Written by Russell Evans, 20/06/2020
As someone who has spent most of his work life striving to create and help create 'outstanding places of work', both in big business and more recently in professional services, a recent article in Harvard Business Review “How the Coronavirus Crisis is Redefining Jobs” really resonated with me.
A Profound Opportunity to 'Re-imagine'
The author’s premise was that the impact of the crisis has been more profound than just changing where people work and what tools they use; it has also had an impact on what work is performed and how people perform it. It stimulated in me a thought that the COVID-19 Crisis presents a potentially revolutionary opportunity and a challenge that is potentially exciting and terrifying at the same time. The major components of any adventure.
We now have an opportunity to ‘re-imagine’ work. Most adults spend most of their lives at work and for a whole range of reasons many do not enjoy being there when they are. I encounter employees at all levels, in highly reputable companies that do great things, who nevertheless, complain about work; parochial leadership, contradictory strategies, systems and processes that are mismatched with culture, empire building, internal competition and even fear.
What then is the opportunity for leaders to 're-imagine' work?
Creating a vision for the future
To create work and workplaces where human beings (we are of course that before anything else) are not only fulfilled and rewarded for being productive and creating positive, sustainable results but also feel fulfilled by the sense of individual and collective success.
Way back in the 1940s, Abraham Maslow recognised this in the top section of his eponymous model, which recognises potentially people do their best when their personal purpose and the purpose of the group to which they belong are aligned. They are their best selves AND feel part of something complimentary at the same time and attack both with gusto. Bill Gates once said [sic] that he felt he’d fulfilled his ‘mission’ when he had had such an impact on society building Microsoft…until he saw the impact on humanity he was having though the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So the big opportunity is to get the individual and the organisation in rhythm. However, that may not be an easy switch.
Shaking off the 'old world' perspective
However, if we maintain our ‘old world’ perspective of what work means, effectively trading life for wages, this may seem unattainable, even undesirable. Surely, if nothing else the onslaught of COVID-19 has shown the ‘old world’ view of work to be fragile and questionable, rather that robust; moving from business as usual to economic meltdown in just a matter of weeks. Once the dust has settled on the crisis and a new normal has emerged, does it make sense to just pick up where we left off and to shoehorn the ‘old world’ way of work into the re-shaped world of business?
The path to the ‘new world’ will not be easy though. Creating ‘outstanding places of work’ is almost always is a mixture of pleasure and pain. Things need to change; people need to change, and we rarely get it right first time. And not every organisation has to be the same. Naturally, there are legal and ethical considerations, but leaders have the opportunity to rebuild how their organisations work and how people work within them. Author and colleague Clive Wilson often says “real leaders see a better future and have the mindset, skills and courage to make it a reality”. In essence, this is our challenge.
So, now’s the time for leaders to re-affirm why their business exists and express it in a compelling purpose and vision, to decide what needs to be done and distil it in a great strategy. Then the hard work begins, as we set out to create a workplace where people can thrive and realise the strategy. Being purposeful in thought and deed, being daring in ‘re-imagining’ what ‘outstanding places’ of work might be like, could just be the next great adventure in human endeavour.
Jesuthasan, R. Malcom, T and Cantrell, S (2020) ‘How the Coronavirus Crisis is Redefining Jobs’, Harvard Business Review.
Primeast have been working with organisations globally for over thirty years as learning and development partners, creating outstanding leaders who are equipped to lead organisations where people can thrive.
You can email Russell directly or call Primeast on +44 (0) 1423 531083.