The United States has gone through a wrenching debate over the reform of health care. The new bill cut to the essence of the United States as a republic and the sole of its citizens. This has been high stakes change management. What can the business world learn from this as a case study?
There is an alternative to Private Insurance
The first step in implementing change is for the leader to articulate a vision – what will the new world look like? President Obama’s vision a year ago had tenets such as “single payer and public option”. This is not idealism; it is real life practice that is the norm in most western democracies. It is an alternative and in places like Canada it is less costly and produces better outcomes. Although open to interpretation, here are some numbers.
- Spending as a % of GDP: in US 15%, in Canada10%
- Spending per capita: in US, in Canada $6700 $3700
- Life expectancy - age: in US, in Canada 78.5 80.5
- Very satisfied: in US, in Canada 25% 57%
- Very dissatisfied: in US, in Canada 44% 17%
The gap exists for two reasons:
1. Administration: A single payer dramatically reduces burdensome administration. In the US this activity constitutes about 1/3rd of the cost of health care. In Canada it’s a little more than 1/10th. In other words, the single payer approach would save the US about 20+ percentage points on cost. That adds up when you’re talking about trillions of dollars.
2. Treatment: In Canada there are fewer medical resources than in the US – people, equipment, supplies, facilities. This means priorities are required in the allocation of these scarce resources. In the US, where there has always been a luxury of supply, this idea of “allocation” is interpreted as “rationing”.
America was looking for a new model for health care. Canada provides an alternative, but Americans didn’t choose it. They came up with a framework that is uniquely American; a solution that does not look like the starting vision that included single payer and a public option. Erosion of the vision is a common result in the change business. What happened?
In my view The Administration did not recognize the enormity of the change it was proposing. How do you radically change the private health insurance sector in the US. It’s fundamental to the American DNA of individualism and capitalism. The orthodoxy is that corporations have the right to make profits and individuals have the opportunity to earn money to provide for their health care.
Such a discontinuous change requires strong, directive leadership. Although bipartisanship is a rhetorical principal of the American political system it is not an ally to radical change. The effort to develop consensus opened the door to incrementalism, which is resistance in disguise. Ultimately the bill that got passed did not please anyone.
Most changes fail – even when the sponsors don’t admit it. This result comes from not understanding the nature of change and the leadership style required to implement change.
The US health care debate highlighted principles that CEO’s should take to heart.
- Know your organization’s DNA. Resistance is directly related to how hard you swim against the organization’s heritage.
- Know the type of change you seek – continuous means incremental, discontinuous means breaking with the past.
- Know your leadership style. Don’t attempt discontinuous change if you are a consensus builder.
In our culture it is unnatural for leaders to adopt a harsh style. Everyone wants to be loved. That implies that most changes will be incremental. CEO’s should know this before they set their visions for change and underlying migration paths.