There was big news in Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR leadership, last summer. The CEOs of more than 180 major companies signed a document announcing that big corporations should no longer focus exclusively on maximizing shareholder profits. Jamie Dimon, Chair of the Business Roundtable and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, presented a statement that business leaders should focus on delivering value to all their stakeholders — to customers, employees, suppliers, and local communities, as well as their shareholders.
When I wrote about it at the time, I saw it as a shocking shift in how businesses would measure their success. But I was also skeptical. One of the main drivers of change in a business is what gets measured. So I said:
“Watch what the CEOs do about measuring their companies’ success. If they focus solely on stock price, then their statement was just window-dressing. They and their companies will continue to emphasize short-term shareholder value above all else. But if their quarterly reports and analyst calls start highlighting other measures, then perhaps they really mean to change the game. It should be interesting.”
I’ve been calling this a challenging summer, but that doesn’t quite seem to capture it at this point. We’re dealing with the pandemic and all the medical concerns it raises. We’re facing an economic crisis of mammoth proportions. We’re revving up for a contentious election. We’re struggling with complex and painful racial justice issues. Here in Chicago we just had a wave of tornadoes pass through. The stress and anxiety just seem to keep on coming.
How do you make it through? Where do you find the reservoirs of strength and hope and determination that you need to keep going?
James is the Chief Human Resource Officer at a Company G, a professional services firm. For years he has been committed to increasing the diversity of the employee population at the firm, especially at the mid- and senior-management levels. He is well aware of the beneficial impacts of diversity on multiple measures of company success, from innovation to customer relations to profitability. He has the backing of the CEO and the senior leadership team. He has helped to establish Employee Resource Groups for women, LGBTQ, and members of racial minority groups. He has brought in trainers to increase employees’ awareness of racial and gender bias and stereotyping. Every year he has been tracking the number of new minority hires. And the numbers haven’t budged.
This summer, the sharply increased focus on racial injustice and exclusion has led James to reflect once more on his own attitudes and biases. It has renewed his commitment to make a difference on the diversity front at Company G. But he is very frustrated – what else can he do that will really make a difference?
I hate the phrase “new normal” to describe this horrible time we’re living through and what lies ahead. I wrote about the phrase in early May, quoting my colleague, Constance Dierickx, who said, “This situation is not the new normal; it is a time of extreme disruption.” To me, “new normal” implies resigning yourself, settling, saying, “Well, I guess this is the way it’s going to be and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
And then, a couple of weeks ago I attended a panel sponsored by the Executives’ Club of Chicago on “Reinventing to Reopen: How to Succeed in our New Normal.” One of the speakers introduced the phrase “the new better.”
Here’s a leadership case study: It’s May 29, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s four days after the murder of George Floyd. You’re the mayor of the city and you learn that a peaceful demonstration has been followed by widespread violence and looting.
What do you do?
Here in Illinois, the COVID restrictions are beginning to loosen. Personally, I had ten people at my home for dinner last Friday. I hope to have my hair cut soon. And on the professional front, employers are talking about when and how to have their teams begin returning to work.
In some ways, shutting down the office was easier. The rules were announced and companies sent their people home. Sure, there were a lot of technological and process issues that had to be solved fast, but at least it was clear. Unless you were an essential worker, everyone had to go home — period.
Now — it’s a lot murkier. When should an employer bring people back? What are the precautions that need to be in place? Maybe it would just be better to let people continue to work virtually? After all, many employers have found that the online work force was just as productive as they were in the office.
The building project was a total disaster. It had been underway for decades and was nowhere near completion. In fact, it looked more like a ruin than a building under construction. A half-dozen architects had already worked on the project, and the multiple designs were incompatible and badly conceived.
Everyone is getting very tired of trying to dredge up inner strength. There are the big things — the constant fears of terrible disease and imminent economic collapse. And there are the relatively little things — boredom, loneliness, feeling constrained, Zoom fatigue, wearing masks and gloves, and constant handwashing.
Meanwhile the regular stresses of life haven’t gone away. Family relationships, work, lack of work, non-COVID health issues, political strife — they all continue to be demanding and draining.
The best thing about a crisis is that it often brings out the best in people. So many individuals step up with courage, creativity, and generosity. They help each other out, they find new solutions, and they stand firm in the face of adversity. In the business world, these people are your most important assets. But at the same time, there are others who make things worse. For a variety of reasons, they engage in behavior that is undermining, distracting, or disruptive.
My book, Curating Your Life, was published on April 8. News flash – the middle of a pandemic is not the best time to launch a book! But there’s also some good news. Although I wrote the book long before anyone had heard of COVID-19, it turns out that learning how to manage your energy for peak productivity is a highly relevant topic in this challenging time. As a result, I’m getting plenty of opportunities to write and speak about the book, including a recent “Coffee and Connect” session for the Executives’ Club of Chicago.
We talked about how the demands on our energy have changed. Some of the tasks that used to exhaust us – commuting, hosting big meetings, going to networking events – are no longer such a big part of our lives. At the same time, other demands have ramped up – learning new technologies, connecting through Zoom and other media, doing our own housework, cooking all the meals and spending much more time with family members. The specifics vary from person to person, but the challenge is the same – how do we manage our energy for peak productivity and joy during this strange time?
As I write this on March 10, I’m feeling helpless. I hate
that! So far, my daily life is pretty normal. I’m in my downtown Chicago
office, and I just got back from a large lunch meeting listening to some very
interesting panelists. My day, and the rest of my week, is heavily scheduled
with both in-person and phone meetings.
Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the tidal wave to hit: the day
when everything gets cancelled, when my clients suffer severe financial losses,
when my travel is curtailed, when people I care about start getting sick, when
I get sick. It’s really scary, and it feels as if there’s nothing I can do. As
I said, I hate that!
More and more companies have been investing in coaching for
their senior leaders in the past 20 years as they recognize the benefits of
executive coaching. As a result, coaches now come from a wide variety of
professional backgrounds and use many different approaches. How can a company,
or an individual leader, predict whether a coaching engagement will be helpful
When I’m talking with new coaching clients, I’m often stunned by how busy they are. It’s not unusual to hear that someone has just received a big promotion, is managing a team of 20+ people, has several young children, is looking after an older relative, and is heavily involved with his or her church or other community activities. Please note, this is not just a woman’s problem, although many women think it is. Most of the men I work with are also juggling multiple commitments and responsibilities, and like the women, they often feel they are coming up short. When I hear people describe their lives, I usually respond with the quip, “So what are you doing with all your free time?” And we both laugh ruefully.