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A time for new certainties

A time for new certainties?

6 months ago by Pete Rice - Director, A Different Animal Ltd

Andrej Chudy Uiv Wdk2 Ifrg Unsplash

​Go on, admit it.

The words ‘uncertain times’ are starting to grate on you.

Personally, I’m looking for inspiration that could take us to new certain times. I’m looking for positives that might shape a new working world and edge us closer to that ‘new norm’ we’re all hoping for.

And some of the most positive things I’ve seen recently are breathtaking images of clear skies above places otherwise affected by pollution. It appears this period of isolation has provided some much needed relief for the environment too. It’s not just lives we’re saving by staying home.

The images also resonated with me in a different way. They made me think about how this current situation could impact our hectic, corporate lives.

Remember back in the office (remember that?) when you had a ‘To Do’ list to get through but occasional “Have you got a sec?” moments got in the way?

You’ve probably not noticed but, they, as well as “Can we have a quick chat?” and “I just need a minute of your time” moments have reduced in number somewhat. Or, at least feel less spontaneous and now more scheduled.

Could this be because, due to the isolation, people are becoming more self-sufficient? Are they now having to rely more on themselves? Could it be that they’re managing the rebalance of home life and priorities are slightly different now? For the big decisions, I’m sure the all-important phone call is still advisable but sometimes people, even leaders, just need reassurance, engagement and a nudge in the right direction.

Whatever shape it takes, it’s a form of time pollution that has always been a factor for senior managers. Made even more difficult in the modern work environment where there are no personal offices anymore. No doors to close to signal ‘do not disturb’ right now.

In the open plan office, you’re fair game. You’re visible. You’re there. You’re in demand. After all, we do have a responsibility to our people to help manage pressure and anxiety and to ensure there’s a healthy level of engagement beyond the big ‘Town Hall’ meetings.

Just thinking about this, my mind wanders back to a wonderful exercise I’ve seen a few trainers use to show the importance of time management. They may vary but this one stuck in my mind.

There’s a large, empty glass bowl on a table. To one side of the bowl is a bucket full of baked potato-sized stones, on the other side is a bucket of tiny gravel-like stones. The trainer proceeded to ask a volunteer to put the content of both buckets into the glass bowl, without it overflowing.

It usually went something like this. One would pour the tiny stones in first, then try to add the larger stones, pushing them in, hard. It didn’t work. Then the next person would attempt to lay the larger stones up one side of the bowl and the tiny stones on the other, 50:50 style. Nope, that didn’t work either.

A few other methods would have been tried, often ending in frustration. The Trainer, satisfied with the amount of puzzlement he or she has generated, finally points out that the larger stones should go in first. Then, the smaller stones are to be carefully poured in, so they find the space between, thus levelling out and not overflowing.

If you haven’t spotted it already, here’s what it all means.

The bowl is your day, or week. The larger stones are the things that matter – projects, updates, family, leaving on time, etc… The tiny stones are the things that can get in the way but aren’t as important, like people asking you for a minute, a second or a chat. If you allow the small stones to take up most of your time, the important things can’t be completed. If you divide your time in half, that won’t work either. However, if you concentrate on the big stuff and then allow anything less important to find space, then you’ll stand a good chance of succeeding.

A great visual, and a highly memorable metaphor.

So, imagine what isolation and the need to work from home has done to the balance in your bowl now? There suddenly seems to be much less of the tiny stones in your day. Could it be that your colleagues/employees have figured stuff out, taking charge - even spotting opportunities to unleash their own leadership qualities? Some may have been furloughed but, even still, I bet before furloughs occurred you felt a sense of getting your focus back. Even getting your sense of satisfaction back, knowing you’ve completed work, tasks, objectives and more.

In fact, you’ve become a great, focused and trusting leader.

So, other than the obvious reliance on technology, there may well be other things about how business works that could change forever, for the better. Could it mean the end for presenteeism? Could it mean businesses are run in a more cost effective, virtual way - resulting in better salaries, or more bonuses, perhaps? Could it mean the end of unnecessary ‘Let’s have a meeting about the meeting, then let’s meet afterwards.’ scenarios? Could it mean more trust, empathy and belief exists within a business’s culture? And I don’t just mean words written on the wall as newfound values. I mean actual trust, actual empathy and actual belief in your people, in yourself and in why you’re doing what you do.

Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll clearly see the impact it has on performance, success and culture.

But not just that, with reduced stress levels, lower anxiety and a potentially more balanced mental wellbeing, it could certainly be the biggest positive for our personal lives, too.