In the UK we are coming up to a year. Hope is tiptoeing around our anxiety trying not to wake our tired fears. Thoughts dart between future plans and painful memories and we are unsure of the emotion to choose to accessorise our stoic acceptance of today.
I am carrying an awkward shaped feeling at the moment. I am wondering how we are supposed to be when we get to the other side. Should we have energetic new answers to our old problems? Or will we feel washed up on the shores of a new beginning, too exhausted to be enthused and unable to either dance or cry?
I think we are going to need a big idea. Something to help us feel that some good may come from all the mess and sadness. I think it will be important because I cannot see that it will be enough to respray our old ways with fake good intentions, or to pop “new normal” cliches like a toddler with a stash of Smarties.
When I say “big idea”, however, I do not mean something preposterously grandiose. We do not need more billionaires with egos barely tethered by gravity trying, literally, to escape earth’s atmosphere. No, my sense of a big idea is more about how businesses will moderate ambition to fit our real-world hopes and fears; so that we can be real people, not just corporate avatars for the next transformation strategy.
I do not have the answer, but I have a hope for what the mindset will be.
For example, our chief executives will be people who sometimes join the contract cleaners on their 5am shift, to see their work and know their names, not just their unit cost.
I would like directors to meet new joiners, not to encourage the new joiners to behave well on behalf of the company, but for the new joiners to encourage the directors to behave well on behalf of all colleagues, their families, suppliers, customers and communities.
Marketing teams will continue to create brilliant global campaigns, but they will also make time to offer a little help to local start-ups. Procurement teams will prefer to source goods and services from local suppliers, and they will share their buying power with local charities.
I want civic pride to be so much more than a photo opportunity for executives to feel less guilty about their good fortune. Businesses should be a constant presence in the midst of our communities with a desire to put something back and pay forward. Let’s work with schools and care homes to offer what help we can, because once upon a time we were the terrified youngsters and, if we are lucky, we will be the anxious elderly too. Perhaps the local homeless could use our offices at night.
I know, all of this might be impractical, and none of it might work, but can we at least ask the questions?
In the end, success cannot just be about returning value to shareholders; it should begin with valuing a shared endeavour, based on doing the right thing and where we all have an opportunity to thrive.
I wonder if one day we might even hear our chief executives say, “Do you know what, I think I am paid enough, thank you”, and not because they have missed some spurious target, but because they are properly connected to the 5am cleaning shift and all the other people who contribute to their success.
The big idea, you see, will not be about vaulting ambition, but about the precious smallness of us and our need for our identity to be seen in the culture and values of our working worlds. We must value our needs and our stories a little more; we need to value the analysts’ commentaries a little less.
I know it has been achingly hard for too many people for far too long, but as we come through this sadness and out the other side, we will still have choices to make. The time to be better is never past; the opportunity to use our influence is always now, and the difference we make is even more powerful when it becomes the example for others to follow.
Take care. Paul xx