To survive in a changing business environment, organizations have had to be streamlined, efficient and lean, which means there aren’t a lot of unused hours in the workweek. At the same time, this year has proven that we are living in increasingly unpredictable times. Businesses have been forced to respond to urgent, fast-moving issues created by the pandemic and repurpose talent without losing day-to-day functionality.
It’s a challenge for which we didn’t start with a lot of clear direction. We’ve had to find a way to address the unexpected quickly and effectively with a corporate workforce that was already stretched thin. We’ve had to equip our teams to deal with newly presented problems that evolve in real-time – while also doing the work that keeps the lights on.
In short, we need to – metaphorically – jump on hand grenades. In the military, jumping on a grenade is the deliberate act of using one’s body to cover and absorb an explosive, thereby saving the lives of others.
In business (with respect to the heroes of the armed forces), it’s the act of jumping into a complicated, evolving situation with wide-ranging impact, unknown outcomes, and no clear reward. When grenades arrive in business, as has COVID-19, an organization’s ability to respond shines a light on its resilience. Bureaucrats, bullies, and narcissists do not ever jump on hand grenades. Yet, in our era of change and crisis, we need to find and cultivate grenade jumpers.
It starts with the culture. While all employees should have a full scope of day-to-day responsibilities, those must exist in a culture of flexibility. At rbb Communications, we define this as an employee-driven workplace. We manage by objectives and outcomes, not attendance and desk time. Be present when you need to, do the work that is expected, engage productively with co-workers, and contribute to the company. Do this whenever, wherever and however that allows you to do your best work and exceed expectations for our clients. This baseline flexibility attracts a workforce that is quickly adaptable to a changing environment. In practical terms, it has made us more available to support our clients during this crisis because our own transition was far less impactful than it might have been otherwise.
Second, organizations should place a premium on intellectual curiosity. Someone who is interested in the world can learn – and teach – almost anything. According to Harvard Business Review, curiosity is critical to an enterprise’s performance, supporting adaptation to uncertain market conditions and external pressures while delivering more-creative solutions. Skills can be learned. Curiosity is innate.
Third, ongoing learning must be fostered outside of traditional training. At rbb Communications, our rbbU focuses on programs of interest as defined by employees. These programs may – or may not – be directly relevant to day-to-day responsibilities. In addition, informal groups exist that allow team members to explore communication crafts and develop skills that go beyond job assignments. By participating in these programs, team members have cultivated a shared baseline knowledge and common vernacular that allows us to trust each other in this high-pressure environment.
Fourth, team members have to choose to jump on hand grenades and participate in crisis and problem-solving projects. You can’t randomly assign someone to jump into the unknown and operate at an accelerated pace across early mornings, late nights, and weekends – it’s a recipe for disaster. But, if the first three criteria are in place, there are a surprising number of people who will raise their hands to do something difficult, meaningful and out-of-the-box. While traditional teams are built with a mix of experience, skills, and availability, a purpose-built team is built on passion. These are the employees who will dig in, think, work, sweat and deliver for a project that wasn’t on their radar 30 minutes prior. They aren’t better than those who don’t opt-in. But they are magical and an organization will die without them.
So how do you foster a company of grenade jumpers? At rbb, our formula looks like this:
Employee-driven culture + Intellectual curiosity + Ongoing learning + Opt-in team structure team = Fast + Smart + Strategic
With this formula, employees have come together to create purpose-built teams that function with a high degree of trust and shared knowledge, allowing them to develop impactful strategies in real-time to solve problems for our clients in a rapidly changing, complicated world.
Grenades, and pandemics, aside – that’s a beautiful thing.