I have been reading plenty of opinion pieces – forecasts for a changed world, the real coming of age of online operations, the need for a re-invention of economic models, the demise of certain businesses and sectors, the remodeling of the education sector – and many more.
We are learning how to work remotely, and those whose small businesses have ground to a complete halt are having to be more inventive and entrepreneurial than ever before.
The differences between those that have and those that don’t is being amplified many times over. Some students and learners have hardly had their education interrupted at all; they have simply moved fully on-line and taken advantage of infrastructure and teachers and lecturers who have also been able to work remotely. For others, the interruption has been complete. They have no access to knowledge, and teachers have no means to carry on working. They have hit a dead-end.
This divide has been at an individual level within countries, and also between countries. The income gaps will widen further. This degree of continued disparity is not sustainable at all, and we will all need to work to narrow the gaps. Various leaders see the potential solutions from vastly different ideological perspectives – so life is going to be rowdy and messy while debates rage on.
We are watching the USA tumble from its global leadership status in real time – faster than most of us ever believed possible. We are watching the limitations of rampant, profit-driven private sector entities and the value of socially orientated enterprises and governments. We are watching the reversal of status of social service-providers versus celebrities. We are watching the implosion of the tourism industry, and the overnight demolition of the office-accommodation property market.
I can go on listing observations, lessons and plenty of changes, both temporary and permanent. We are probably reading similar sources. These changes are in our face. There are many.
Some of the biggest lessons are however, more subtle. There is more happening below the surface, and in some instances, bubbling to the top and showing more deep-rooted change. The technology simply enables us, and connects us. It accelerates everything – success and failure.
The importance of trust
One such lesson is all around the importance of trust.
We are witnessing the stark difference between enterprises that trust and are trusted, and those where there is no trust. This difference has always been present, but it has hardly ever been this obvious. Trust has become the most fundamental success factor.
Laws will be obeyed if citizens trust their government. Laws will be broken if this trust is missing.
At Tarsus, we have worked explicitly for several years to foster trust. We have understood that trust starts at the top, and filters down into a hierarchy via leaders who trust their subordinates. If leaders do not, or cannot, trust their subordinates, they cannot delegate, and they cannot get things done if they are not personally supervising.
The reverse is also true. If subordinates do not know that they are trusted, they cannot use their initiative or take risks on their own. They will waste energy second-guessing their managers or even worse, they will be paralysed. Change becomes very hard, if not impossible.
Trust at the core
There is no place for people who are not trustworthy in such an organisation. There can be no real accountability in an organisation that does not have trust at its core.
When COVID arrived and enterprises closed their doors overnight, they were forced to send their people home. Their main priority for a short period was to ensure that there was connectivity between staff, customers and suppliers. The mechanics of working remotely was the short-term goal. Managers could not see their staff, their customers, and their suppliers. New tools were deployed, new systems, new security.
I know of organisations that have not trusted their people to take companies’ assets home. They have not been able to adapt to having all staff work in their own time, and organise their own days’ priorities around their family’s needs. They have been unable to trust their people with shifting from ‘going to work’ to ‘working’.
Their people have not had a full understanding of the reasons for what they do in their roles, and how they fit in. They have had their people work in silos, not trusted to know the bigger picture. This means that their own people, cut off from direct, observable control on a daily basis, have been unable to function. They could have all of the connectivity that they might wish for – but they remain disabled.
Such organisations have become, overnight, irrelevant and crippled. They are, even now, forcing their people to return to work, deliberately placing them at risk of getting sick. Some of their staff now have children at home – unable to send them to school. This places them in a very difficult position.
These are the dinosaurs that will quickly become extinct – not because they couldn’t find new systems, not because they cannot access technology, not because they employ stupid, inflexible people.
It will have been because their leaders could not find it in them to trust their people.
The biggest lesson coming out of COVID – Trust.
[Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash]