The End of Coddling
I live in Melbourne, Australia. When I speak to customers overseas they all sympathize with the restrictions imposed on us as a result of COVID-19. We are the State that that just can’t seem to take our eyes off the numbers, being used as an invisible algorithm to drive decisions like when we can see our friends and families again, go to the footy, or have a drink at the pub.
Scott Galloway talks of Covid-19 being an accelerant, not a change agent. Organisations who were already on the path of disrupting their own business models have surged ahead. Those with unfit practices might have been able to do a fun run, but what we have now is an ultra-marathon.
Organizations need a new playbook. We humans need a new playbook. COVID-19 is transformational for organizations, and it requires transformational thinking and responses.
The lack of deep thinking on this is reflected in the exhaustion we are all feeling right now. Many of us find ourselves spending 12 hours a day on back-to-back zoom calls. We are missing out on the key benefit of flexibility, which is unleashing productivity. Which means doing more in fewer hours, not doing more by working longer hours.
Few of us have made the transformational changes required to accommodate true remote work. One of those changes has to be to embrace asynchronous working norms.
Asynchronous work needs asynchronous communication. This simply means that work doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone. Productivity and flexibility for employees come when we don’t all have to get in a room, virtual or otherwise to do our work. This usually means communicating in writing, not video.
The other change that needs to happen is less vertical decision-making, less requiring decisions to ‘go up’ to be made – and more pushing them down to the individual level as much as possible. It’s time to really empower your people. Leaders need to set the vision and trust their people to solve how to get there. This means creating cultures of trust and leaving behind cultures of control.
The good news is that a by-product of remote work will be a natural increase in accountability for performance. The reality is you can’t fake it or fudge it as easily when your actual work output, not your personality, is what is most visible to everyone. The talkers vs the doers are quickly exposed. The big ‘P’ personality types won’t survive as long as there is no place for them to entertain us with their stories and their charisma.
Our New Reality
This new reality won’t work for everyone and demands transparency around performance and expectations from both sides. For many, this may lead to a loss of confidence and validation that they would normally get from being part of a visible tribe in the office. When you don’t have a team or a manager around you to mentor you, notice your good work, or your bad work, you need to do the noticing yourself. Self-awareness becomes crucial. As does self-motivation, the discipline to see a task through without much pushing or oversight.
Organizations need to give way more attention to hiring and promoting these qualities that will enable individuals to be independently productive. It may even mean evolving your values to reflect those kinds of new survival traits.
What makes that shift especially tough for many organizations is that we have all been doing the opposite for years. To coin a phrase from Johnathan Haidt, we have been guilty of coddling our kids and our employees. Haidt, author of “The Coddling of the American Mind’ notes the impact of all that coddling and the resulting culture of ‘safetyism’, which stunts the development of that life skill- resilience, a trait critical for all of us right now.
Simon Sinek, a speaker/writer on cooperation, trust, and change says developing better managers can help young people build better resilience. This becomes harder in a world where you’re not spending time with your manager. Rather, the individual needs to take on more responsibility for their own learning and for their own motivation and engagement.
So how do you create more individual and organizational resilience? How do you hire for and build the skill of accountability?
It requires creating an expectation via explicit conversations about the need for you to own your own work, your own career. It demands hiring people who have heightened self-awareness, to know what they need help with, to ask for what they need.
Which jobs are better suited to me? What am I good at, not good at? How do others see me so I can better manage my relationships at work or at home? What part of me is helping me or hindering me in life?
The problem is that not every type of person will do that comfortably and this is where Covid-19 risks creating another privileged class of people who do better in that environment. This is where I advocate for technology as an essential co-pilot for employees to understand themselves better and help coach them to level the playing field. Technology that can draw out the best in people and help them find their strengths and agency.
The new playbook already has a few chapters written by some well-known disruptors. For example, Jeff Bezos banning PowerPoint from meetings, Google’s money-ball approach to hiring and promotion, virtually inventing people analytics. The text-only interviews of Automattic, the company behind WordPress, with 1000+ remote workforce in 73 countries.
In short, to leaders of all domains: move to the new playbook. Get on with experimenting with fundamentally new ways of working. And, recognize that technology will be your co-pilot in that change.