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You Can’t Build your Business in an Echo Chamber

‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run…’

I don’t know, Rudyard, right now we’re filling the two weeks between blog posts with two months’ worth of distance run…

The Government has more or less ordered civil servants to report back to the office, floating the possibility of pay cuts for those who continue to work from home. Google seem to like that idea as well.

Employers up and down the country are demanding that workers return to the office – but plenty of people are arguing that working from home has boosted their career.

For those people who are back in the office, the debate rumbles on. Do I need to be fully vaccinated to return to work? Is my company going to make that a condition of employment?

Throw into the mix a shortage of staff – in the US job vacancies have just reached a record 10.1m. Here in the UK the number of vacancies in June was 77,500 (9.9%) above its pre-pandemic level – and you could be forgiven for thinking employers already have enough on their plate.

But the most pressing problem could be just around the corner…

Increasingly, the people that work for you seem to be asking an all-too-pertinent question. Do we need a new type of boss?

 A recent article in City AM highlighted the problem. Confidence in bosses is ‘tumbling,’ with staff doubting the ability of ‘business leaders’ to weather the current crisis.

The article quoted research showing that 42% of the UK workforce would now prefer advice and guidance from outside consultants, rather than their own managers. More than half of the young professionals surveyed (those aged 25-34) agreed with this view.

It’s understandable that people are worried about their jobs: but this lack of faith in their own managers struck me very forcibly.

We all know by now what millennials – and the generations following them – want from the company they work with:  a commitment to shared values, an acceptance that purpose is as important as profits and a real focus on work/life balance.

The clear perception is that the owners, directors and managers of the companies they work for don’t share this view and/or appreciate it.

Is this something we can address through TAB UK?

You’re damn right it is.

The combination of the pandemic and a changing workforce means that now, more than ever, owners and directors of SMEs need to see the world in a new way. Hopefully we can play our part in that.

As I wrote in the recent post on Gareth Southgate, it’s now more important than ever that we surround ourselves with people who think differently and who come from different backgrounds. As this week’s title says, you can’t build your business – or find new markets – in an echo chamber.

A key part of that will be talking to people from different generations. The people we feel most comfortable with are – by definition – people of our own age. Their children are roughly the same age, we’ve been through the same experiences, we’ve watched the same bands.

…And we think alike. But in business – especially post-pandemic business – that’s a dangerous thing. That’s why, when we run our first in-person training at the end of September, a lot of our focus will be on interaction. And I make no apology for saying that it will be (lightly) managed. Of course you want to catch up with old friends. We understand that: but we also understand that meeting new people – hearing new ideas and new ways of tackling old problems – is going to be crucial in the future.

Let me give you one simple example of the importance of talking to new people – especially people from different generations. That, of course, is mentoring. Through my business career I’ve been lucky enough to have three or four outstanding mentors – including Paul Dickinson, the founder of TAB UK, and a man I miss to this day.

All of them were older than me: they most certainly hadn’t watched the same bands…

But what they gave me was invaluable – in the same way that the younger members of TAB now give me something every bit as worthwhile.

‘If you always do what you’ve always done…’ is a well-worn business cliché. But, like all clichés, it has a kernel of truth. Maybe we should give it a partner: ‘If you always talk to the people you’ve always talked to…’

Like everyone else I’m looking forward to meeting old friends in September. But I’m looking forward to meeting new people – and hearing their new ideas – even more.

TAB UK will never be an echo chamber. And I’m proud of that.

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