you.

Wei Zheng: Thank you, thank you Kevin and Anthony. So, my next question has to do with people since we’re veering into that direction so when we were under crisis and disruptions, what are the important things that get people to come along, right? When you have unconventional approaches or strategies or changing a whole process, what are some ways to help make that happen, or does it happen during crisis or does it need to be happening before any crisis happened, during peaceful times that you need to in still that agility and resilience already? But what are some experiences, you have in terms of helping other people, your team and people you collaborate with, to develop those mindsets to adjust quickly to crisis situations?

Anthony Scriffignano: Can I just jump in on that real quick? So, I tell people all the time, you have to know what your superpower is and what your kryptonite is. There’s something that you know, you do well, whatever it is. I think I’m pretty good at making complicated things understandable. And then you have to know what your kryptonite is. That thing that makes you weak and you have to be very honest with yourself about understanding what those things are, and if you are a good leader and if leadership to you means getting people to bend to your will, that’s only one definition of leadership, right? and that’s actually a very antiquated definition of leadership. But if you think you’re good at that, you have to be really careful, because if that’s your superpower, you better be right in what you’re leading them to do. So, I try to be a servant leader, I try to pave the road in front of the organization that I lead, if you think you’re good at that, then you have to be very good at picking your level two people, that you’re paving the road in front of people that are going to do the right thing to get to the right place. Whatever it is that you choose to do, I think the first principle of leadership is seek first to understand yourself, understand the organization you’re trying to lead, understand what you think success means, not about this particular problem you’re facing but, in general, how do you look at it. There are parts of the world where success is viewed as doing the right thing for your children’s children. There are other parts of the world where success is surviving the next quarter. Well, you get those two people in the same room, they want opposite things, they’re not pushing the same rock up, the same. Neither one of them is right or wrong, they have a different plane Of what they understand, so just trying to understand, having that humility to say- what’s my superpower? what’s my kryptonite? How do I see the world? How do they see the world? If you can get all that right before the crisis happens, you are going to be way better off than going in and trying to lead people and bend them to your will because you can be right and dead and you could be wrong and successful, and neither of those, is a good outcome.

Wei Zheng: Wonderful perspective Anthony, thank you for sharing that. Are there specific routines you follow in order to do that, to understand yourself and understand other people? Are there things, specific routines or methods you use to accomplish those goals?

Anthony Scriffignano: Yeah! I don’t want to take up all the air-time here, but one thing I would say is that there are questions I always ask. what do we have to believe? What has to be true? Another question I asked a lot, has helped me understand if somebody says something absolutely, I’m going to use judgmental times for a second to make it more hyperbolic. Somebody says something really moronic. I think we need to do this and then they say something absolutely absurd, instead of saying that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, I’ll say well how many understand, how this is going to work out? What I think you’re saying is, and then I repeat the absolutely ridiculous thing they just said, without any sarcasm and sometimes when they hear it, they say, well that’s not really what I mean and then they’ll change it right, so that helped me understand, and it’s a great consulting trick I see.

Molly Ketcham: Yeah! We use that all the time.

Anthony Scriffignano: If you’re hearing consultancy, help me understand they’re really saying you’re wrong but they’re saying it in a nice way but it’s really if you say is this really what you mean and you’re not using it as a weapon, it can be very effective. What has to be true, is another one that’s really good. What have we forgotten to ask is a great question, right? How would we know if we were done? How would we define success but that’s a little bit saccharin, I think? But how would we know if we were done here, and then another question that I think is really important is how would we know if the environment changed, while we were doing this crazy thing we’re about to do, in such a way that what we’re setting about doing, becomes the wrong thing? Like if you have to do something that takes longer than a day or two, especially when there’s all this change going on, well you better be picking your head up. I used to play water polo. The first week is your head down in the water and swimming as fast as you can, but you got to pick your head up once in a while, or you get hit in the head with the ball when somebody throws it at you. So, you got to pick your hand up once in a while, to make sure you are still doing the right thing.

Wei Zheng: Excellent! Let me ask you one more question that I get a lot from the students in my decision-making class, which is, when we talk about all kinds of tools and methods and people usually say, how we would know we’re done here? One of the questions you said, well, how far do we go into the decision-making process, deliberating process before we say, this is it. We’re going to move on. What are your thoughts on that?

Anthony Scriffignano: Well, one of the things we actually measure, there is, something called decision elasticity, which is how long, would you have to be before you would make a different decision? And one of the ways, you know you’re done is when you’re within the threshold of decision elasticity, when you can get a more precise answer but it’s not going to change what you’re about to do. Stop calculating, stop analyzing, stop arguing about it, you’re inside the window where no matter who wins this argument, you’re going to do the same thing, move on, do something.

Wei Zheng: Got it. Excellent! Thank you. Let’s move on to Molly. So, Molly what are some ways you use to bring people along, especially during changes? Your bag one is change management, right? So, what are your key insights related to how to bring people along, especially when we’re going in directions that are unanticipated or even unexpected or unwelcomed for people who have been entrenched in certain ways of thinking and working.

Molly Ketcham: Yeah. So, I completely agree with what Anthony said right. Some of the things that I talk about all the time is you know what needs to be true to xyz right or what is the overall objective that we’re looking to accomplish here. I think a lot of times you need to put those on the table so that you really understand that everybody around that table what they’re really focused on. So, for an example, during the pandemic people are like, well, this is going to cost X and y, and these are all the issues that we’re going to have, it’s going to be attrition, it’s going to be costs it’s going to be whatever and at the end of the day when I had to make those decisions, the question that I had was, what are we trying to solve for? And the answer is, our people, right? So, it was not a bottom line decision, it was a truly human decision, it was what is the flexibility, what is the understanding that we’re going to have around whatever decision we make around this pandemic, however long it is? If our answer is going to be, it’s always about our people. We’re going to choose our people first, then my decisions will be based on that. So, when I decided not to close facilities, because I didn’t know if we would need them, and because it would have impacted hundreds of people’s jobs. It was a truly human decision, and everyone could get on board with that. Once we all agreed that it was about the people, it was a lot easier to then make every decision and say, does that better address the need or the outcome that we’re looking for, which was to retain as many people as we can, during this horrific time? So, you asked about principles around, what it was some of my leadership principles and, for me it was flexibility and understanding and making sure that as we made decisions, we were flexible with them. So, going back to your question around change it’s making sure that everyone understands what the overall objective is, for whatever that piece of work is, whatever that crisis you’re dealing with is, what is that outcome we’re looking for and for us it was retain as many people as we can and then every decision and every conversation should meet towards that objective.

Wei Zheng: Excellent, thank you for the perspective, for the clarity of goals that influence what kind of questions we ask, and how can we rally. Thank you, Molly. Kevin, can we come to you, and could you share your perspectives in terms of how to build this resilience or helping to make change during this time in people around you?

Kevin Nepveux: Yeah, it was a real lesson in leadership, counting the last couple of years and the example I give is when you’re the leader of a team and that team has given what they think is an unreasonable target or objective and that happened quite frequently, as the leader you’re feeling the same emotions, as everyone, which is, I don’t know the name of the curve, but you kind of go through denial and then depression and then, then you realize that it’s not going to change, and then you start to come out of it, so if you are showing that to your team then it’s not helping them because they’re just going to build on top of that, and you’ll spend a lot of time talking about all the reasons why it’s an unreasonable request and all the reasons you can’t do it, if you as the leader can get yourself through that curve very quickly and be positive and say, and there were a lot of times when I would open a discussion saying this is what we need to do and I don’t know how we’re going to get there but I have confidence in all of you and let’s talk not about why it won’t work, but about what we can do to achieve that and it stimulates a lot more innovation than you would normally see, and the fact that we’re willing to spend money on crazy ideas, which was kind of helpful environment but I learned a lot about how to lead in those situations, and it really depends on the attitude of the leader, how the team is going to perform.

Wei Zheng: Thank you, thank you. So, related to that point, I guess, we have a few minutes left. As we’re going forward, what kind of principles or methods or mindset, would you continue using, you probably adopted from the pandemic or even before? What kind of mindsets or things processes, would you continue using or even stressing more off, as in the future?

Kevin Nepveux: I think the best term I would use is situational leadership. You really have to understand what your degrees of freedom are, in a situation and when you need to push a team, and when you need to just let them go and I think to what Molly said, you have to value the people and make it very clear that you do value the people on the team and the people that support them, because ultimately you as the leader, do a small fraction of the actual work. It’s the rest of the team that has to do it.

Wei Zheng: Thank you Kevin! Molly What about you? Going forward, are there lessons or mindset or processes, you would continue using?

Molly Ketcham: Yeah, absolutely! I think that flexibility and understanding was what I would come back to. The worst thing I hear is when I propose something new and somebody says well we’ve always done it that way or that’s how it’s always done and I think evolution is good on prophecies and things, and so, for me, it’s flexibility and really questioning why things were done in the way that they were done and how can you improve them moving forward. I think that openness to change is really important, and I certainly take that with me. It’s what I specialize in but it’s what I take with me after the pandemic as well.

Wei Zheng: Thank you! Anthony how about you?

Anthony Scriffignano: I want to put in a plug for an excellent book learning as a way of being by Dr Peter Vale. It’s all different strategies for leading in white-water, what he calls white-water, which is what we’re all experiencing right now. Think if you’re in a boat and you get into white water, you paddle is finished, if there’s a problem with the boat, if you’re tired, if you’re hungry, you ignore all of those things, because you got to get through the white-water well what happens when you’re living in white-water all the time? And I think that our future is, at least for the near term is more likely to be like that, where one disruption happens and before we’re finished responding to that, that disruption gets disrupted by something else and so on and so on. So, the better we get at dealing with being disrupted, I think the better off we’ll be. I think also, I like to say all the time that lessons learned are only lessons learned, if you learn from them, so a lot of people pride themselves on being able to fail fast. I think it’s fine to fail fast, as long as you’re making new mistakes. If you’re just making the same mistakes faster, that’s learning how to fail, but I don’t know that’s not in my book, so take the time to step back and assess your own skills, skills of the people around you, take time even in white-water to study how things might be changing, so that the strategy you set out on, may no longer be the right one, contained in what Kevin and Molly both just said was tremendous strength and humility, at the same time. We have to be humble here, none of us are good enough to do all of this ourselves, nobody is that good and so, the more you can get used to getting people to attending a session like this, I’m sure all of us speakers would say the same thing. We learn more than we expect and it’s a beautiful thing, so I’m going to leave you with one last thing, this can sound so corny but it’s really true I try to teach something and learn something every day. If you’re only teaching you probably be becoming slowly irrelevant right because you have to learn too and if you’re only learning you’re probably being selfish, so you got to do a little bit of both every day and it’s a good day when you can do that.

Wei Zheng: Excellent! That’s profound. So, I love the thing of the analogy that we’re living in white-water and I love the idea of learning as a way of being, and that is what’s keeping us flexible and open and having clarity on our goals, which can guide us in times of crisis. Well, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.