Learning, adapting and improving


If there is one thing I’m thinking about this Memorial Day, it’s that reflecting on adversities overcome gives me optimism for the future. The United States, and Hawaii, have been through far worse than Covid. As a society, the US was woefully underprepared for World War II, and again for the Cold War thereafter. We were overconfident. We learned tough lessons. But out of that we adapted, and with a lot of shared sacrifice, ultimately persevered. The takeaway for me is one of resilience in the face of failure. Success came after the failures, from learning by adapting to the needs of the day.

Today, we are again challenged with learning how to deal with societal adversity – adversity that affects everyone in some way. This is a big change and one where we are struggling now! One problem is that we haven’t defined the common problem we are facing. I believe the problem is not Covid-19. Covid-19 is just the virus. Our problem is living – surviving and thriving – as a community in the Era of Covid-19 where we wrestle to effectively deal with the tradeoffs that all cause pain. This is probably the next 1-2 years, and we also need to be thinking and planning for what Hawaii is like after the Era of Covid-19.

Living in the Era of Covid is about tough choices. We cannot just focus on health narrowly defined as the absence of Covid. Some may be more challenged by the health risks, while others are unemployed, or at risk of losing their business, while our keiki are having their development disrupted. Ultimately, dealing with tradeoffs in these sacrifices will have lasting impacts far beyond the Era of Covid-19. The question we should be asking is how we best survive this era, and what will Hawaii look like then.

Today, we are in a funky transition period. Things seem ok for now – my kids say “things almost seem normal”. This is dangerous. Because now is the time we should be working hardest to prepare. Businesses are not going bankrupt yet. They have PPP loans for now. Out of work employees have stimulus checks and extra unemployment benefits. Our government has money. And we cannot yet see that our keiki’s development is being harmed by the lack of school. The challenges are coming soon.

So what do we need to solve for? Well, my opinion is we need to solve for protecting our most at risk, while working to address the longer term economic and societal risks to Hawaii. This involves:

  • First, have a plan to protect the health of those most at risk. Define these. Make sure they are cared for and stay safe. Then innovate. Perhaps these are special Covid benefits and services for those deemed high risk – for example, to keep our Kupuna and others safe from Covid.
  • Second, as we’ve done, have a hospital usage plan and excellent monitoring of our facilities and treatment capabilities. Establish clear community triggers for what is acceptable community rates of transmission of the virus that our health system can handle. Use science here.
  • Third, fully vet the short and long term implications of tourism at various levels. An economic “recovery” without Tourism getting back to at least 70-80% of prior levels will lead to major business bankruptcies and shut downs. These in turn will have secondary impacts. Are we ok with that?
  • Then assess the costs of joblessness and prolonged under-employment. Are we ok with accelerating ex-migration from Hawai’I (if can), greater homelessness and poverty? Name and prioritize these risks.
  • Assess the impact on our keiki’s development of schools and events being shut down. Is the cost worth the health benefit? Are there other ways to protect our at-risk population, or ways for our keiki to get what they need?
  • Overall, what do we want Hawaii to look like in 12-24 months? Be clear about the tradeoffs with whatever path we choose. Are we playing to minimize the Covid deaths or looking at overall deaths and costs? Over what time period? What level of societal and economic pain, and over what time period, are we balancing with our physical health risks? Consider a scorecard that looks at our success across the dimensions of health, education, business, personal, and community.

Working together on a 12-24 month plan

My take is when we line all these things up, we end up with a greater focus on our intermediate and long term goals. With clearer success and failure measures against a balanced scorecard for our community. We can all work together to develop a plan that does the following:

  • Protects those most at risk for an extended period (until effective treatments are widely available)
  • Has clear and broad community measurement against a pre-defined scorecard of low levels of acceptable transmission, so our healthcare system can be relied on in an outbreak. I.e., we are prepared in advance for an outbreak using science to set reasonable – but low levels of – community transmission. Know exactly when and how we would control an outbreak.
  • Aggressively works to open schools and tourism in ways that permit most or all normal activities, but with extra monitoring of health and new strict rules on behavior with any sickness symptoms. Define balanced goals for health, education, and the economy.
  • Promotes Hawaii as being Akamai in our approach. Enable innovation on smart ways to deal with these challenges.

The hard thing is “how” to make this happen. So far, while most recognize that our system today isn’t working, we have not yet been able to change how we are working. Our local, community decision making and communication is ineffective and we need to figure out how this might change to become effective.

Doing this is a huge opportunity. We need to use a lot more data to create greater insight, and we must improve the definition of our challenges. Then we need to empower our community to help create solutions. While I don’t have the answers, I’ll throw out one of my favorite empowerment ideas: create a catalytic mechanism that will spawn better solutions for our biggest challenges, such as an “X prize like” grant for a better test and track system for visitors arriving in Hawaii. We have to do better here. So set the bar high, and make the money real. Open it up to the world. Find a solution we implement, and win the prize!

Moving on to PPP Forgiveness. Regarding forgiveness calculations for PPP loans, we published some super helpful guidance and tools this week. I’m very proud of our advice to employers throughout this process. There was a lot of misinformation and confusion about these loans, and we have urged employers to act rationally and with a long term view around their business survival. Those taking advantage of good planning and doing the right thing will be fine. ProService will be there for you to help with the forgiveness calculations and process. Also, as an aside, I am hopeful the treatment of the loans will become even more favorable soon, as the legislation moves through Congress that could dramatically improve the forgiveness terms for most employers.

10 Year Trends. We did a great webcast this week entitled “How to Make a Comeback” with Elisia Flores, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue; Matt Heim, HonBlue; Christine Lanning, Integrated Security Technologies; and me. It was full of great examples of how others are adapting and evolving their business during the Era of Covid. In it, I mentioned that some trends have accelerated by more than a decade in just the past two months. The biggest ones are e-commerce and remote work. There are other big shifts happening from which we will not go back. As employers, study these trends and work on your business model. How must it change? How can it change to take advantage of the opportunity? Keep working at it. Adaptation and invention are the price of admission today.

One request: As we look ahead, ProService is only going to continue to survive and thrive with your partnership and help. Without you, there is no ProService. Making it easier for you as an employer is our purpose and we are striving to help and to improve every week.

If you can, please help us with a referral to others that don’t yet use our service. We have dramatically cut our marketing and other non-essential services to pour more funds into supporting our clients, and many Hawaii employers use mainland HR and payroll services. That’s money leaving our community, and they aren’t as good at helping employers survive in Hawaii. Please help us spread the word and pass along any referrals! We are better together!

With aloha,

Ben Godsey

President & CEO