Now is the time to pause, reset and proceed before it’s too late
Jul 20th, 2021
With the lifting of lockdown restrictions now a reality, it feels like there is a sudden rush for life to return to normal and us all to go back to ‘how it was before’. The problem is though, life is no longer what it was before, we have all changed as people, many of our circumstances have changed and priorities at home and work have changed.
As business leaders, I think one of the biggest mistakes we can make at this point is to underestimate what these changes mean to people, especially those in our teams. Rather than rushing back to the operating model and culture we had cultivated before, now is the time to pause, reset, and then proceed.
There are lots of difficult questions you need to be asking yourself and your senior management team and issues you need to be considering. These questions need honest answers and it will take drawing on all the emotional intelligence at your disposal to do this.
If there is one thing I have learned over the years it is that honest answers only come from stepping back and taking a moment to put yourself in a place where all you are thinking about is those questions. This doesn’t mean taking a week off, it can be as simple as taking a day away. In fact, I see on a regular basis from the sessions I run with clients, that the insight they get from an ‘away day’ dedicated to asking questions and exploring answers is enough for them to be able to come away with a very clear plan of action.
Most businesses and teams have seen staff changes over the last 18 months, with some leaving and new people starting. There is now a real opportunity for leaders to create a culture from scratch. Especially because the culture created during the pandemic, with most people only working from home, is very different to that which will have preceded Covid-19. It is therefore important to think about whether past cultures really match the values and ideals of the business. At the same time, you need to have a clear idea of non-negotiables from past cultures and know what the core behaviours that you want to maintain are.
A great example of resetting a company culture comes from the impact Tim Cook has had at Apple since he became CEO. He used Steve Jobs’ death as an opportunity to reset where the culture priorities lie. As explained in an article in Wired in April 2019, “Cook is transforming Apple into a company with progressive values around inclusion, diversity and privacy, and is championing the company’s environmental initiative. In 2011, when Jobs died, Greenpeace’s Greener Electronics Guide scored the company at just under five out of ten in its commitment to the environment. Since Cook took over, Apple has invested billions in green power and is now running on 100 per cent renewable energy worldwide. It is also the only technology company to commit making its supply chain 100 per cent sustainable.” Cook has come in for criticism in recent weeks for his instruction to Apple staff that they would need to do at least three days per week in the office as part of their new hybrid working model. His reasoning though very much fits with what he believes is an essential part of the business model, that the creativity and innovation that the business is synonymous with, best comes from when teams and colleagues are together. Cook’s newest challenge may well be how to find the right balance between what he deems as non-negotiable and what his workforce wants from a new working culture.
When left unmanaged, company cultures can lead to valuable people leaving businesses because they don’t feel aligned to the culture around them. I worked with the CEO of a division of a global corporation recently. He had relocated from one country to another and as he settled he realised how uncomfortable he was with the culture that existed in his new location. Once he realised that his own leaders were not willing to listen and change the culture to be more diverse and transparent, he decided his only option was to leave the business and take his skills, experience and knowledge of the business with him.
We also need to be thinking about what returning to office based work means for those team members who joined during lockdown. They only know the company culture as they have seen it during remote working. They will have anxieties about how things will change and what life in the office will feel like. Equally, we need to be considerate of those who have seen their friends leave the business, as they too will face an element of unfamiliarity with returning to work and not being sat with who they normally sit with or taking lunch with the people they normally chat to. Likewise employees who have been with the company a while but who took on new roles within the business during lockdown will also need attention.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, titled ‘How to Re-On board Employees Who Started Remotely’, stresses the importance of this on-boarding process and the need to include anyone who has had a role change whilst away from the office over the last 18 months. I would go one step further though and suggest that business leaders should look at how to on-board the entire workforce into the new way of working.
This wider onboarding process will give leaders the chance to re-align the company culture. It is a chance to be very clear about how they want staff to operate and behave, in a way that they probably have not done before. Communicating these non-negotiable core behaviours at the beginning is an ideal way of limiting damage further down the line. The CEO of a growing entrepreneurial company in the property industry decided to let one of his biggest fee earners go because they could not agree on core behaviours around client care that he felt were a critical part of the company’s brand and core values. As with so much in leadership, it is about having the strength of courage and conviction to have significant conversations from the start so that everyone knows the expectations. Not only do these important conversations clarify what it takes to be successful so people can navigate their own career path, it also clarifies ‘the rules of play’ that may not be obvious to everyone until they are broken.
Once communicated it is important that the messaging and actions remain consistent going forward. Consistency builds trust, inconsistency breeds mistrust. We just have to look at the example set by Gareth Southgate during the Euro 2020 finals to see just how true that is. For the past few years, Southgate has driven forward a consistent message around the England team, he hasn’t wavered from it and he has created trust in his methods and vision from all stakeholders; players, the FA and supporters – and has taken full accountability for his decisions. The result was everyone pulling together to achieve more in this tournament than has been achieved for 55 years.
There is a very clear global trend coming out of the pandemic and that is that people at all stages of their careers are making big decisions based on their experiences over the last 18 months. For many this last year and a bit has made them realise that things need to change, it has made them think about what they want from work and life and what brings them joy. They have done their own pausing and resetting and are now ready to proceed, they need to see that their leaders are doing the same and are engaging with them to see if the way they want to proceed matches the vision of how things will move forward in the new way of working and company culture.
My Vision Intensive programme is designed around the principles of pause, reset, and proceed, with an away day at its core to pause and reflect and reset your vision for the future. Through a mix of the Vision Day in a beautiful environment, a pre-day consultation and questionnaires and 2 post-day consultations, I work with my clients one-on-one to ask them all the important questions and take a closer look at the answers that form the basis of the reset. We then put together an action plan with which they can proceed. You can take a look at what some of our clients have gained by taking some reflective time out individually and as a team. If you think now is the right time for you to pause, reset and proceed, then I would love to talk to you about how I can help you make the most of the opportunity. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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