Don’t be afraid

On Saturday 4th March 1933, a new US President of the United States delivered his inaugural address to a nation in the depths of the Great Depression.

Roosevelt’s speech was awaited with great anticipation and is chiefly remembered for these words:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself. Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Today, in facing the new normal, organisational leaders will need to act boldly. Acknowledging that no-one knows the answers and whatever we do will be subject to future criticism. Despite that, it falls to them to choose a direction and align people to it. Remembering that, in times of uncertainty, nothing has a more powerful effect on morale that the sound of the human voice.

As we look at future company infrastructure and culture, it’s time to be frank about what worked and what didn’t in the pre-COVID workplace. What an opportunity to free ourselves, and the people whose livelihoods depend, on us from the ‘bad stuff’ that has accumulated over the decades of accepting established practices.

Let’s start the individual employee – the basic building block of collaborative effort. Now is the time for team leaders, managers and executives to look at their people and check their fitness for purpose. I do this simply, by sketching out a two-axis grid on a piece of paper. One axis is about Aptitude (skills match for present or future role), the other is about Attitude (personality fit with the team, and attitude to work). You simply plot each individual’s position on the grid based on your perceptions of their aptitude and attitude. Too subjective? Yes, if that’s the only measure. But in my experience, this cuts to the chase and can always be cross-referenced with more formal Talent Management data.

In their book ‘No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention’, Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer talk about that company’s attitude towards optimising the team:

 “We encourage all managers to consider each of their employees regularly and make sure they’ve got the best person in every spot. To help managers on the judgment calls, we talk about the Keeper Test.”

Netflix’s Keeper Test asks a manager: “If person X on your team was to quit tomorrow, would you try to change their mind? Or would you accept their resignation, perhaps with a little relief?”

If the latter, Netflix mandates a severance package and the search for a replacement. Always with the proviso, ‘Look for a star, someone you would fight to keep.’