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  • Writer's pictureBarry Chandler

Lessons we can learn from a Pandemic #1 – Purpose

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

As I write this, we are only a few weeks into an unprecedented global lockdown that very few people saw coming.

Despite the relative short time period, things have changed so much that already some of the memories of what life was like prior to COVID-19 are beginning to fade.

Because of this, I think it’s a good time for us, as a society, to begin to look at what we can learn about ourselves and act upon that information, not just in a time of crisis, but all the time.

Firstly, let’s just remind ourselves of some of the behaviours that were common place just a month ago:

1. Selfishness

Seeing people emptying shelves of toilet rolls, pasta and baked beans was crazy. I know of one person who bought 200 toilet rolls, which made me equally sad and angry.

We also saw wide-spread ignorance, people not listening to advice of social distancing. Busy pubs, parks, beaches and queues of cars heading to holiday homes.

I heard of people obsessing about how much their investments in the stock market had been hit and they would have to re-think next year’s holiday plans.

All of this whilst people in the NHS and other key workers were working 15+ hour shifts, many without the right equipment to ensure their safety.

2. Lack of Trust and Appreciation

Despite fears and concerns of employees, many employers insisted they came into work, enduring packed public transport.

Why? – Because they believed “Working from home” is “Shirking from home”.

I even heard of one organisation seriously considering monitoring key strokes and code commits <bursting into tears>.

And when you did get into work, the expectation was you would fix the mess that had been generated as a result of systems failing to deal with the unforeseen demand. Expectation without appreciation.

3. Conflict for the sake of conflict

Politicians arguing even if they agreed with each other, gangs killing each other and sporting rivalries which boil over into violence and beyond.

All behaviours which stem from Fear and Greed.

Let’s contrast this to what actions have become common place in relation to society’s response to the pandemic, just one month later:

1. Spirit of Togetherness

Many people are not just doing what they've been asked to do, they are going well beyond that.

Communities all over the globe have been coming together to help each other out and prioritising those in need the most. When there has been a call for volunteers, the response has almost always been overwhelming.

There is a true realisation that we win together and fail together.

2. Autonomy

There have been many cases whereby communities have formed and delivered value without any specific instruction.

Examples are hugely varied, ranging from the likes of Joe Wicks providing free online fitness coaching sessions, various groups around the world using technology such as 3D printing to provide vital protection equipment for the frontline and technical communities developing apps which can help relieve supply chain issues such as ProjectN95 and's COVID-19 network project.

3. Unity and Praise

No longer are the politicians fighting for the sake of fighting, in most cases the point scoring has been put on the back burner, not to mention the “B word”.

Political rivalry is not the only differences that has been put to one side, there are many reports of gangs in some of the most violent cities of the world coming together to support everyone in the community.

Now we are celebrating people’s efforts in delivering performance which goes way beyond formerly what is expected of them.

Everyone is valued.

These behaviours are driven by love and compassion with purpose at the wheel.

All this has changed in one month!

What can we learn from this?

Essentially, that having a collective sense of purpose brings out the best in people, whereas if we haven’t got that, the opposite is often true.

Do you or your organisation have a purpose?

If so, is it something you believe in and other people feel compelled to unite behind?

In most instances this is not the case.

So, find your purpose and unite behind it. Easy, right?

Unfortunately not.

Developing and maintaining a collective sense of purpose between just 2 people is hard enough. It is much, much harder in organisations made up of 100’s and 1000’s of people in environments which are complex and adaptive. It needs effort, a lot of effort and it’s continual. It benefits from independent observation in action and guidance which is subsequently fed back into the enterprise throughout.

But it can be done, and as we have seen, it can be done very quickly when the purpose is clear and well understood.

Just pause for a moment and consider the impact of being part of a purpose driven organisation could have for you.

These are some of the things we discuss at SEACON (The Study of Enterprise Agility Conference) and you can learn more about being driven by a collective sense of purpose, for free, on the SEACON YouTube channel. All talks are amazing, but the ones for me that immediately spring to mind in this context are:

Remember, ask yourself these questions and let’s learn this lesson.

Stay safe.

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