Using the Polarity approach to Supplement S.W.O.T.
The complexity, fragmentation, and highly regulated aspects of the U.S. healthcare system results in making the industry resistant to change. Despite the resistance, healthcare has undergone significant changes in reimbursement models, consumerism, and information technologies (IT). A small, IT healthcare start-up challenged itself to embrace the reality within the tension between Stability (current status) and Change (future status) versus resisting that change. On the journey to becoming profitable and self-sustaining, newly formed “startups” face any number of limited resource challenges and often fail within the first year of operation. To support this IT start-up in this intentional process, “NewCo” partnered with SixSEED Partners (SSP) in using the Polarity Approach for Continuity and Transformation (PACTô).
The first step for NewCo was to establish the NewCo Culture Team (NCT), which was a highly diverse microcosm that had executive sponsorship. The NCT met regularly to guide culture development and determined they would assess the current state of NewCo by conducting an employee “SWOT” survey to analyze Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
Supplementing SWOT With Polarity Thinking
Guided by SixSEED, the NCT learned how the Polarity Mapô could supplement and enhance their original SWOT result analyses. While a standard SWOT implicitly focuses on important dimensions of stability and change, what it misses analyzing are the interdependent connections between those SWOT dimensions. For example, the SWOT Strengths associate with the positive aspects of Stability (current state), or those that are worth retaining and holding onto. Similarly, the SWOT Opportunities associate with positive aspects of Change (future status), or those positive elements that are worth attaining and going after. However, if NewCo overfocused on their Strengths (for stability) without giving attention to Opportunities (for change), that could become a significant factor contributing to the Weaknesses identified by NewCo that were creating some angst and pain. Correspondingly, if NewCo overfocused on its Opportunities (for change) and ignored its Strengths (for stability), that could be a contributing factor to the Threats they identified. In this dynamic way, these 4 dimensions are interdependent with each other within the polarity tension of stability and change.
Seeing Polarity Tensions Play Out
As the NCT and NewCo began to more broadly understand how this and other interdependencies work predictably, they began to see additional polarity tensions that were a part of discussion or debate in the day-to-day workflow.
One example of this occurred when a group was meeting to discuss a customer’s “overly excessive” technical support needs. Concerns mostly focused on what the customer was “doing wrong” until a staff member suggested that this might be a polarity: Customer Needs And NewCo Needs. The dynamic of the conversation quickly shifted as members mapped the dynamic. Capturing the wisdom in the Polarity Mapô allowed the group to see a more complete picture of the ongoing tension and enabled them to develop a more productive solution strategy for NewCo and the Customer.
Another example related to NewCo’s merger with a similar size and stage company. The newly combined leadership team was working through a series of critical issues focused on expectations for how work would be done. Pre-merger, one company had embraced a combination of a central office and some flexibility to work remotely while the other company had operated as a purely remote, virtual workforce. Flexibility and the option to work remotely were highly prized by some, while others felt coming to an office was critical to team building and efficiency. Initial discussions about how to proceed were framed as an Either/Or and quickly became tense and emotionally laden. A member of the executive team who had been exposed to the basics of polarity mapping via his work in the NCT led the team through a polarity mapping exercise to identify the benefits of Office-based and Remote work, as well as the limitations of each, without the other. Both could exist in tension and when maximized, contribute to NewCo’s Greater Purpose Statement: an “Efficient and Effective Work Environment”. Seeing the tension from an And (not just Or) perspective and working through it by seeing and mapping the polarity dynamic led to the NCT being asked to work on a set of activities designed to improve situational awareness, communication, and engagement across a distributed, semi-virtual workforce.
Polarity principles were successfully applied in a small, highly dynamic healthcare IT start-up environment that intentionally focused on building culture. Leveraging polarities played a key role in NewCo’s successful growth, from a few co-founders with an idea to a company with 45 employees, while weathering many storms – including successfully merging with another company.
To learn more details about our work with NewCo, or other examples of how our clients have successfully applied Polarity Thinking to their healthcare “problems” –
contact SixSEED Partners at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are proud contributors of multiple application chapters in the book: “And: Making a Difference by Leveraging Polarity, Paradox or Dilemma. Vol. 2. Applications” (2021).