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There’s a risk we’re not seeing the real dangers

I always find writing these sorts of introductions much more difficult than it might appear. I don’t delegate the task to a drafter, nor do I simply summarise business information you can get equally easily from the media or the internet.

So, this introduction shares with you some of the things that I, as a businessperson, I am thinking about in the hope that there might be some value for you.

And a moment of honesty… as I am sat here on Sunday morning putting pen-to-paper, or rather fingertip to-keyboard, I am hoping and praying that someone might actually read my words. If you do and you would like to engage with me on any of the content in this issue, please do so either through LinkedIn or by email to [email protected].

Getting some feedback would be really gratifying so that I know people out there are reading our regional magazine. Top of the list of things I am thinking about is risk. And there is no shortage of risks for me to be concerned about, including keeping people safe from Covid, addressing effectively the mental health and well-being of our people, protecting jobs and working capital while also trying to address salary gaps for our staff, protecting the organisation from the increasing threat of cyber-attack, helping other businesses to address their skills shortages while addressing our own, etc, etc, etc.

Many of these things were buzzing around my head while walking my dog this morning. Many of these risks are in fact a mini crisis in their own right and many of the mitigations in place appear to be aimed at returning us to a normal or business-as-usual state. It occurred to me that the compound effect of 18 months of regular and recurring mini crises was limiting and causing the potential for inappropriate aversion to risk. This is counter-intuitive for my organisation which for nearly seven years has been striving to be extraordinary through breakthrough-thinking and strong delivery of concepts into reality.

And so, with a cup of coffee in my hand, my first act following my return home was to open our strategic risk register and do some focused thinking about my personal risk-appetite related to each risk and issue. This was a really useful exercise and has caused me to re-think several of our activities.

The next step is to test my analysis with my exec team and then with the board. I wonder how many of us are feeling like this. Bombarded with risks and issues in a way that we have probably never before experienced, the safe place to go might not be the best place in the medium-to longer term.

This led me to another reflection which is information overload. I am an avid reader but my reading over the past year has shifted from books and my favourite publication (the Harvard Business Review) to electronic form, often bite-size algorithm-driven targeted information. And I have been drawn in further and further into the world of social media. I recently undertook a stocktake of my iPhone and noted that I had four email accounts (each related to a different organisation), a WhatsApp account, three Twitter accounts, three LinkedIn accounts, an Instagram account, three MS Teams accounts, a Zoom account, a Facebook account, a Workplace (aka Facebook @ Work) account and Work Chat as well as Messenger, Mail and Facetime.

I had developed a process to ensure that I could review and service each electronic communication channel multiple times per day; paradoxically, I thought I was being efficient by having this process in place. Having spoken with lots of people, I know that many businesspeople are in a very similar position. Part of my stocktake involved an analysis of time being used for this sort of communication and the return on that time investment. Frankly, it made for pretty poor reading and evidenced very clearly why I was working most evenings and weekends seemingly to keep on top of work and to service the insatiable information machine.

I made some changes. Over the past 42 days, I have reduced dramatically the time I spend using electronic communication. I need to use MS Teams and Zoom for some work meetings but have reverted to phone calls much more often when that is the more appropriate channel. I am, of course, fully contactable by email and telephone and I continue to use Workplace as this is one way in which I am able to communicate with staff across our organisation. I have also retained LinkedIn, which is my chosen social media platform. But the other channels are gone. The impact is that I have significantly more time and, importantly, much more mental bandwidth. I feel less fatigued and stressed and my brain has much more capacity for innovation.

Having shared my personal story over the recent period, I offer two questions for all of us to think about: In times of crisis, who pulls us to the place where we self-reflect as I have done above, rather than becoming utterly embroiled in operational business issues and risks? How do we help the leaders who work for us to pause and reflect, as I daresay they are, at least in part, mirroring us?

Finally, I wish you all an enjoyable summer and hope to see as many of you as possible in the autumn when we will, hopefully, return to holding events physically.

IoD East Midlands Chair,

Gary Headland

Better directors for a better world

The IoD supports directors and business leaders across the UK and beyond to learn, network and build successful, responsible businesses.
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