I guess if my Friday night email was going to get bumped, then there’s no shame in being bumped by a big announcement from the Chancellor about furloughing. Thank you to Josh for getting his head round the complexity of the next stage.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve covered the some of the lessons that can be learned from the Seven Habits of Highly Effective people by Steven Covey.

After the last newsletter, one of my team posed the question “if you could add an 8th habit, what would it be?”

I had to think about that for a bit and looked back at some of the weekend emails that I’ve been sending out to my team for years and one in particular which mentioned a family holiday to Italy a few years ago. Bear with me on this, I’ll get to the point eventually.

So as I usually do when I’m on holiday, I tried to go out for an early morning run every other day. The good thing about this is that you can find a few things whilst out on your run that you might want to visit later in the day.

Unfortunately, the one place this didn’t work was in Naples. The reason was dog poo.

Because rather than looking around me as I ran along the seafront, I had to look down in order to avoid stepping in it. It was all over the place. It took me back to my childhood in the 70s where no trip to the town was complete without accidentally standing in some dog mess and my mum then having to deal with the consequences. What changed from the 70s to eliminate this particular issue?

This is interesting because it’s nothing to do with the dogs themselves. If anything, there’s probably more of them around and they certainly don’t poo any less. Therefore, it’s down to the dog owners? Well yes, but have dog owners suddenly become more socially responsible people?  Maybe, but I suspect that that particular influence is not as big as you might think.

Because somewhere along the way it became socially unacceptable for your dog to poo on the pavement without you picking it up. There were always responsible dog owners but suddenly everybody else that wasn’t responsible was now being told that this was unacceptable behaviour. As a result, most dog owners changed their behaviour. Initially some didn’t and there were a few well publicised cases of people being berated for not picking up the mess their dog had left.

But why has this not become a problem again? The answer might be less obvious and might have something to do with mobile phones and CCTV.

Because somebody who was brazen enough, could front it out if one other person was there but now everybody in that situation will be concerned that they might be filmed and all their behaviour would be publicised to the wider world. That is perhaps the biggest influence of all.

So why hasn’t this syndrome hit Naples? Well probably the answer is that it’s not yet socially unacceptable to do this. Once it is, then a combination of educating the dog owners, monitoring the dog owners (by everybody else) and letting all the dog owners know that they will have their behaviour shown to the world if it falls below the required standard is the answer.

But what does that have to do with the so-called 8th habit?

Well we’re all operating under different rules now. For about six weeks almost everyone understood and followed this new code of conduct. If you strayed within two metres of someone in a supermarket, you would notice the scornful stares and the tutting. So generally speaking no-one did. A whole new list of actions became socially unacceptable.

When you hopefully re-open your businesses in the next few weeks and welcome your furloughed staff back you need to raise the bar. You need to set some new rules.

At a basic level, there will be significant Health and Safety changes. But these are the easy parts because that’s what the law says. It’s the changes to the way you do business that are going to be tougher to achieve. Changes in behaviour. Changes in the commercial way your staff work. A bit more urgency. A lot more urgency perhaps!

Because margins will be tighter. Customers will be more scarce. Use of technology in so many different ways will become more critical.

Some of the old behaviour must not be accepted. And not just by you. You need your team to become your internal CCTV. Or the equivalent of the person tutting in Sainsbury’s.

The raising of the bar has to start with you. You have to walk the walk. At A4G, literally by following the black and yellow arrows marking the new one-way system round our office! But also metaphorically by following the new processes, being pro-active in generating new work and setting high standards in the work you do.

And you need to be strong enough to step in and challenge the behaviour of those who don’t follow the rules.

Imagine a situation where your most important and senior team member flouted the rules. How do you react? Do you accept a range of excuses and explanations that nobody else in the organisation is ever going to believe?

If you do that you give everyone else an excuse to not follow the rules and totally undermine your own authority. What sort of leader would ever want that to happen? They would struggle to be taken seriously again. As we know.

A better way of going about things is to explain to everybody how you want, (no – need if the business is to survive), to operate going forward, explain why it has to be that way and ask for their help in supporting all their colleagues to do it that way even when you’re not around.

The day you welcome back your team from furlough is probably the third most important day in your company’s history behind the day you started and the day your first employee joined you.

Get it right, and you’ll be up and running and making constant progress. Get it wrong and like me on the Naples seafront, you’ll be dodging poo throughout the rest of your journey.

Have a good week.

We have also created a new series called ‘The ten vital ingredients for business recovery“. Read the first article in this sequence here.

Contact me today!

Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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