For many of us, the return of fall means the return to ‘normalcy’. If spring feels like renewal, fall feels like an old pair of shoes that fit just right. Leaves turn. Classes resume. Students return to campus. It is comfortable in its predictableness. Fall 2020, however, is shaping up to be anything but predictable. The resurgence of COVID-19 over the summer months with no vaccination on the immediate horizon means that we must continue to learn new ways to work. Yes, it is safe to say that Fall 2020 will look different than other years.
The uncertainty created by COVID-19 has raised many important questions that we, as health care management researchers, must grapple with but are uniquely positioned to address. A recent article, for example, describing five important lessons from management research on how to respond to COVID-19 noted that “established playbooks for how to manage during a pandemic do not exist (Nembhard, Burns, & Shortell, 2020). We are simply in uncharted territory. Which is to say, there is much to learn about how to apply these lessons in tumultuous times. Take, for example, their first lesson to “put people first”. Many of us can agree with the importance of this lesson given the toll COVID-19 has put on our front-line workforce. But what does this look like in a world where work is predominantly done virtually?
As Nembhard and colleagues note in their article, COVID-19 presents a wicked problem that requires creative solutions. The same can be said of our approaches to studying the challenges presented by COVID-19 and their presumed solutions. “Traditional approaches” likely will not be sufficient. Existing secondary data sources that provide static, point-in-time assessments, for example, may not shed much light on meaningful solutions given the dynamic challenges presented by COVID-19 that require health care organizations to adapt quickly and repeatedly. Likewise, to truly understand what management practices are effective, why they work and thus how they can be replicated, we need to “get inside” organizations. It is not enough to view them from afar. This has long been the case, of course, and has not been brought about by COVID-19. However, applying these approaches in the COVID-19 era are challenged by the very things that give rise to their importance. How effective are we at “getting inside” organizations, for example, while working virtually at a distance? Are health care organizations in a position to provide the types of rich, dynamic data that are needed to identify effective management practices?
Answers to these questions are not soon forthcoming, but we believe they will come. And here at HCMR, we look forward to seeing what creative solutions you, as health care management scholars, bring to bear during these challenging times. Best wishes for a safe and healthy, even if unpredictable, Fall!
Larry R. Hearld, PhD
Cheryl Rathert, PhD
Nembhard I. M., Burns L. R., Shortell S. M. (2020). Responding to Covid-19: Lessons from Management Research. NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery