What next then?

April 26, 2020

…what next then?

Amid much chatter about new normals and paradigms shifting, how will we relate to what happens next? Who to believe and who to follow? I suspect two groups will jostle for the limelight on the starting line.

First, there will be folks who made lots of money before and will not give up their old-world views lightly. They will seek to revert to how things were as quickly as possible. They will be noisy, influential and to be honest they won’t always be wrong, but we should be sceptical, and we should ask for more of them. The phrase “elaborate tax saving scheme” is a clue for challenge not celebration.

Secondly there will be the folks who have predicted transformational change from technology, or policy or the end of capitalism for as long as any of us can remember. They may well feel vindicated and relish the spotlight of told-you-so self-regard. If insights emerge about how we move forward, all well and good. However, if what we observe is a self-validating mosh-pit of teenage chimps on a sugar rush, we might need to move on without them.

For most of us however, there will be a quiet yearning to learn something important from all of this, but where that yearning is potentially compromised by our immediate concerns and some crushing worries. Most of us will not have the luxury of time for reflection as we spend months, possibly years trying to rebuild. However, we all still need to find that sense of what truly matters to us in a way that takes away some of the fear and gives us the strength to know that the struggle will be worth it.

To all our leaders therefore I would like to gently offer a few imperfect thoughts.

I suspect your first thought is to get back to work, to drive income and to restore profitability to levels that were anticipated before. I don’t mind that. I want you to succeed. However, this is our time to change the way we want leadership to be. We must not waste it.

Please make time to thank everyone. Thank them sincerely and thoughtfully. Thank your teams, your suppliers, your customers. Thank the people you had to let go, and thank the families impacted for all their thoughtfulness too. Thank your lucky stars you can start again. You didn’t walk on water before, whatever PR you created around you, and now you know how vulnerable everything can be. Never forget that feeling, but now let’s make it better.

Please take a proper amount of time to see what has changed in your business through the eyes of everyone you have just thanked, including and perhaps especially the families. What did we do well and what could we have done better? Apologise for the latter, celebrate the former. Report on it, own it, share it and use it. You have never had a better chance to gather insights like these. It would be such a lost opportunity if the scramble to recreate the old normal meant we trampled  over the hopes and fears of people we now need more than ever to help our businesses succeed.

Please re-invent your plans for making a positive and sustainable difference to the various communities you serve. Do not dust off and then whitewash your old CSR policies, but dig deep to make the biggest difference you can. The communities you are part of form an elaborate and beautiful set of intertwined realities, criss-crossing, overlapping and mutually supporting. Please embed your business self-consciously in all the communities you serve and that serve you; leverage their goodwill, support their needs, and build things together.

Please love your people. Love the privilege of employing people in your business. Of course, not everyone works out. Not everyone should be promoted. Some people will sometimes fail; but just as one small example, I would love to think chief executives and all leaders might say something like this in every hiring letter – We would love you to come and work with us. We want this to be a great experience for you and for us, this may not be the role you want forever, but we want you here with us now; we want to look after your talent so that you are proud to be with us, and we want your commitment and care to make us better.

Please make kindness a measurable and incentivised behaviour. I know share price is important. I know profit and cost-saving are important too. I get it, it goes with your leadership pay grade and leading any business is not easy. However, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the leadership manual which says that you must be a gigantic, Grade A, bozone emitting, sociopathic, narcissistic knobhead in order to succeed.

Also, and to be clear, being kind is not an excuse for anyone to be sloppy, casual, imprecise, indulged, thoughtless or incompetent.

Being kind is about having fair, transparent boundaries which we all know and observe. It is about respect, it is about high standards and high expectations, but in an environment where we encourage, support and share. If you hire someone who doesn’t fit or who doesn’t want to buy-in to the values you are living, then there are important decisions to make, but once again you treat people with dignity and respect, with care and concern for their well-being.

I apologise for preaching.

I have no status to judge.

These are just my hopes that for all the pain of loss, uncertainty and hardship so many are experiencing, we will find a better way.

Not everything was wrong before, but I hope we can go forward with fresh eyes to love the difference we can make.

Take care x

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