To be clear, nothing in this post is intended to be political, party-specific, negative or blameful in any way. If those are your playgrounds, feel free to depart now. I neither know nor care which way you lean or vote and those feelings should be mutual from you back to me.
Oh, and this Post is a bit longer than 15 seconds and a sound bite...
COVID 2020 produced a multitude of alarms, opportunities, revelations and pain; more than enough of each of those 'experiences' to go around. With such an abundance of new realities, we began to also see many systemic weaknesses; some small and some quite large. The former affected fewer people and organizations; the latter placed a burden on many more.
There were (and are) at least (5) five infrastructure failures that not only should demand our attention but represent what we must do starting now to amend their impact on the future.
FAILURE ONE: The impact of the poor health, our dependency on prescription drugs and the severe or morbid obesity of at least 50-60% of the U.S population. Let's be clear about something: COVID did not cause any of the conditions or realities cited above. In fact, the American population has grown ever-more obese, increasingly dependent on medications of all kinds and more sedentary in the last 3 decades. Even if we personally are not represented in those statistics, 50 to 60% or more of our fellow citizens is a huge number. What COVID did do was expose the extreme frailty in sickness and in death of a population where one in four Americans (and more likely one in three adults) are simply not healthy by even the mildest of measurements. Among our neighbors, friends and family, the trends toward unhealthiness are also growing. COVID presented us with an important question: Is this downward direction what we really want?
WHAT CAN WE DO? COVID killed the compromised and the unhealthy in far greater numbers than the healthy. Rest in peace to those souls and prayers for their families. We do not have to repeat that ever again. Demand a healthcare system that shifts [from] a distinct focus on treatment [to] one that fosters and values prevention. Find out how to go [off of] one medication before you accept and go [on] a new one. Drop the keyboard and take a walk; outside and without the earbuds. Eat a vegetable or maybe some fruit. Drink some water. Encourage one another. Deny the supposed inevitabilities of age and bad health. Demand that your physicians give you health and diet plans rather than another prescription. Get out of your pajamas and off the couch. And most importantly, grab a buddy or a partner and you will immediately double the effects of anything you do! Here is a simple fact: Our parents and grandparents did much or all of the above and their 'health and sickness' numbers were way better than ours! Think about that: We have not advanced, we have declined as a general population in the last 5 decades!
FAILURE TWO: The reality that 50 to 60% of Americans are $500 away from having nothing left in their bank account and teetering on the edge of losing homes, cars and family necessities. Once again, COVID did not cause any of the conditions or realities cited in the previous statement. Much has been written by people more well-versed than me for years about the massive gaps in income, savings rates, investments and growth in even the most basic forms of equity in the U.S. What we saw on the nightly news for 6 or 7 months in 2020 were the massive lines of cars and people at local emergency food banks and shelters. People who desperately needed a box or a bag of groceries because their cupboards and bank accounts were literally bare. School lunch programs evaporated as schools closed; another food lifeline cut. Meals on Wheels and other social services also shutdown or were curtailed. We already know these facts. What are we doing to see what is right in front of us; the 'causes' that brought forth all of these 'effects'? And can we do so without judging or adding our bias about others? Again, these are neighbors, friends and relatives; if not ours, then someone who means something to someone else.
WHAT CAN WE DO? A likely starting point is a return to civic and financial education starting with the very young. Despite popular generational beliefs to the contrary, the government does not create jobs or (actually) have any money at all. Washington gets 100% of its money from us. Organizations and people create jobs. And people can teach other people with an immense power to make a difference. Basic financial and economic learning should begin in the primary grades and continue through high school curriculums. Teach our children about the terrible dangers of acquiring debt and the beautiful principle of saving more while spending less. Encourage small steps. Find a neighbor or their children that needs help and offer it in kind and encouraging ways. If you have the ability, hire someone when you can. Even a basic paycheck and benefits makes a massive difference. Celebrate small victories. Offer the use of a car or a ride to work (or for now, a small computer or internet connection). All real progress and help is local. It is neighborly. It has a far greater potential for change than any government subsidy. Once again, exactly what do you think our parents and grandparents did when their lives turned south?
FAILURE THREE: The American economy must be continually propped up by the federal government in order to survive and the debt creation that is used to do that is of no apparent concern to us. One last time: COVID did not cause any of the conditions or realities cited in this previous statement. When exactly did it become the government's job to take care of every problem, every challenge and every form of discomfort in our lives? Long before 2020, I can assure you. A very startling statistic: Counting welfare, SNAP, SSI, tax credits of one kind or another, and an uncountable number of government subsidies and credits, more than 80% of Americans receive government assistance of some kind with ever growing numbers since the 1960's. How did our parents and grandparents possibly survive before 1965?
Oh, and before we all trumpet the 15-20+% stock market growth in 2020, be very clear that all of that largely happened because of the trillions of dollars the Fed pumped into and used to prop up our economy to insure a carefully engineered outcome. The question, of course becomes where does it all end, this government nanny-state; is it at 80%, 90%, 100% of the populace's dependence? Are we now culturally attuned, even hard wired to an "other reliance" versus "self reliance"? This is not political commentary. Two questions for everyone: (1) Did you actually read the latest Stimulus Bill and see how much of it is NOT about the highly publicized stimulus checks? And, (2) On any newscast on any station at any time in the last 30 days, did anyone ask the question even once about how all of this financial largesse can be paid back? Those answers would be No and No.
WHAT CAN WE DO? This one is so simple it is hard. We get from [all branches of] government in Washington what we pay (or don't) pay attention to. Do we know how many zeros there are in a trillion? Do we ever bother to ask our Congressperson or Senator how and when the money will be paid back and who gets to do that? If you want the rudest of awakenings, read the latest Stimulus Bill and look specifically for pork, handouts and lobbyist perks that make up the Bill. Here's a revelation: far more money goes into those rabbit holes than to the checks doled out to Americans. Are we even a little bit complicit in this massive corruption, power brokering and glad handing? Unless we know and use our Legislator's emails and phone numbers regularly, then the answer is 'yes'. And Washington hopes it stays that way! Even as I write this, another round of rope-a-dope is underway between the political parties and the Executive Branch. The candy man is now shooting for $2,000 or more for a separate 'stimulus' before the one from this week has even been distributed!
FAILURE FOUR: Despite all of the technology and virtue signaling towards 'Customer Care' and 'Customer Service', every one of those systems (yes, I said EVERY one of those systems) became so overwhelmed and embarrassingly broken during COVID that we can accurately ask whether they were ever any good at all. How many thousands of times were we put on endless loops of bad music and being told how important we were while waiting online for service in 2020? How many of those same systems simply dropped calls after 10 or 15 minutes on hold with no warning to their next victim? How many times were we asked to call back at a more convenient time (3 a.m. maybe?) And in every case, the misery started with an insincere (how can a recorded voice or a 'bot' in a chat room be sincere)? and ended with, and this is important, yet another lowering of our expectations of how we should be treated. Call Centers and Customer Service operations: ALL failed and did so in immense proportions of stupendous sameness and a race-to-the-bottom of comparative standards. Nothing about what you do (or did) even remotely gives two hoots about the Customer or their experience and shame on every one of us for putting up with that.
WHAT CAN WE DO? When did the I.T. Department take over Marketing or Customer Service? How cool it is that we can "serve" more people on phone lines and in chat rooms without ever having to involve a warm body or actually give a hoot about the quality of the interaction. NOT. (Oh, and your post-service "experience surveys" are even more insulting). If you are an Owner, a CEO or a Board member and you allow the massive degradation that has occurred in communicating with, and serving your Customers in the name of greater efficiency [then] you are as complicit and responsible as anyone. Don't argue for a minute that it's the 'norm' or the 'current standard'. It is a miserable system through and through and you know it and you don't care. Schwab gives me great Customer Care. So does my local dentist. So does my local restaurant. So does my local mechanic. What do they all have in common? PEOPLE answer their phones and have actual two-way conversations with me. (Insert here) the accusation of my naiveté' in not understanding the costs, volume, training costs or the complexity of people actually dealing with people. Nice try, but this will get fixed in one of two ways: Either we will all just accept the level of ineptitude displayed by so many organizations (we're actually almost there) or we will do business locally and reward competence and relationships [while] telling those we drop exactly why we left. No more excuses, please as you insult our collective intelligence.
FAILURE FIVE: One of the most visible and critical parts of our government services infrastructure, the U.S. Post Office is and was overrun by any and every metric that defines their business model. Promised deliveries of packages and mail are and were regularly delayed by three and four weeks, not by days. Online tracking systems simply revert to a permanent "in transit" message for any and every inquiry that a Sender makes. Local Post Offices are often poorly maintained, run down and miserable places to work. The average Postal Employee has been beaten to a pulp so often by rude and angry patrons that they often walk away from daily abuse for fear of their own safety or to not lose their cool towards a Customer. And please don't blame the volume-related push of the election year. No, what 2020 did was shine a huge spotlight on a teetering and failing ship that has been in the red for decades. To be fair, UPS and FedEx didn't do much better this year but those are private entities with Shareholders and Boards to answer to for their realities (if) they choose to not excuse them.
WHAT CAN WE DO? : Many politicians in recent years (campaigns) have trumpeted the needs of our failing infrastructure. Roads and bridges sound sexier than letters and parcels. It costs 55 cents to send a letter anywhere in the entire United States. Really? Would any of us not pay .90 cents or just a dollar for the same service? Next up: Junk mail. It clogs up the system terribly and goes straight from the mailbox to the trash bin all day, every day. Ditto political campaign materials. If the entities that send these mounds of trash believe in them so much, how about their postal rates get tripled or quadrupled to begin to cover the real USPS costs? And before the Post Office negotiates its next deal to be a contract carrier for Amazon, maybe some careful reflection is in order as to what that agreement really costs versus what it is really worth. Wage and benefit improvements [matched to] performance standards and metrics should be next. In the interim, do something nice for a postal worker. Pick any one of them and keep going to the next one and the next one until you run out.
DO ONE THING NOW: Another pandemic or crisis of some magnitude whether economic, social or governmental is inevitable. What we don't know is the "when". But the time and the need to prepare starts with now and goes from there.
I believe that we can start a civil and productive conversation on any or all of these topics with our professional peers, family, neighbors or friends. Who can be the first to generate concrete options or a rallying point? Who else can be engaged to add new wisdom and energy once we get started?
Maybe, go back and reread the part several paragraphs back about "...All real progress and help is local. It is neighborly. It has a far greater potential for change than any government subsidy...
Allan DeNiro is an Author, Keynote Speaker and Facilitator for Organizations, their Leaders or as a one-to-one Advisor. He would be proud to meet you for a discussion online. If you learned something today, please share this article widely across your networks.