I was asked recently to speak about how businesses should prepare for the future. That’s a pretty big ask, but I did what I could. I focused on what seems most true and meaningful to me: people. My advice falls across the board — but it all comes back to one truth.
The quality of the humans you surround yourself with will determine the quality — and resiliency — of your business.
Ground your business in values.
Establish and document your values. Then talk about them. Every. Day. All businesses are grappling with the same things, like change, innovation, employee engagement, and culture. These are big ideas and big themes, but they’re all determined by your values.
The characteristics of your business start and end with the values you say and live.
Values are the foundation of how people act, react, feel, and talk about your organization. They establish expectations and set standards. If we want to manage change well or we want innovation to be a part of how our team operates, we have to create values around those things. You have to think long and hard about what you really want from yourself and the people around you and commit.
Adaptability is one of Clockwork’s values. We expect adaptability, practice adaptability, and reward adaptability. Why? Because if people can flex and pivot as needed, change won’t induce paralysis. That’s what makes sense for us. For you, a value that sets up the expectation of a changing work landscape might sound different.
You don’t “do” things like innovation, engagement, and culture. They are part of a mindset and environment you create. They’re what grow (or shrink) based on the values you have in place.
Without values humans don’t work well. Write them out, memorize them, talk about them, print them up and post them around the office. And reinforce them in your own actions.
Invest in people, the right ones.
Values are what bring people together — they are the core of how we relate and understand each other. If you have the right people in place, your values will rally them, will inspire them, and motivate them. Those are the people you want around you. They’ll help take your business to where you want it to be.
If the other humans in your organization don’t have similar values you will never succeed.
In business, especially in small businesses, we need very human skills brought to the table, like problem solving, emotional intelligence, and curiosity. We literally can’t afford to have people who don’t do those things. Too much is at stake.
Don’t look to tech to solve human problems.
The right people will help us create solutions. And that’s who should be doing the solving: people. We have gotten way too reliant on tech. I’m constantly asked what software or product people should use to collaborate better or communicate better. If your teams aren’t doing that, it’s not a tech problem. It’s the people.
Tech is a critical part of this journey, but humans drive tech, not the other way around. Look for people who want to solve human problems.
Acknowledge and speak to everyone.
Preparing your business for the future means thinking long and hard about what your company is doing in the diversity space. It can’t be an initiative, or a program. It’s a business strategy that benefits everyone and is human and fair.
Unconscious bias isn’t unconscious anymore — we’re comfortable and lazy, and we are uncomfortable changing that.
For any company to succeed, whether you’re selling a product or a service, you have to sell to a diverse group of people. And that will only become more and more true in the coming years. The reality of our populace is that there are many different types of people out there. Our people, our citizens, our employees, our customers are immigrants, people of color; they represent long lines of lineages from across the globe; their family structure can look a thousand different ways.
That’s so much human potential — perspectives, experiences, and stories — that people can bring to work and to improving our systems and products. New people bring new ideas, new ideas bring innovation, innovation brings progress.
If you limit your thinking about diversity to an initiative, you’re limiting how and where your business will go. Companies have opportunities to show up in ways that our leaders are not. We have opportunities to make a difference in how we hire and train and sell and connect. We can make a real difference in the way people experience our cities and country.
Pay attention to mental health.
I know, I know. This sounds fluffy or “personal” or soft. But 25% of the population deals with mental health issues. That’s 25% of your workforce who, if they aren’t taking care of themselves, are spending energy on that rather than being present and thoughtful and solution-oriented at work.
Organizational health relies on individual health.
Why? So much of our mental health affects (and is affected by) how we work with each other, how stressed we are, how we communicate, how we problem solve, and how dedicated we are to what we’re doing. Self-care isn’t just numbers like blood pressure. It’s also about what’s going on in people’s minds: their coping mechanisms, their thought patterns, and their ability to focus and relax and think.
It is the organization’s responsibility to encourage and demonstrate that mental health is vital. We don’t really make space for it now. And this doesn’t mean offering therapy at work. It means acknowledging that mental health is important and taking care of it is valued by the organization. We each have to decide for ourselves what we need to do and how to do it, but companies need to create the space for people to do that.
Quit Bashing Millennials and Start Being More Like Them.
I couldn’t possibly talk about business and the future without mentioning millennials. Everyone is trying to “figure them out.” Companies are hiring consultants to help them attract millennials, sell to them, hire them, and market to them. On the flip side, I hear people complaining about them. They’re entitled, they don’t work hard.
Here’s the thing: There’s nothing wrong with millennials — there’s something wrong with you.
They’re demanding to care about their work, not just do it for a paycheck. They’re demanding to work reasonable hours so they can also do other things they care about. They’re demanding that business meets them where they are — technologically, physically, and psychologically.
All I can say is: Go Millennials. Because they don’t have the market cornered on any of this. If we think about it, that’s what we all want. They just had the nerve to ask for it now, instead of waiting until they were retired to enjoy their life. They want what all humans want, and they embrace much of where the rest of the world will be soon, because we will have to be.
Those are some ways I’m preparing for the future. What are you doing?