March 23, 2020

Vulnerability: The ROI Upside

Josh Gentine

When the dust settles in the coming months, humanity is going to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Life will go back to normal. You and I will get back on airplanes and start crisscrossing the country to advance our efforts to change the world one product, service, or subscription at a time. However, if we’re self-aware enough, we may also take a bit of this experience with us as well. A bit more humanity. A bit more compassion. A bit more hygiene. But I would also challenge you to take something else from this experience: an embrace of personal and professional vulnerability.

Being Vulnerable

You might ask, “What the hell does that mean? I’m trying to run a business.” Well, what I mean by vulnerability is that COVID-19 exposed all of us (individually and collectively as companies) to a different way of operating. It forced us to make changes we were not accustomed to making and these changes likely exposed gaps in how our businesses operate. For example, remote workers highlighted operational seams that left your company exposed. Rapid decision-making shined a light on decision (in)efficiency and governance blind spots. Or perhaps stressed employees punctuated the need for better team dynamics and a more human approach to being together as colleagues. While all of these examples, and the thousands more that surfaced across the globe, may seem uncomfortable to deal with (or out-right embarrassing to discuss), use this opportunity to create company-wide alignment around what went well, what did not, and what you need to do differently in the future. Use this moment to develop strength, courage, and conviction by being vulnerable to the issues and lean on your team to help you figure out how your organization is going to be better in the future. Use vulnerability to build ROI.

The Tie to ROI

When I work with executives – especially coaching clients – I often hear about the pressure of being "on my game", "crisp", "perfect". These are legitimate concerns when an organization has a culture that embraces the notion that answers come from above and execution comes from below. While the tide is turning on this management style, it still pervades 90% of the companies I work with. This management style has three outcomes: 1) it creates inordinate stress on leadership, resulting in a turnover, 2) it under-utilizes the collective intelligence of employees with the God-given ability to creatively solve problems and 3) it creates a culture that fosters blame and backstabbing as one employee after another searches for a scapegoat. While many see these as HR issues, they go deeper and impact business operations and outcomes.

Take Action

If you are a leader, take this advice: when you do your after-action review, (do one if you don’t normally) of where COVID-19 left your business exposed or weak, reposition the conversation. Be transparent about all the projects and programs that went sideways and how they impacted the organization. Tell your team how you felt. Ask them how they felt. Instead of applying blame, pull in stakeholders from the top to the bottom and explore the issues collectively. Be open to where you could have been better and ask for their help in solving the problems. Use the session to build the team, not break it. Be open and engaging and show your team – or your company – that a silver lining of COVID-19 was the ability to wash your hands clean of an old cultural ethos. The impact that this approach will have is a direct bottom-line value as you re-engage your team and solve deep-seated problems across the organization. It’s hard to imagine vulnerability having an ROI impact, but it can, and it should.

How Bench Can Help

What so many leaders don’t understand is that they don’t have to solve all the problems on their own. They don’t have to continue the tradition of blame and shame. They don’t have to isolate themselves (literally and figuratively) when problems arise. Use COVID-19 to embrace the vulnerability of the moment and expose yourself to the immense ROI upside that comes with collective problem-solving and a new cultural ethos. At Bench, I help executives and teams tap into their collective intelligence by transforming operating norms and cultures if I can be of any help in your moment of vulnerability, please contact me here. We are fully equipped to conduct a post-COVID-19 gap analysis and help build a set of recommendations for how to manage your talent in the new normal.

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