Embrace change

While we’re all being as prudent as we can in our private lives (wearing masks, queuing responsibly, avoiding groups) many of us are also learning that we can take more risks in business.

I don’t mean indulging silly enthusiasms or leaping onto the newest post-Covid future trend. What I’m noticing is an increasing acceptance that we no longer need to do business the way we used to. All those tiresome habits we and our companies practised for years are getting a thorough shakedown. We’re all asking ourselves: “Do we really need to keep doing things that way?”

Elon Musk may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but some of the changes he is making in his three businesses are actually sensible and pragmatic. In a recent letter to all employees, he urged them to ‘pick common sense as your guide’ to making work easier. Then he gave a number of specific behavioural expectations. Here are the best four:

“Nix big meetings. Get out of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.”

“Ditch frequent meetings too. Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter.”

“Leave a meeting if you’re not contributing. Drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

“Drop the jargon. Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. Anything that requires an explanation, inhibits communication.”

Musk’s simple adjustments are evolutionary. By contrast, NYU Stern’s Professor of Marketing, Scott Galloway, preaches revolution to his Brand Strategy students. His three pillars of crisis management are:

  1. The top guy/gal takes responsibility.
  2. Acknowledge the issue.
  3. Overcorrect.

The word overcorrect would normally ring alarms bells, but today we are seeing Governments doing exactly that – and often being criticised for it.

But Galloway cites a World Health Organisation expert: “If you need to be right before you move, you’ll never win. Perfection is the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management. Speed trumps perfection. The problem right now is everyone is afraid of making a mistake.” In a commercial example from 1982, Gallow recalls how Johnson & Johnson deliberately overreacted to a crisis: “They didn’t say the poisoning of the Tylenol bottles in Midwest America was an isolated incident. They cleared all the shelves of Tylenol across North America. Was it an overreaction? Yes. Did it assure the health of the public and restore the credibility of the company? Yes and yes.”