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Monday, Oct 2, 2023

Culture 2022: Going with the Flow or Swimming Upstream

Trust is largely accepted as one of the most important values.  Leaders need to trust their managers, supervisors, and employees while employees want to trust leadership. This has not changed since the beginning of time.  I wonder if as leaders we feel we are swimming upstream against the current of change, holding onto principles of the past.  Not values, but principles.  Or are we going with the flow? 

Tips on swimming up a river are interestingly like leadership.  One must know the “body of water” or company’s mission, in terms of where an organization is going. In the river-swimming instructions from Triathlon.com, we are told to, “check for the water source, risk of pollution/contaminants, flow rates and undercurrents, safe entry/exit points, and potential underwater hazards.  Local knowledge is valuable.  Never swim alone and have shore support.  Always swim upstream from safe entry/exit points or be very clear on where the next safe exit points are if swimming downstream.” The analogy holds true in terms of business, where we should heed this same advice in our organizations – with surveys and strong supervisors managing risk, keeping an eye out for “pollutants and undercurrents,” routinely considering the current workforce, new hires, and any terminations.  

A river swimmer spoke about her experience swimming in the Arkansas river and how she and her brother found swimming upstream to be exhausting and soon her brother was lost underwater.  Her mother’s friend, an experienced river swimmer, dove in and rescued her brother and then floated gently out of the eddy.  Tami Eveslage shared the advice of a family friend who had said not to swim or struggle, but to relax and float, and to go with the flow.  It seems today’s leadership is often in a quandary of whether to swim upstream to the world as we once experienced or envisioned it, or go with the flow towards creativity and embrace the changes and trends we are faced with.  

Employee retention is one of the challenges businesses are faced with today. People will often quit their jobs based on principals.  I was reflecting today on the decisions many healthcare leaders had to make concerning their employees being vaccinated and how some nurses, who were the most exposed, chose to quit their jobs rather than take what was promoted as the lifesaving vaccine. This seemed such a contradiction, but it is worth considering that employees in any industry will join or leave organizations for reasons concerning principles and values.  The essence of who we are as leaders and what our organization represents in our community is often what keeps an employee on board or what drives them to leave. Leaderships’ driving mission trickles downstream. 

Kian Bakhtiari wrote, “new behavioral patterns driven by physical distancing and lockdowns, have reshaped our collective psyche.” This global pandemic has “exposed outdated economic, political and social systems.” The United States is seeing a “rise in populism in advanced economies and many have lost its identity and local traditions, causing a move towards localization. All the while at the macro level, there have been record levels of globalization powered by free trade policies, improvements in technology and expansion of global brands.” 

Localization positioned as a return to traditions and values is causing global brands to find ways to remain culturally relevant in different markets with divergent needs and values.  The physical world is now competing with the virtual world for resources. This virtual space is allowing people to create new digital identities as companies are using avatars that may not be reflective of their internal organization. 

Branding employee identity within in this virtual workspace we are experiencing is more important than ever.  Authentic purpose is being evaluated.  Major players like Meta (Facebook), Microsoft, Epic Games and Apple are in position to not only control market share but are creating their own rules. Will this Metaverse be controlled by old laws or these new ones? We watched as Google in 2021 redefined the Workspace that has bolstered working from home due to the proximity of cubicles that does not achieve social distancing.  Google Workspace markets itself as a way to “better equip our customers for the future of work.” 

Other global CEOs such as Elon Musk boldly made moves publicly as he offered $44 billion to take over Twitter.  The employees of the San Francisco-based company, who were mostly remote, feared demoralization and layoffs.  Musk’s successful history of being able to draw in recruits possibly helped to make him quite confident as evidenced by his bold June communication to the Twitter employees, as the world listened.  He said, “Come back to work in your office 40 hours a week or resign.” Later, he said, “if somebody is exceptional at their job, then it’s possible for them to be effective, even working remotely.” He moved to terminate the deal sending another message.  I wonder what every other CEO, along with all management, supervisors, and employees in every organization around the world, thought about Musk’s moves.  

Change is hard and we are all facing it, while many of our clients cannot change anything, such as healthcare providers who must be with their patients.  School teachers tried teaching remotely – to mixed results (some were successful and others were not). Each industry and organization is feeling the impact of this impasse – unless they are effectively “going with the flow.” 

In 2020 many surveys revealed that 44% of CEOs wanted to come back to work every day.  In Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, 73% of respondents desired remote work options. According to ApolloTechnical.com, in May of 2022, one study found that  44% of companies do not allow remote work. 

Peter Drucker’s advice began in 1942 when his career as a business thinker took off. He asked, “Does your organization provide dignity, freedom and equal opportunity to each of its members, promoting American ideals? How does it seek to provide these positive attributes?”  He wrote in the 50s that we should “provide individuals with freedom and autonomy in their work while simultaneously requiring them to take responsibility for results as negotiated with their (supervisors).”  He actually used the word “superiors,” which is politically incorrect in 2022, so I changed it to supervisors.  

In 2000, Drucker did recognize that, “We are moving towards more multinational, transnational organizations that are held together by two factors: control of mission and strategy (as opposed to hierarchical controls), and enough people who know and trust each other.”  His practicum prompt is, “What roles do strategy, mission, and values play in integrating the work of the various units of your organization?” He asked, “Does your organization have resilient trust networks that allow individuals to transfer information to and from one another? If not, how can trust be strengthened and made more resilient?”  

Today, work flows very differently than in 2019 or the past.  I miss the face-to-face interactions with our clients and our workforce while working from home; however, it is impossible to deny the efficiency of technology. 

Today, as in the past, one point that is forever true is that, “An organization with the spirit of performance is one led by executives who are committed to getting the right things done (effectiveness) and doing the right thing (efficiency).  These executives possess integrity of character; have a vision for the purpose of their organizations; focus on opportunities; are change leaders; and follow essential tasks, responsibilities, and practices of management.” I would like to add that these same commitments equate to employees who are our future leaders and how important our employees voices are. 

Efficiencies created by technology also allow us to be more global. We have grown tremendously over these past two years, forcing us to look at the way things were done and how we can do them better – with a focus on purpose. 

Today, more than ever, employees see the change needed in “American ideals” as they work toward making our company, city, state, and country a better place to live in for all people. This is critical in our culture at work and at home. We must make our companies perform for society and economy, for the community, and for everyone. We focus on what concerns everyone involved in our organizations as we maximize long-term wealth, producing capacity for the enterprise, the employees, clients, customers, suppliers and our community. Which all brings us back to Drucker’s question, “What specific contributions are you and your organization making to become a dynamic force for good and for change in your community?” He also asked, “What kind of encouragement or preparations do we need to become this force for change and for good?”  

We have landed in a new world and it is very exciting, scary, challenging and rewarding. It is also our future and that of our children’s.  This force to swim towards change is upon us and we have become change leaders looking out for ways to be better, creating history in evolution, because our culture demands it.

Danone Simpson is CEO of Montage Insurance Solutions. Learn more at montageinsurance.com.

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