This revolution will not be televised.
Gil Scott-Heron released the beautiful (poem) song ‘The revolution will not be televised’ in 1970, and oh boy, does it seem relevant again for all of us today nearly 50 years later. The world is reverberating right now, bouncing around in levels of discontent and in the midst of change on many fronts. From flailing political leaders in far-away lands, to crucial human rights conversations and the all-pervasive grip of a viral pandemic, these feel like extra-ordinary times.
In ‘The Lucky Country’ and in many places like Sydney, we are all absorbing and interpreting a lot of change in our daily lives; but it really is worth noting again how relatively lucky we are to be here at this time. Our jobs and daily work routines are changing before our eyes, industries are re-tooling and thinking about alternative business models, and those of us in the engine rooms of delivering those changes are also moving quickly to adapt.
At Mozaic HQ, like most of you, we have been interpreting what’s now in front of us and how we react. For even the most casual observers of change management philosophies, there has been more change driven through organisations in the last 3 months than some would ordinarily tackle in many years. And it’s proved for many of us that real change can be driven hard and at speed.
‘In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has become the global experiment for businesses that no one asked for. Despite the tremendous challenges that companies face, the crisis also offers opportunities to flatten leadership and distribute decision-making for greater agility and resilience.’
New Leadership Challenges for the Virtual World of Work – MIT Sloan, June 2020
Productivity. A tale of two lines.
A productivity hit, or a productivity gain? Opinion at the Mozaic session was divided on this one. A Financial Services executive in attendance commented on how despite their initial scepticism, they were noting a small uptick in productivity in the delivery of programs of work in the business and IT, and for some BAU productivity measures also on the rise. Seems that some people like working from home and are thriving. Who would have thought?
‘Companies, too, are discovering that processes and procedures they previously took for granted — from lengthy meetings to regular status updates — are less essential than once imagined.’
Are Companies More Productive in a Pandemic? – NY Times, June 2020
The balancing side of this ledger came from some in the room that worried about how long people would continue to favour working in their current mode. One of our guests, a Public Sector services leader was quite concerned for members of his teams in segments of the workforce that favoured working in office environments. Some, he observed, were restless and less productive as they sought ways to interact socially, and others that lived by themselves who aren’t enjoying the WFH high life; they too are vocal in their thoughts.
For a start, it’s personal
For all of the participants at our session last week, the point that slowly emerged from all participants was that there is a real personal toll to be assessed too. Much has been written in the last few months about how to look after yourself in these times, from exercise, wellbeing and dietary advice, personal mental resilience and how to remain productive.
“I have found that with switching most of my meetings to Teams or Zoom, that my eyesight has suffered and now I find my ears are sore at the end of each week from time with headphones on. It’s wrecking me!”
Bank Program Director, Sydney, June 2020
*We will be returning to this topic with some gusto in the next Mozaic Executive Roundtable later in July.
It’s diversity, mate
An interesting observation from a Banking exec with us on the night, was that the move to WFH had helped drive a small piece of cultural change, as he described it – “…taking power away from the boys club …” to a more even playing field.
One with less bias, less dependent on who was out drinking with who on a Thursday night. Less “Maaate!”; more transparent, direct discussion. One that he hoped would prevail for the future too.
Never let a good crisis go to waste
Winston Churchill was ahead of his time in WWII with this statement. And indeed, there is some progressive thinking going on out there, and some radical plans starting to emerge.
One of Australia’s largest FMCG company executives that joined our discussion talked about how they had seen opportunity early on in the COVID era to really drive cultural change. Their initial ‘war-room’ style of dealing with the pandemic, quickly switched up a notch to also consider how to spring-board forward. Their ExCo really wanted to utilise the opportunity to deal with many underlying challenges they had known about for a while and urgently wanted to change. So, once defensive plans were established, and a quick galvanising staff survey was completed, they agreed on creating a significant cultural change program – ‘Culture 2.0’ if you will.
In fact, we had a cross-section of clients in the room all talking about a common theme of seizing this moment to call out and drive cultural change.
The other notable common element of pro-active change was around the workforce and the workplace. Whilst some clients were re-working their new ways of working models to accommodate these times, others are hatching grander plans. Delivering projects against this backdrop will present an opportunity for organisations prepared to really throw open the ideas book.
Our view is that it will have ramifications on basic inputs to projects and change efforts – notably resources and real estate, and their underlying cost bases. Depending on your business, it might be time to consider various scenarios presenting themselves.
“There is an opportunity now for us to think about how we recruit across the country, because you’re really removing the need for people to physically come to Sydney,”
Linda Da Silva, CIO at ING Australia – AFR, Mon 22nd July 2020
Once again, it’s all about communicating well
Consensus across the room came from the increased importance of communicating well with each other. Quality not volume is critical. The trap some fell into and saw in the first month of COVID changes (mid-March onwards), was to try and over-communicate and have too many meetings with too many people involved. The notion of putting your big leader arms around your teams seemed like the right thing to do, and at the time it most likely was.
‘So, we counsel this: pause, take a breath. The good news is that the fundamental tools of effective communication still work. Define and point to long-term goals, listen to and understand your stakeholders, and create openings for dialogue. Be proactive. But don’t stop there. In this crisis leaders can draw on a wealth of research, precedent, and experience to build organizational resilience through an extended period of uncertainty, and even turn a crisis into a catalyst for positive change.’
A leader’s guide: Communicating with teams, stakeholders, and communities during COVID-19 – McKinsey, April 2020
Refining that way of communicating as leaders, was seen as vital and taking stock of individual preferences also paramount. One of the leaders in the room spoke of a new protocol that their FMCG firm had implemented, that allowed Webex participants to ‘tap out’ within the first 10 minutes of any call if they felt it was not of great value to them personally. What a great idea we agreed. They found that this put more emphasis on the meeting convenor to get the key attendees right, not just cast the wide net out – and – keep the meeting punchy. They also instigated a 45-minute ceiling on all such calls, something that they are reaping benefits from today.
‘Agile leaders need to make doubly sure that teams align around the company’s overall purpose, strategy, and priorities. Leaders need to communicate intent, explaining both the why and the what, so that members stay focused on their team’s goals and the connection to larger business objectives.’
How to Remain Remotely Agile Through COVID-19, BCG, March 2020
And that’s a wrap.
Thanks for the input of our guests, their good humour and willingness to share ideas for the greater good.
Coming up next we have a very special Executive Roundtable session in July with the highly respected Dr Caroline West, on tips for maintaining mental wellbeing in response to the challenges of COVID-19. We hope to share more with you again soon.