Show courage in the face of  uncertainty, yes, yes, a hundred times yes.  But also show that you’re human.

Perhaps the most notable feature of how CEOs are showing up differently is that they are showing more of their humanity. As Paul Tufano, CEO of AmeriHealth Caritas, explains, “This has been a sustained period of uncertainty and fear, but also a great opportunity to forge a stronger, more cohesive and motivated workforce. If CEOs can step into a ministerial role—extending hands virtually, truly listening, relating to and connecting with people where they are—there is enormous potential to inspire people and strengthen bonds and loyalties within the company.” Adds Alain Bejjani, CEO of MAF, “The people you are leading have big expectations of you. They want you to be perfect and often forget that you are human. But the more human you are with them, the more trust and empathy they lend to you. They understand you better. That gives you the ability to do so much more, as people give you the benefit of the doubt.”

Have the confidence to humanize things.

Deanna Mulligan, CEO of Guardian discussed how something as “simple” as an all-hands video or speech had changed.  Out were rehearsals, professional staging and lighting.  In was casual dress, and the (inevitable) greater intimacy of backdrops consisting of dens, finished basements and attics, libraries, dining rooms, and kitchens.  Mulligan:  “I’ve made some of my videos outside with the dog, something that we’d never have thought to do before. The feedback has been terrific. Our employee engagement scores, confirmed by regular pulse surveys, have been consistently on the rise since going remote.”

Respond to a larger organizational purpose than serving your clients and your lawyers and professionals.

Here’s Robert Smith, CEO of Vista Equity Partners, on what has changed for him (Vista is a private equity firm with 60 companies in its portfolio):  Pre-Covid, we defaulted to thinking immediately about shareholder value above all else.  “It was almost a muscle memory.”  But soon enough partners, governments, suppliers, employees came into the picture–“stakeholder capitalism.”

Acknowledge–starting with yourself would be a good place–that you don’t have all the answers.  Right now, you’d be kidding yourself to pretend, or behave as if, you’ve got this all under control.  No one has this under control.

Absent control (a/k/a “decision making  under uncertainty”):

  • Hasten problem-solving by opening issues up to the collective intelligence of your firm.
  • Build on the ideas of others, and then build on those.
  • Iterate.
  • Experiment widely with how things could be done differently.

In addition to the “Covid Slingshot” descriptor, one of my favorites is “unfrozen”–much of the organizational world has indeed been unfrozen from ways of doing things that were done that way because they were done that way because….

Now’s the moment to seize the collective adaptability and brilliance of everyone in your firm, from the senior-most partners to paralegals, librarians/knowledge management experts, etc.  Have faith in their good will, creativity, and sheer ingenuity.

The Wall Street Journal reports that FedEx is experimenting with four 260-pound industrial robot arms deployed in their “World Hub” sorting facility in Memphis (nicknamed Sue, Randall, Colin, and Bobby)  Although right now they’re only about half as fast as the best human sorters, they’re equipped with computer vision and AI developed by Plus One Robotics in San Antonio, and FedEx thinks they have promise.  But they still need a lot of help:

The AI that powers these robot arms is learning all the time, but there are always situations that trip it up and require human intervention. No amount of AI, at least of the sort that exists now, can handle every possible “edge case,” those unexpected situations which are individually rare but quite common when considered all together. This galaxy of edge cases is a major barrier to fully autonomous AI systems.

You might think that if FedEx is experimenting with sorting robots, everyone is–and wouldn’t Amazon be in the lead there, since they sort so many more items than FedEx?   Actually, while Amazon has intensively deployed robots to help move packages and sort sealed-and-addressed boxes, it still uses people to take goods off shelves or from bins and put them into other bins or onto conveyors.  Why?

The company’s enormous and quickly changing inventory still defeats even the best combination of AI, computer vision and gripper, says Brad Porter, vice president at Amazon Robotics.

Amazon’s reliance on humans holds an immensely important lesson for you.

Consider that 25 years ago Amazon didn’t exist and today they employ closing in on 1-million people (OK, 876,000 per a spokeswoman.)  Why not more robots?  Ask Bruce Leak, founding partner at venture capital firm Playground Global:  “The challenge is that humans are incredible.  People are trainable, flexible, resilient and intelligent, and automation and robots aren’t any of those things.”

If that’s true of warehouse er, fulfillment center, workers, can you imagine for a moment that it’s not true of the professionals  and staff at your firm?  Try a little trust.  Grant a little autonomy. Avert your eyes and when you take another look I bet you’ll see your humans have made amazing things happen.

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