Ok team, this is not going to be a cheerful good news article. How could it be? Just as we’re having some reasons to be cautiously optimistic virus wise, we’re forced to look at all kinds of other ugly boils we have been hiding and allowing to fester and that now need sorting.
And it’s the sorting we need to focus on.
In society, we have “moral debt” to pay off. At work, there’s “human debt” like I keep saying. Both need a lot of work. Nobody likes being in debt but at times we find ourselves there and the only thing for it is to roll our sleeves, line up gallons of coffee and set out to do the job.
And let’s face it, who here reading this is up for even more work? Weren’t we all cosmically owed a massive carefree vacation?!? Hasn’t enough joy been cancelled? Haven’t we already had to show enough “strength”?!? Haven’t we been through enough with this year that is surreal and terrifying in ways Hollywood envies?
We have. We’ve all went through hell no matter how fortunate we may look from the outside. A collection of private tragedies of varying sizes in the midst of the common ones. The only consolation being the comfort we can derive from sharing the suffering.
Here’s the other thing. When big things happen -and this last one is in a sense worse than the other one because the virus wasn’t shaking our belief in the good of mankind but strengthening it- it’s really hard to focus on work. We can just about function and perform the tasks that are the closest to automated but all blue-sky thinking seems to be utterly on hold even if we force ourselves through it. Thinking about hybrid remote-and-office models seems contrite. Spending time working out what this means for our employees, derisory.
Understanding that despite the extreme pressure and the chaos, time doesn’t stand still and this moment in the future of work still needs defining and using as the biggest lever for change of our generation - callous.
I get it. But I still need us to stay focused and willing because team, this needs doing. The big thinks, the needed new skills like EQ and empathy, the re-launches where we scrutinise values, the establishing of really strong people practices, all of it. And it needs doing now. Priority 0.
Do you know all those memes about “I’m getting fed up of living through a major historical event”? Of course, we are. And on top of it, we can’t retreat to a corner and hug our knees till it goes away because it needs us to be extra awake and very doing. And because at the other end of it - and there will be one- we will need to show ourselves we haven’t wasted the time but instead used it to grow and lay foundations for better.
And make no mistake about it, none of this is someone else’s job. I don’t care who you are - you’re not excused. Not from the moral debt and not from the workplace human debt. Are you set for the work? Have you stopped moaning and started focusing? Do you have a list (or Trello board:)? Is it dead honest? The “dance like no one’s watching” kind of list. Does it say things you would scarcely admit to your best friend? “Must stop being a-holish to X”; “Y is just a horrible human - fix or ditch?”; “How do I care more?”. Do you have an idea of how you’ll get better? When you’ll do the work? Have you set aside the time? Downloaded the Pomodoro app? Sorted your new inspirational action Spotify playlist? Caffeinated?
Are you done procrastinating?
You got this. You may even resent how strong and resilient you will find yourself to be to do the mammoth work of turning this around and building the new but you will manage it anyhow.
On your workplace “human debt”-erasing list you’d best be having “First and foremost get a People Practice” - make the human work the day-job.
If you’re a CEO reading this you’ve long known that the “fluffy” topics are not fluffy. That morality, humanity and core values can’t be wished out of our work lives. That there are festering boils. That lip service won’t be good enough soon. That a lot of the inertia and the paralysis hides many deep “wrong”s that need righting. That we haven’t done right by our people. That lack of kindness, respect and trust won’t be sustainable. That command and control and a reign of suppression if not terror won’t last forever. That everyone deserves better. That it all needs to change. That it will be time to pay the piper and then rebuild.
If you’re leading a team you’ve long suspected that everything else you do from coding to other tasks -and all the pointless calls and emails in between- is nothing but your way to put the real work off. That no one really needs you to do those but empower the humans who will. That you have loads of other to-dos you’re postponing meanwhile. The constant heart-to-hearts with your team members. The attentive and connected meetings. The thinking of what is happening in everyone’s mind and heart and what you can do to make them happier. The new ways to reward them and cheer them on. The habit of inspiring and supporting them. The team actions you have to define then do. The open eyes to see their every reaction. The open heart to care. The open mind to learn. The courage to fight their corner. The humility to dictate nothing but serve and help all.
I started this today to tell you that despite what the throw-away Forbes articles that herald it as a quick fix or shortcut to high performance may have you believe, Psychological Safety is not a “once and done” deal. There’s no way to check it, fix it then forget it. That you have to expect it to be daily work. That the team leaders who are surprised once they get on our team solution that they need to make it part of their every day and it’s just there to support and enable their own people practice need to roll their sleeves. That it’s heavy and constant lifting. And that I get it that you’re in no mood for that news, but there are no passes about the moral work and the human debt but that if you do it if you get serious about this foundational work and you emerge out of this with the right open questions and a solid “people practice” we’re half-done and have every reason to be proud and hopeful.
Stop procrastinating and get to work on your people practice to become psychologically safe and performant.
Don't send your teams home with a laptop, a Jira and Slack account and a prayer!