Navigating a Crisis: the Importance of Honesty

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Our Client Services Director, Rob Huggins took part in a guest blog for Trace Data, and we loved it, so why not share it here too..

For a number of years, MBN Solutions have been at the forefront of community-focused initiatives within the Data & Technology Industries in the UK.

As “Connectors of People”, we take this role seriously. You could say, based on our primary source of revenue, that we’re more than a bit decent at it!

For the last few years, there’s hardly a week that’s gone by where one, two or more of us haven’t been organising, chairing or participating in an event, Tech talk or Meet-up somewhere in Scotland, London or further afield.

So, as the reality of the last few weeks hit home, some recalibrating was required!

In our minds – two key points stood out as we started our recalibration:

  • Social Isolation, commercially and personally, is now the reality for the vast number of people we are connected to and would normally collaborate with

  • Honesty and openness are key attributes in the maintenance of positive mental health

So, with these two points in mind – we got to work!

We are conscious that everyone has a different reality at present. Some are on their own, their social circle reduced massively over the last few weeks. Others (like myself) may live with family (with all the accompanying pressures that co-habitation under difficult circumstances may bring). Many more are trying to find their “new normal” in a working environment that’s evolved, changed, been modified in some way or is very different entirely to what they are used to. A number of these individuals have the added pressure of managing and leading other people during a time of unprecedented uncertainty.

So, with a tweak here and a nudge there we took a very recent “Real World” gathering – our “Leaders Supper Club” – and updated it for the world we are all living in now.

The Supper Club is an open forum where senior individuals from the Data & Technology space meet – after hours – to discuss issues of pertinence over a glass of something cold and a bite to eat. Chatham House rules apply, obviously, so that conversation can flow openly.

We decided upon this idea as it’s not the hardest model to replicate in the “Virtual World” and it would allow us the ability to collaborate with a reasonable amount of individuals simultaneously.

What would we talk about, though? Other than the fact that our “virtual” guests would have to provide their own drinks and/or nibbles!

Well, it doesn’t take the brains of a rocket scientist to work out that our conversation might be “Lockdown related” – so we decided to focus, specifically, on the “human” side of what’s happening.

We wanted to explore, at a Leadership Level, what organisations were actually doing and what challenges they were experiencing currently. Obviously, our group is very Technology/Data focused, but we thought that the key takeaways from our discussion might be applicable to a great many people working in different industries.

The Importance of honesty was emphasized – everything was off-the-record and we wanted everyone involved to be able to talk “from the heart” with a view to the group acting as a judgement-free sounding board for any issues that any individual may be experiencing presently.

The three main themes that emerged from our evening of debate (and drink, and nibbles!) were:

TRUST

Many of us have worked, for a number of years, under the impression that work has to be structured around a system that correlates outputs with a centralized office-based control model.

Many now believe that “perceived reality” to be a myth. At least up to a point.

Many organisations have noticed no discernable difference to actual outputs when individuals have worked remotely, with many commenting on improvements being noted in many key areas. However, these initial observations have to be balanced against the suspicion that the early Lockdown “adrenaline surge” may have produced an unrealistic “new normal” and outputs may decline over time.

What has to be considered, however, is the idea that the way in which we structure working patterns has to change. From a Talent perspective, MBN have long argued the case for remote working. In “hard to find” skill areas such as AI, Data Science, niche Development and emerging Technology areas – it makes no sense to raise an unrealistic bar (and limit potential Talent Pools) by enforcing “needs to be office based” working pattern rules.

Trust people, and they will work well. They may even produce more than you ask for.

FLEXIBILITY

From senior level Technologists helping out as temporary Help Desk employees in order to enable as many people to work-from-home as possible, to organisations switching from external new business acquisition in order to maximize revenue streams (or opportunities) from existing relationships – flexibility has been key.

Flexibility must be a key individual, collective and organizational characteristic in order to be able to react, and pivot, to whatever adjustments are required tomorrow.

No-one saw this (Covid-19 crisis) coming. Nobody. However, the teams that are able to continue to operate under the current circumstance place flexibility high up in their wish-list of desired attributes.

The flexibility to adapt quickly to the WFH dynamic, the flexibility to quickly adapt existing products and services, the flexibility of pivoting quickly to embrace new engagement opportunities and the flexibility to rip up or at least adapt the “rule book” to suit a new playing field.

Have the flexibility to make whatever moves are required – as individuals, leaders and organisations.

INCLUSIVITY

With the “water cooler catch-up” not being possible for many people at the moment, how do we stay connected as individuals? Many commented on missing “casual conversations” with their work colleagues. With communications being focused on scheduled, task related dialogues, “small talk” has suffered. That often perceived “distraction” from output related activities can now be seen in a slightly different light – an important “safety valve” for relieving stress and a steady source of positivity and mindfulness in a Mental Health capacity.

So, what can we do to include all of our team as individuals? How do we ensure that no-one feels overly isolated?

The importance of individual, non-work related, dialogue was emphasized.

For some this is a video call, whilst for others this could be a text or email. Different strokes for different folks. However, the main point was that we should all take responsibility for Inclusivity at our places of work. It’s not that hard to do – it doesn’t need to be organized quizzes or scheduled video meetings for Friday drinks – it can be as simple as dropping a WhatsApp message or a quick call to that person you would normally chew the fat with at the fridge once or twice a week. Leaders need to ensure that they include “banter calls” – non-work related “Hey, how ye doing?” communications, on a regular basis, with all (even the less talkative) members of the team.

Inclusivity means shared responsibility for everyone within the organization – with an individual onus on action for any leaders.

Overall, though, The Importance of Honesty was mentioned by a number of our guests. The importance of asking for advice – none of us have ever been here before – the importance of speaking your mind in a respectful way and the importance of not being afraid to admit “I’m afraid”.

Every one of us is feeling the same way – and the Importance of Honesty in the way you deal with yourself, each other, colleagues and the business world you are part of will help you to navigate these currently choppy waters.

MBN’s Leadership Supper Clubs are currently Virtual, and we are always keen to connect with anyone who’d be interested in participating. Please drop Robin Huggins or Michael Young a line if this is something you might be interested in. Obviously, we’ll return to hosting our regular “in the flesh” gatherings as soon as possible!

You can access the original article here.