WIG CEO Blog April 2019 – Truth, trust, tension and temperament
WIG CEO BLOG APRIL 2019
This is the first of my WIG periodic blog posts as the new CEO. You won’t find strident opinion here. WIG’s great strength is its strict neutrality and the cooperative trust that flows from it. What I intend to do is select a theme and comment in a non-attributable way on what I hear from our membership about it. The opinions are therefore my own.
Brexit, once more
It’s obviously an interesting time to start this blog. There is no escaping Brexit– much as many would like to – and at the moment it is all about the politics and contingency planning for a no-deal scenario, or indeed the temptation of not planning for it, given its likelihood receding. However, one day in the not-too-distant future it will be all about policy, strategy, regulation and business response. It will require structures for reference, consultation and agreement. There will also be both a reckoning over how Brexit has played out and a renewed energy in mapping and delivering a way forward in achieving a national agenda. One hopes the context for the delivery phase will be unity around a cause and open-mindedness in making progress.
See our upcoming Brexit related events
The Four Ts
That said, a common theme amongst WIG members is that both truth and trust have taken a battering for some time, at all levels and across many seams. Now like many I have a mixed relationship with contrived alliteration but let me add another two t’s: tensions and temperament. It has long been acknowledged that a certain amount of stress is useful, and different organisations have different thresholds, operating in different environments; many of them have to acknowledge time sensitivity, constrained planning cycles, uncertainty and dynamic change as part of their daily business. Others are less used to it. Either way, when stress becomes strain, it generates a tautness in individuals and teams that have been working very hard for sustained periods, with every prospect of maintaining the pace for some significant time yet. Productivity and people suffer, and tensions can rise.
‘Corporate adrenaline’ crash
I am not a Marathon runner, preferring public transport, but there must be an expression reserved by seasoned athletes for those that start the race at a pace that simply can’t be sustained. Some organisations admit that the pace they have been working at is similarly unsustainable. In conversations, there is an acknowledgement that many organisations are fully aware they are using a finite supply of a sort of ‘corporate adrenaline’. That, as organisations thump down the long and possibly tricky road of Brexit Phase II, their single most significant asset –namely their people – may not last the course. The questions this raises is what is the plan when the crash comes or how can it be avoided?
Framing the debate
However, a more damaging by-product of the last two years might be around temperament. In this context I mean the disposition, nature and character of both individuals and organisations – at a time when uncertainty, fatigue, distrust and gloom have taken a toll (one which may not have been fully felt yet). Distrust, cynicism and defensiveness are not a great foundation for re-establishing communication and cooperation. There is something important in the nature of discourse and the framing of debate and discussion that is necessary for avoiding the wrong temperament, in turning conversations from potentially shrill to measured and productive, more based on mutual respect and shared interests. None of this is rife, but the warning signs are there to be read and should be recognised.
Developing resilient leaders
WIG’s membership is very broad. Some are reasonably sanguine about what the current environment is doing to their people, some philosophical and some more concerned and proactive. Either way, the development of personal resilience and the resilience of leaders is more important than it ever was and time to address this might be running out. As the axiom goes, ‘the best time for planting a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now’.
Simon Ancona CBE
Simon Ancona enjoyed a full career in the Royal Navy including service in the Fleet Air Arm and appointments abroad in both Hong Kong and Bahrain. He commanded 4 warships, the UK’s Carrier Strike Group and UK maritime forces in the Middle East but also spent about 10 years in Whitehall including time in Ministerial outer office. His final appointment was as the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff in charge of world-wide defence diplomacy and engagement. On leaving the military he worked as the Chief Operating Officer responsible for Network Rail’s North East London and Anglia region, which provided experience of commercial delivery and the challenges of operating at the seam of both the public and private sector. Married to Lisa he lives in South London and has two university aged children. Interests include cycling, walking, theatre, cooking, books and playing the blues Harmonica (normally when the house is empty).
Simon writes a CEO Blog for WIG on topics that he identifies as relevant to and impacting on our members.