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UIA Director Julia Dale: The 'power of and' benefits workers and businesses
May 30, 2023
This column appeared in Monday’s The Detroit News.
People are wired to face challenge and confrontation in binary terms: Black or White, Democrat or Republican, workers or businesses. A new generation of leaders recognize that life is more complicated than the stale “either-or” frames that dominate our politics and businesses today. They embrace “power of and” leadership.
That is why I am excited to attend my first Mackinac Policy Conference as director of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, a state government service dedicated to workers and businesses in Michigan. Matt Elliott, Bank of America’s Michigan president and chair of this year’s annual meeting presented by the Detroit Regional Chamber, built the conference agenda around his “power of and” concept.
Black AND White. Democrats AND Republicans. Workers AND businesses.
"We know that the best solutions and most durable solutions are an 'and.' It's when you can bring multiple sides to the table after a healthy debate that probably has some constructive tension to it, that ultimately leads to decisions that are sustainable and most durable," Elliott told Crain’s.
As an example, he noted that Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, will address the gathering of business, political and philanthropic leaders about the future of the automobile industry. "What's the 'and' between electrification and the internal combustion vehicle?" Elliott asked. "This is something that's critical to the state of Michigan. We've got to get this right to win."
As director of the state’s unemployment system, I’ll always choose “and” over “either-or.” In October 2021, with an appointment by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, I became director of an embattled agency with a rotating cast of leaders (11 directors in as many years) during a raging pandemic that exposed UIA’s chronic limitations in serving the unemployed and fighting fraud.
I believe that forcing Michiganians to choose between good customer service and smart, secure fraud protections is a false choice — with hard work, inclusion and understanding, we can provide both. And so, one of my first decisions was to seek a modern, innovative and user-focused computer system to replace the aging interface installed a decade ago under Gov. Rick Snyder. The new system, being built by Deloitte, will ensure the timely payment of benefits and offer a robust fraud-detection program to support our current aggressive anti-fraud efforts.
This was not the only challenge my team faced with a combination of empathy and tenacity. We held open meetings with staff, learning as much from their constructive criticism as their praise.
We created the UIA Modernization Workgroup with allies and critics alike, including business and union leaders. John J. Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, former state representative and Snyder administration official, joined the Workgroup, and has been an enthusiastic team member in helping us collaborate toward better outcomes for workers and businesses. Walsh is a “power of and” leader helping my team transform the UIA.
While political leaders across the country debated whether to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with compassion or accountability, we took the “and” approach. We worked closely with an independent auditor, learning from pandemic-era mistakes to take the first steps in transforming the UIA into a national leader for fast, fair and fraud-free service.
At the same time, we fought for and won permission from the federal government to waive $555 million in overpayments on more than 76,000 claims to Michiganians unjustly caught in the bureaucratic maze caused by COVID-19 benefit programs.
The UIA is blessed with a dedicated staff and great partners who refuse to choose between service or security, compassion or accountability, listening or leading. We are an all-of-the-above organization with a new generation leadership style — and we can’t wait to learn and share at the Mackinac Policy Conference.
Julia Dale is director of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.