Business has a new goal...and it isn't what you think.

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2020 will go down in history as the year everything changed. Perhaps even the year everything fell apart. 

But as is sometimes said, “things have to fall apart so that something better can happen”. 

The way we work has been steadily evolving over the past 70 years. Coming out of the second World War, there was both an economic and a social reshaping. Industries had to repurpose away from manufacturing for the war effort to fulfil peacetime needs. Economies had to rebuild after the shattering impact of 6 years of global conflict. And in almost every nation, social norms took on a new look. From the westernisation of Japan to the wholescale adoption of US economist Milton Friedman’s views around business wealth creation. For workers, businesses mines and factories became icons of stability. You started work, then earned promotion through tenure. Tenure equalled success.

Fast-forward to now. The pace of change has escalated. Evolution of skills has replaced tenure as the key to success. Both individuals and whole organisations have to be prepared to shape-shift into new roles and entirely new industries. 

As if that wasn’t pressure enough, each day we are reminded of the worsening state of the planet – disappearing species, catastrophic wild fires, increasingly unstable socio-political situations. 

So people are coming to work wearing a cloak of anxiety. But there is another problem looming large. Something that business owners can far more easily address in a way that brings tangible performance advantages to their operation.

Even before January 2020 and the global spread of covid-19, millions of people were going to work each day feeling unsettled and uneasy. But alongside this is a growing epidemic of loneliness. As well as creating debilitating emotional and mental issues, loneliness also contributes to disease and a shorter life expectancy.

Today three out of five US adults describe themselves as lonely. Similar figures are reported in the USA and Britain. 

In her book The Lonely Century, UK-based economist Noreena Hertz points to the impacts of idealised self-reliance and a brutally competitive mindset for undermining the natural formation of healthy community bonds and personal relationships at work and home. Technology – particularly smartphones – has created digital privacy and exclusion bubbles that discourage simple human contact. Contactless payments, online shopping and even online dating have devalued and diminished human interactions further. 

Then covid-19 hit, bringing lockdowns, remote working, social distancing and eradicating travel to see family and friends. Already high levels of anxiety were amplified with every lockdown. Every reported surge in infection and sign that the pandemic is not fading contributes to the feelings of unease. This renewing uncertainty is creating extraordinarily levels of mental anguish, worsening the situation for those already feeling lonely. 

The most insidious thing about worry and loneliness is that sufferers can put on a brave face, and hide their true state. But when pressure comes on – say through an enthusiastic manager keen to put the foot down and get the business back to productivity – cracks appear. 

Now if you’re keen to harness a willing body of employees in the move to recovery, you must take a different approach. It’s time to consciously gather your tribe.

The return of tribe – through our work

In the time before covid, many of us were spending more hours with work colleagues than with family and loved ones. In social terms, work became our tribe. Our identifier of both personal value and collective belonging.

But in the six months since covid arrived, the reliance on familiar interactions and comfort from work has been fractured. Shattered social norms, economic duress, non-existent work-life balance and the removal of routine human connection have left everyone feeling frayed, fragile and lonely.

“I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of safety like this. This is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level”.
David Kessler, Grief expert.

The worst thing to do in these circumstances is to hustle employees back to ‘peak performance’. Such a call ignores that every member of your team is suffering. The symptoms of this may be invisible. But they include disturbed sleep, severe anxiety, burn-out, demotivation, irritability, indecision and feelings of unworthiness and extreme insecurity.

Hardly the best conditions on which to meld a responsive, optimal-performing business team.

How to rebuild your tribe and bring back the trust. Begin with being real…

The first step to recreating a cohesive tribe is not to presume you know how each person is and what their needs are. The question ‘how are you really?’ needs to be laid gently on the table, and each person gently encouraged to answer in their own way. Simply by hearing others speak empowers those less inclined to open up. Striking the right balance of emotional openness and holding the leadership space is vital. What people are craving above everything is realness.

Next, acknowledge the reset

There are aspects of this changed world that will not return. Whether they are market conditions, sales dynamics, working conditions or an operational reset. Formally acknowledging these to your team creates a ‘rite of passage’ that brings everyone to the same point. Bringing everyone together and laying out the plan for now resets the team spirit. It focuses the tribe on today’s terms.

Now anchor into the future

Of course short-term goals are paramount, particularly if your business has been hit hard. But to gather your tribe and align efforts and spirits, it’s crucial to re-anchor everybody to the broader mission of the organisation. To pump energy and optimism into the tribe by remembering your vision and purpose. What it is that brings each individual to work each day? This sits behind your short-term efforts. Setting a goal or planning an event that is beyond the short-term horizon also lifts people’s anxieties out of the immediate and helps create optimism and belief in an eventual return to stability.

Believing in a collective ‘why’ gives people strength and capacity to power past challenges, and to find new thresholds of reserve and resilience.

Remember, vulnerable is the new strong

As global circumstances evolve and regional opportunities become clear, nourishing the bonds, trust and cohesion re-created within your employee tribe will be an ongoing exercise. In this, honesty, empathy and vulnerability will become your leaders’ superpowers.

Alongside fostering autonomy, recognising effort and supporting struggles, managers’ who display a willingness to be open about their own challenges will keep teams grounded and close. Human bonds are based on ‘people like me’. Sharing struggles, creating supportive structures, rituals and behaviours and a regular refresh on ‘what is it that brings us all together’ recreate the comfort and basket of belonging that is our ‘work as tribe’.

This then is has to be the goal of businesses who aim to get through the covid crisis. To come through together, as a group of like-minded individuals committed to supporting each other as the situation unfolds, operating within a flexible, well-led team that is proud to represent the business values and mission.

Need help gathering and resetting your tribe?

Tickled Pink has been working closely with businesses in NZ and Australia for over 5 years. 

Our belief is that better humans make better businesses, and that better businesses make better humans. We coach leaders in their own development, and assist companies in creating better organisational cohesion and alignment through internal purpose and in creating empathetic, connected values-driven workplace cultures that mean stronger productivity and business performance.

If you’d like to know more, call Jerry Beale on 021 752 517 or email [email protected] - www.tickledpink.guru