The Flow System Offers Insights into Doing Business Better during COVID-19

A central theme of the newest book on my reading list is the need to listen to, and learn from, the customer. Its customer-centric message is particularly meaningful as applied to the challenges brought to us by COVID-19.

Our business now offers products customized for individuals and families, but we began as the administrators of dental benefits for group customers. We now administer the dental benefits of 1,393 group customers offering their employees dental benefits to encourage them to visit their dentists regularly to improve overall health and wellness. Our group customers include financial institutions, hospitals, school systems, unions, associations, and a variety of businesses and nonprofits of all sizes across a spectrum of industries. Early in the pandemic, we engaged with our customers, both individual/ family and groups, to find out how we could serve them best. As you might imagine, the needs of our group customers were more complicated, but we have continued to meet our commitments to all our customers, and we were able to offer them some financial relief.

We’re still wrestling with the new realities of during business in 2021. Are you? Written in 2019, released in 2020, The Flow System: The Evolution of Agile and Lean Thinking in an Age of Complexity by John Turner, Nigel Thurlow, and Brian Rivera could give you valuable insights into a system designed to help businesses manage and operate in dynamic environments. Five forwards by business notables and the preface provide a meaningful COVID-19 context. That is, the writers provide the scope of how the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded and how businesses, governments, and healthcare systems reacted to it; and they make the case that more skillful approaches to unexpected and complex situations that could arise would have improved outcomes. The pandemic made this book even more relevant and valuable than it would have been had it been released at a time when business challenges were somewhat more predictable.

The Flow System, with a foundation of the Toyota Production System and the Toyota Way, is represented by a Triple Helix, standing for complexity thinking, distributed leadership, and team science. From several disciplines that include organizational theory, psychology, and team science, many best tools and practices have been distilled for the benefit of its readers.

The insights the authors offer about the need to keep customers’ needs central, empower employee decision-makers, and use team approaches to increase high quality outcomes are valuable ones. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for more in-depth thinking on these themes, but I especially suggest you read it to learn more about doing business better during the pandemic

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“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

As you may know, I am an incorporator and chairman of the Board of ExcellenceNorth Alliance (ENA), formerly Granite State Quality Council. The mission of the Alliance is simple: share ideas, work together, reach higher, and achieve successes. Our employees provide leadership and guidance to ENA, and we host many of its events. The ENA quality program is based on the criteria for the Malcom Baldrige National Quality program.  

The ExcellenceNorth Alliance recently created an award recognizing the achievements of New Hampshire communities named after former Manchester mayor and community leader, volunteer, and philanthropist, Dr. Sylvio Dupuis. The “Dr. Sylvio Dupuis Community Excellence Award” will recognize communities that reflect his lifelong work to improve communities for the benefit of the people they serve. Dr. Dupuis is a former president of both Catholic Medical Center and Notre Dame College, and his leadership has had positive impact on Greater Manchester and the state.

Dr. Dupuis shows the kind of leadership that builds and sustains excellence. Developing arts and education; providing political, economic, and nonprofit project leadership; promoting legal and ethical behavior; and developing a vision, purpose, and values are all hallmarks of his civic involvement. His communication with all stakeholders excels. While his focus is clearly on getting things accomplished, he works diligently to create an environment in which everyone succeeds. These are among the many reasons why ExcellenceNorth Alliance will be giving this newly created award in his name.

The Community Excellence Award will recognize and raise awareness of communities in New Hampshire that, through ingenuity and innovation, are making improvements that benefit economic conditions, quality of life, education, and/or public health. From the standpoint of this award, communities are not limited by boundaries and are defined as a group of people working together with a common goal to provide these benefits to a city/town, neighborhood, or region. The goal is not only to recognize these communities, but also to share successful best practices with the hope that other communities will use them.   

ExcellenceNorth Alliance is the region’s nonprofit provider of customized expertise in the Baldrige methodology and other systematic approaches. As the rate of change and disruption continues to dramatically increase across all business sectors, ENA has a forward-looking focus to help Northern New England organizations and communities achieve their goals. For more information on ENA and the “Dr. Sylvio Dupuis Community Excellence Award,” visit

Sylvio Dupuis has been my mentor and friend since I moved to New Hampshire in 1995, and it was he who first encouraged me to build community relationships and helped me to connect with New Hampshire nonprofits that valued my involvement. It is for that reason, in addition to his strong record of community service, that I am particularly excited about this award to be given in his name.

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When More is Not Better

It doesn’t mention COVID-19, but 2020 couldn’t have been a better year for the release of When More is Not Better: Overcoming America’s Obsession with Economic Efficiency, by Roger L. Martin. This book piqued my interest and went to the top of my reading list because I often consider what we’ve learned from the challenges of doing business during the pandemic and what forms of economic recovery will be most beneficial in the short- and long-terms.

The book’s findings are based on a six-year project on the future of democratic capitalism in America conducted by the Martin Prosperity Institute. Martin is Professor Emeritus at the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto, where he served as Dean. He is a trusted strategy advisor to company CEOs worldwide. A Canadian by birth, he was educated in the United States and currently resides here.  

Martin says that the prevailing model of the U.S. Economy as a machine that can be taken apart, each part be made to run more efficiently, then the whole reassembled to reach a higher state of optimal perfection, has failed to reach its desired outcome. It was to have distributed wealth in ways that created more families in the middle class and shrunk the numbers of rich and poor families. Instead, the middle class is shrinking, making many people feel disenfranchised, his in-depth interviews around the country showed. It seems to me that during the pandemic, many of the difficulties we face nationwide (like those associated with remote learning and the shrinkage of safe childcare options) have been most disastrous for people who are already disadvantaged.

Martin suggests that instead of the economy-as-a-machine model, we should strive for a balance of efficiency and resilience. Beginning last spring, businesses and nonprofits were forced to answer questions relating to how we could change how we operate, be more resilient in the face of multiple unique challenges, and still be both efficient and effective.

Martin’s book describes the existing model for democratic capitalism, offers his alternative model of balancing efficiency with resiliency, then gives many examples of how this alternative model is being successfully applied.

One idea I particularly appreciated was the notion of “slack;” that is, spending more than is necessary in some areas. While this is not in keeping with the machine-based model, I agree that some such investments are the smartest. For example, our business is overstaffed in the Customer Service department by design. We do this because we want our customers to always have a world-class experience in reaching a highly trained and knowledgeable person by phone or email. By overstaffing, we can give thorough training, allow for internal promotions, and remove all roadblocks to our representatives responding with speed, accuracy, and helpfulness. Please post some suggestions from your own reading list as we enter a New Year. Have a safe, healthy, and prosperous one.

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The 2020 Virtual Jingle Bell Run from Delta Dental Stadium

I can remember the first time Northeast Delta Dental partnered with the Arthritis Foundation like it was yesterday, only then, there was a sea of green and red joggers emerging, showing up to help bring more attention to arthritis as well as garner support for the Jingle Bell Run and the Walk to Cure Arthritis. While this year looked a bit different, I am thankful for supporters joining us to advocate for the millions of Americans living with the disease!

Erica D’Agostino, Senior Executive Director, at Arthritis Foundation, New England, shared a her sentiment: “The Arthritis Foundation and the entire arthritis community is eternally grateful to Northeast Delta Dental for their unwavering dedication to our mission and our community. Thanks to the leadership of Tom Raffio and the support of all the employees at Northeast Delta Dental, the Arthritis Foundation has been able to provide direct resources and tools to patients throughout the Northern New England area.”

The Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run is the original festive race for charity. It’s where we sport our favorite holiday costumes and feel good while doing good. Each year, we jingle all the way to a cure and have a fantastic time with every step! Participants usually bring teams consisting of friends, family, and co-workers, to run or walk.

This year, like many other events, the Jingle Bell Run participants could participate virtually to provide a safer race experience for those who were more comfortable doing so. However, for runners desiring to compete in-person, Delta Dental stadium, home to the NH Fisher Cats, was the race venue. The race was strictly administered by Millennium Running under NH State best practices guidelines for running events. We had lovely weather and a nice, manageable mix of virtual [47] and on-site [115] runners. I’m so pleased to announce that between sponsors and participants, we raised over $36,000 beating our goal of $30,000. Everyone either has or knows someone living with arthritis so please join us at the next ‘Fun Run/Walk to Cure Arthritis’ near you! 

Join us in conquering arthritis for good and learn more about the event here.

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Tom Raffio Accepts the David P. Goodwin Lifetime Commitment Award

It’s comforting to see how communities have come together to sustain core programs for more than 25,000 people and fulfill Easter Seals’ mission: to guarantee that all people with disabilities or special needs, and their families, have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play. Not only am I excited to be a part of this important work, I am even more honored to accept the David P. Goodwin Lifetime Commitment Award on behalf of Northeast Delta Dental at Easter Seals 2020 NH, ME & VT Annual Celebration.

“This award was created to recognize someone like David who knew the importance of community and serving those less fortunate. This year’s recipient, Tom Raffio, epitomizes these characteristics.” said Maureen Beauregard, President & Chief Executive Officer of Easter Seals NH, VT, ME. Ellie Cochran, the former Director of Philanthropy at NH Charitable Foundation and daughter of David P. Goodwin added that- “My father would have been so pleased that Tom was named the 2020 David P Goodwin honoree. He always thought highly of Tom’s extensive community involvement.”

This award means so much to me because I have immense respect for Easter Seals New Hampshire and I find its mission so important and compelling. Northeast Delta Dental is one of its champions and so am I. I’m humbled and honored by being singled out for this recognition because David P. Goodwin invested himself so robustly in a variety of community nonprofits in New Hampshire, some of them over a span of many decades.

I couldn’t have accomplished this without the help of my family, my brilliant Northeast Delta Dental colleagues, and very supportive board members who allow me to get out in the community. 

“As we look to the future at Easter Seals NH, ME & VT, we remain committed to making a profound, positive difference in people’s lives. We are grateful to our donors and supporters who believe in and support the life-changing work we do and the superheroes who do it,” expressed Beauregard.

The event also featured a number of other bright moments, from highlighting initiatives and programming at Easter Seals to honoring an Easter Seals client with the Nicole & Madeline Achievement Award. I invite you to watch my brief address to the virtual celebration here.

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