Leading people in an anxious world
Safety has become an overriding concern for Americans. Several years ago, as I sat in a secondary school board meeting, the visiting headmaster of a primary school was asked what he considered the highest priority for parents in choosing high schools. I was astounded when he said “safety” rather than, say, “quality of education.” But that was just a hint of how Americans’ safety fears would grow in the years to come. We have become the most anxious of nations, fearing terrorists, gun rampages, sexual assault, hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, identity theft, discrimination and germs, among other things.
CEOs and managers need to understand what that means for their organisations. Our colleagues harbour worries in varying degrees and management faces the new challenge of nonjudgmentally navigating this path to security while recognising the cost of protection. While we might think that common sense should guide us in evaluating the appropriate response to heightened risks, my idea of “reasonable” might be one partner’s concept of “reckless”. I favour encryption when any sensitive numbers or identifying data is sent to clients but would not safeguard the average email, whereas a few colleagues might raise our safety bar as high as possible, regardless of cost. As a firm, we debate these issues more now than ever before.
When it comes to physical safety, the sensitivity of the topic can make debate feel untouchable. Before one of many storms last winter, our governor suggested that people stay off the roads to make way for plows. Even if I felt the directive was alarmist, safety does and should take precedent. In that case, our firm settled on a compromise where people used discretion in their travel to and from work, but the office remained open. We can all estimate the cost in wages, rent and even missed opportunities to sit with clients or one another. This new frontier demands an executive response aimed at making constituents feel secure while also evaluating the cost of any added safeguards. Here are some considerations for managers: