It’s an under-statement to say that no one expected 2020 to turn out the way it did. This time last year, my team and I were planning an industrial theatre production and in-person culture training. The launch and growth of the Hatch Institute looked very different a few months into the year. Like everyone else, we needed to find a new way of operating, and more importantly, we had to work with our clients to do the same.
In many ways, 2021 reminds me of that old quote, “Here comes the new king, just like the old king.” In other words, nothing really changes, or at least, nothing is changing yet, despite vaccines slowly being rolled out overseas.
And yet, I remain filled with hope, which is only fuelled by the work we’re doing with businesses around the country.
Yes, individuals, communities and businesses have faced hardships. But in every crisis lies an opportunity, and that’s what gives me hope. I’ve been building teams and businesses for over four decades and we’ve never had a better opportunity to change things from the ground up.
The best part is that everyone benefits. Employees will see real transformation in their business cultures and their operating environments, which in turn will ensure a sense of belonging and a commitment to taking better care of customers. This leads directly to revenue growth and improved profits.
The secret to boosting profits isn’t to cut back on expenses (particularly people). It’s to stop looking at people as cost burdens and instead to see them as assets: the bedrock of a successful business.
The opportunity in the crisis
The big question business owners and executive teams are facing right now is simple: What will the new world look like as we move through 2021? The danger is that we slip into the old way of doing business. Just a reminder, the old ways weren’t working too well. During 2020, South Africa descended into a state of despair and fear so quickly, it’s clear that these emotions were bubbling just below the surface anyway. Covid-19 just brought them out, and now we all need to face them.
I am a big believer that racial polarisation is the root of all (or at least most) of South Africa’s ills. Of course, racial polarisation didn’t cause Covid-19 or the subsequent lockdowns or economic crisis. But it has resulted in very different experiences of the pandemic, which in turn has highlighted the large disparities within our workplaces and communities.
We could have continued with blinkers on. And, if we wanted to, we could ignore everything that has been revealed to us over the past several months.
But if we take that stance, we will never reach our full potential, as humans, communities, or businesses. We will never give our customers exceptional customer service, and we will never support our employees and each other in such a way that positive economic transformation is the result.
Think of economic transformation as the swell that rises all boats. In other words, we are at the precipice of the perfect opportunity to ensure that we don’t waste this crisis.
The first step towards building a business of value based on a community that loves customers, puts your clients first, stands out from the market and supports the economic growth of every individual in the business, as well as the revenue and profit growth of the business, is recognising the problems that beset the business. The band-aid has been ripped off. What we do next matters. Here are three ideals that every business can embrace.
1. Build back better
Building back better is all about getting rid of what doesn’t serve you. In the case of most companies, our strong recommendation is to begin with any paradigm paralysis your leadership team has, followed by polarised opinions across your workforce. It is not serving your business, your employees or your customers to ignore this.
Remember, the customer experience will never be better than the employee experience. In a nutshell: if your employees are not happy, comfortable, respected and cared for, they will never look after your customers with true dedication.
The fix: Address the racial tension in your workplace and build a culture based on the foundations of inclusivity, belonging, and respect. We’ve all learnt a bit more empathy over the past ten months. Let’s use those muscles to good effect.
2. Carry your strengths forward
There’s a reason why your business is still here after some of the toughest months in history. There is something great that you do, or magic solution that you offer your customers. You’re needed. But your employees need you too. The good news is that the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive. If you refocus your energy and put your people first, galvanise them behind a common purpose and a powerful vision, and then let them loose, you’ll be amazed what they will do for you and your brand in the marketplace.
The fix: Stand behind your Reason for Being and live your core values. Then help your employees understand that the purpose of work is to serve and encourage them to define their own Reason for Being. Finally, align the entire organisation behind these principles.
The exercise looks like this – what are you passionate about? What gives you purpose? Now review that against the company’s stated objective and designation. Are the two aligned?
3. Find your ‘new and better’
Every crisis accelerates new trends. Around the world this is most apparent in technology. Businesses that would have taken years to understand and embrace remote workforces and digital transformation managed to do so in months, even weeks.
I myself, after almost five decades in business, have become well-versed in Zoom meetings and different technology platforms for our online training sessions. We’re all capable of learning something new, but we often resist change. I’ve often heard that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That’s an insult to an old dog!
The fix: Now is the perfect time to embrace change. We’re out of our comfort zones anyway, so let’s focus on hope, which is a far more powerful emotion than fear, and work with each other to create new ways of working and a better country to work in.