Searching for purpose in times of uncertainty

What the financial and real estate crisis, the “Fridays for Future” movement and the arbitrary trade restrictions of recent years have failed to do, a virus now manages in just a few weeks – to knock the entire society out of balance. No event has struck us as hard as the Corona virus. Yet there have been comparable events in the last hundred years which have also presented us with major challenges. However, panic selling on the stock markets, hoarding in supermarkets and the closure of entire countries show the extent of the current pandemic. But it also clearly shows that our society needs a reorientation, for each of us, for companies, as well as for politics and society as a whole. This is perhaps the opportunity that lies in this crisis. But it should also be seized now, before the smoke clears and everyone returns to “business as usual”.

What is actually the meaning of our existence on earth? What drives us personally, our company and society as a whole? Is it only the (economic) growth that is often used as a measure for the success of a company, important branches of industry or even the entire economy in international comparison, measured by parameters such as gross national product? Or is it not something “more important”, something that makes sense and contributes to society, the environment and all people. A “higher purpose” so to speak. Something that goes beyond purely economic and quantitative parameters. This may be obvious in the current situation, but it is of course not so easy to achieve.

In Paradise, of course, everyone is free to pursue their own goals and ideas. In reality and with almost 8 billion people on earth, we quickly reach our natural limits. It is therefore necessary to initiate a debate, within the framework of a community, a company or even society, about which ideas exist for this overarching purpose, how to formulate them for orientation and then actually implement them in the daily routine. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations serve as a useful guideline. However, they cannot simply be “prescribed” by someone. They are a collective decision and will only have an impact if they are supported by a majority. In this respect I am always critical of the call for intervention by “politics” or “top management” when something does not work. It is a matter of active participation by all those who are affected by it. Leadership is about setting a dialogue process in motion and moderating it towards a result.

In the search for the overarching purpose of a company, it will be important to consider the new values of the employees, especially the new generation. Millennials have their own opinion, which we should listen to more, because after all, they have the greatest interest in taking their future into their own hands. They are much more interested in qualitative development, in protecting nature and in personal development together with other generations. Experiencing community, creating something new together, and finding a better balance between work, family and personal development is preferred by this generation.

The search for the meaning of an organization should be a recurring process and not a one-way street. The environment is too volatile for this. The events of recent years clearly show that companies, industries (such as the automotive industry at present) and also society as a whole must “reinvent” themselves. Everyone can participate, share experiences, experiment and advance the existing skills. All in the spirit of a living democracy. This motivates everyone, promotes acceptance and provides support in “stormy times” as in the current situation. Leadership does not dictate, it supports in the sense of “supportive leadership”, moderates the dialogue of all participants and helps to formulate the relevant strategies for implementation.

However, the point is not to increase performance with “nicely formulated” KPIs. The standards for “performance” will have to change too. For example, the country of Bhutan, instead of an economically oriented “Gross Domestic Product (GDP)”, introduced a few years ago a system of “Gross National Happiness (GNH)” based on four pillars:

Good Governance

Good Governance is a considered a pillar for happiness because it determines the conditions in which Bhutanese thrive. While policies and programs that are developed in Bhutan are generally in line with the values of GNH, there is also a number of tools and processes employed to ensure the values are indeed embedded in social policy.

Sustainable Socio-economic Development

A thriving GNH economy must value social and economic contributions of households and families, free time and leisure given the roles of these factors in Happiness.

Preservation and Promotion of Culture

Happiness is believed to be contributed to by the preserving the Bhutanese culture. Developing cultural resilience, which can be understood as the culture’s capacity to maintain and develop cultural identity, knowledge and practices, and able to overcome challenges and difficulties from other norms and ideals.

Environmental Conservation

Environmental Conservation is considered a key contribution to GNH because in addition to providing critical services such as water and energy, the environment is believed to contribute to aesthetic and other stimulus that can be directly healing to people who enjoy vivid colours and light, untainted breeze and silence in nature’s sound.

In this respect, the current crisis is also a chance for renewal. Let us make use of it!

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Author: Reinhard Wagner, CEO of Tiba Managementberatung

 

 

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