Lead­ing peo­ple in an anx­ious world

KAREN FIRE­STONE

Finweek English Edition - - MANAGEMENT -

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:

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