Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.
Uncertainty, Transition & the Clarifying Power of a Focused Mission.
Mar 17, 2020
The context of a global pandemic and the accompanying shock to markets provides a remarkable shit-hitting-fan moment for studying all sorts of organizational and system dynamics. The pressure is most visibly on governments to craft an effective response, rise to an exceedingly complex challenge (the kind of challenge we discussed in our last Briefing, #0018: It’s Not Complicated; it’s Just Hard), and navigate an environment of extreme uncertainty that threatens to tip into outright chaos. The difference in communication strategy and response management across administrations has been striking, to say the least, and the market response — confusion, doubt, fear — has been edifying.
It’s hard to fault the sellers who drove the major indices into a bear market: Already weeks into an unfolding crisis, US leadership at the highest level had yet to articulate anything like the what and how of a viable path forward. There had been little resolve, even less clarity, and zero sense of coalescing around a unifying mission. And particularly in times of uncertainty and transition, all three are absolutely essential.
Faced with the same rapidly evolving and tectonically shifting risk landscape, business leaders are navigating their own high-stakes transitions — likely just the first in a series as the wave of crisis and recovery unfolds. Companies around the world are scrambling to respond and adapt, and as an initial leap, many are transitioning hard into remote work. This is one of several Covid-19-driven trends likely to accelerate the development and adoption of infrastructure for the exponential era.
Some companies making the jump to remote are going to find, quickly, that they don’t have the tools to support distributed remote work at scale. We spoke with a firm last week that realized, almost immediately, that they simply didn’t have the VPN capacity to support handling sensitive data operations for a suddenly distributed workforce.
Building and sustaining robust operations and culture across a distributed remote workforce is tricky even with solid lead time and design intention, and the organization runs a real risk of watching culture, cohesion, and accountability attenuate with distance. Managing a rapid transition only increases the degree of difficulty. And generally speaking, transitions (like the crises that precipitate them) tend to expose and sometimes exacerbate underlying vulnerabilities in organizations and systems. Public officials are confronting that reality currently; business leaders scrambling to adapt will as well.
These are powerful tools in crafting strategy and supporting execution and evaluating results. If the mission is where you’re going, then any transition, any response to a shifting landscape becomes part of how you’re going to get there — and becomes subject to Starr’s questions.
Think of your own organization and the road ahead. We’ll take a shot at a big (the biggest?) one here with a Starr-style mission statement for the moment:
Limit impact of pandemic on public health and economy.
Short, simple, and devoid of BS — stripped down to a verb, a target, and an outcome that suggests relevant metrics. We can also dress it up a little bit for the markets and media.
We’ll use the full power of government to limit the impact of the pandemic on public health and the economy.
Imagine the clarifying and galvanizing power here and what is communicated across an entire ecosystem to local teams and individual actors in support of value-alignment, enhanced motivation & a commitment to mutual well-being. And now each of those teams and actors is enabled to evaluate local strategy, execution, and results against that shared understanding of global goals. How would a statement like this — issued forcefully and early — have shaped the response to Covid-19 and enabled the rapid transition and mobilization of systems and resources and influenced local action down to the level of individual behavior?
Closing note: If you’re about to move your organization to remote/distributed, we can point you to an excellent guide in our radical Recommends section below.
Jeffrey and the be radical team
P.S. Interested in exploring how this applies to your organization and your products & services? Find out how be radical can help you. Simply hit reply to this email, tell us a bit about yourself and the opportunity/challenge you face, and we will be in touch.
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