The ‘why’ of what we do

This week Google announced its intention to extend its WFH policy until July 2021. But interestingly Sundar Pichai (CEO) cited uncertainty around school re-openings amongst other factors behind the decision, meaning WFH is no longer just about keeping employees safe. It’s also now about rethinking and reshaping employee experience, building on the trust generated by those earlier actions in lockdown when organisations moved without  hesitation to put safety and well-being before profit, and continuing to be empathetic and transparent as leaders as we now move forward.

Conditions for success

Having regained some level of physical and psychological confidence (although there’s still more to do here and it has to be viewed on a person by person case), next on good old Maslow’s list is ‘belonging’ and ‘esteem’.

Encouragingly both are featuring heavily in the work we’re doing at the moment. In fact, the next three virtual team events we’re delivering all focus on ‘purpose’; what we do, why it matters and what we want to be known for – the very essence of belonging and esteem. It’s a real indication that teams aren’t prepared to just pick up where they left off. What may have felt like short-term, temporary fixes at the beginning of lockdown have now evolved into opportunities to be different, to be better, to be part of creating what comes next. It is all part of the undeniably long haul ahead in terms of strengthening and changing our organisations as we continue to lead through this time of ongoing uncertainty.

At a corporate level the Exec teams we know and are working with are reviving pre-pandemic strategies but they’re not blindly following the path they had previously laid out. They’re also questioning how increased social awareness, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and deeper connections to employees and the communities in which they are based has impacted and changed their sense of purpose. It’s no longer enough to be able to articulate ‘what’ we do, we now need to express with equal conviction ‘why’ we’re doing it too. Our purpose has to be at the core of our narrative.

We recently began working with a finance function as part of a broader development programme across the business and to add some ‘specific’ context to our initial session we asked others in the organisation what they wanted from the team. As well as the things you might expect such as managed risk planning, accurate data, confidence in the current and future financial health of the company, what the business also asked for was a more meaningful relationship with finance. They wanted the finance team to offer greater insight and interpretation of challenges and opportunities, to position their roles in a way that added even more value and connection to the bigger picture, to be part of the dialogue. The purpose of finance as they saw it was so much more than providing figures on demand. They wanted finance to play an active part in shaping the future direction of the organisation and that included the development of its identity and culture. Needless to say it’s opened up a whole new train of thought around ‘purpose’ and the team is excited to now begin revising not just what they do, but how they work differently – with each other and with the rest of the organisation.

Creating positive ripples

As well as driving our own actions and behaviours, our purpose has to appeal to those around us too, it has to feed into a higher intent and we’ll almost certainly need the help and engagement of others to fulfil our ambitions – be that as an individual or as a collective. As is evident in the case of our finance team, it has become even more important to stay connected – the aim of returning stronger being an objective that requires everyone’s input and commitment.

In taking on COVID many teams have shared stories of how the experience has brought them closer together, silos had been shunned as businesses coalesced around a single but all-consuming threat. More recently there are signs of a return to a more ‘vertical’ view of the world as organisations begin to rebalance the need for immediate action with longer-term planning. But this shouldn’t detract from our purpose or from building the networks that will be necessary for success in the future.

A post we came across last week resonated for us with the use of the analogy of ‘creating positive ripples’ and it was this phrase in particular that struck a chord. In pursuing our purpose, our actions and behaviours, we should be generating ‘positive ripples’ across the whole organisation. Encouraging others and affirming that what we are doing is worthwhile and that our contributions matter – not just in the moment but also as we begin the surge ahead.

A final word from Anthony Gormley in a lockdown blog on the RA website