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Lighten your personal burden for navigating 2009

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A tumultuous year ends

So we come to December 31st, the arbitrary marker of one year ending and another beginning.  What a rough road the year has been.   The emperor’s clothes of the financial system has shocked us, as has our previous collective unwillingness to call what we all knew.  The generational baton has passed from Baby Boomers to Gen X with the gripping election of Barack Obama.  In other parts of the world, change has happened, and sometimes of equal significance, change has not happened.  It seems that where ever we live, we have reached a fork in the road, and we are unclear about what lies ahead or how to commit our energy.

Anxiety competing with optimism

So as we approach 2009, we have a nasty knawing feeling in our stomachs.  If I commit myself to optimism, we think privately, will pessimism turn out to be the better route?  Or, vice versa?

Together into the unknown

The reality is that this is a false dilemma and a false choice.  We don’t know what is on the road ahead and whether it is to be feared or not.  We don’t know if the roads will fork again, or even if the forks we see will rejoin themselves shortly.

All we can really do, is gather ourselves up, surround ourselves with people we like, and set off with a spring in our step.

What we need on the journey along an unknown road

  • to stick together, to remain within sight and sound of each other
  • to keep our resources safe and focus on navigating the road
  • to keep spirits up, lest we drift to that emotional place of bargaining with choices that aren’t real.

In organizations we know

For some of us, the journey ahead may not be quite so obviously into the unknownn.  We may be in a viable business that we own, or that employs us.  For you, I am happy to say, the most popular post on this blog on the last day of 2008,  is one I wrote when the recession seemed likely: a positive approach to HR in the recession.

I made three very similar points back in July about the role of the Human Resources team during recession.

  • Our own health. Our first priority is to ensure that the HR team has plenty of emotional R&R (rest & recreation).   Emotions are contagious and if we have low grade depression, we in HR will spread our low spirits like a forest fire!
  • Positive goals all round. Our overiding programme is to help each and every person in the organization develop explicit & positive goals and we stop, only, when everyone is brimming with enthusiasm for the year ahead.
  • Healthy leaders. The chief item in our contingency budget is a lot of time to nurture the emotional health of the leaders.  If they are not in good shape, they will be not detect opportunities and we are all sunk.

If you aren’t in HR, or don’t have an HR department, you may want to delegate one person to take charge of this brief.

Into a year of the unknown

For those of us facing the unknown, maybe our businesses are new or our careers are unstable, our work follows the same parallels.

  • We shape the collective. In hard times, we may be very tempted to go it alone.  And I include here whining about other people not helping us sufficiently.  If we imagine ourselves walking along a road, as confused as everyone else around us, this is the time to talk to others.  This is the time to take care to include everyone we meet.  This is the time to take time, and to spend precious resources, on little rituals that celebrate  the commonness of our journey, our guts, our gumption, our hope, and that we are on the road together.  We may be very reluctant to do this because budgets are tight and we feel resources are limited but this is the time.  This is the time to be clear about the collective in our own minds, and through our clarity, help others keep the wellbeing of us all in the front of their minds too.  I can make you this promise. The half-an-hour you spend today quietly thinking about who is around you on your journey into 2009 will bring you unparalleled dividends in the year ahead.
  • We cherish individualism. With the need to protect the collective, we might become overly demanding and even whiny about the responsibilities of others.   The collective depends not on what individuals give to it, but what it gives to individuals.  To be effective, a collective celebrates the strengths of its members, and makes room for people to have quiet time alone and with intimates to recover their breath and keep their own dreams alive.  How much empathy do we have for others around us?  Do we understand the shoes in which they walk? Importantly, are we leaving enough time in our day and our transactions to stop and listen and think and understand the people around us?  How could we make a quiet half-an-hour each day to slow down and cherish the people around us?
  • We trade tasks and lessen the burden. A burden shared is more than halved.  There can be a temptation to go it alone on the one hand, or to try to use people to do our work on the other and to become demanding and bossy.  Organizing is a little different.  We identify tasks that are important to the collective and we make sure everyone has a real and respected role to protect the well-being of the group. To extend the metaphor of an unknown road, we put the good map readers onto to reading the map, we put the active and restless to scouting ahead, we put the cooks on to cooking, and the story tellers onto entertainment.  Can we make time, once a week or once a month, to stop and think about what must be done, who is the natural person to do it, and what we will do for them while they are doing that for us?

And when it seems hopeless or too hard

And so what if we are new to a place, or in an unpleasant place, with no collective spirit and evil leadership?  I know this is hard.  I am a pseudo-refugee after all.  My advice is to take it step-by-step.

  • Think through what you need to go down the road, and understand that everyone else needs exactly what you need.
  • Talk to each person you meet and understand their journey.
  • Once you understand their strengths, ask them to trade with you what they do well and easily, with what you can do for them.
  • Set up the time when you will swap.
  • And continue adding people, all the time keeping the ‘swapping time’ positive, when you also celebrate collective well-being.

Lighten your personal burden for navigating 2009, as and when the opportunity arises, and through your needs, come to celebrate the journeys and strengths of others.

2009: A year of leadership?

In western ritual, we don’t have a year of  this or that.  Maybe this is the year of leadership?

In years like this, as we walk along an unknown road, we need leaders

  • who think through what needs to be done
  • who have the emotional energy to understand and celebrate the journeys that other people are taking
  • who form the collective as an umbrella
  • who delegate tasks to protect the collective
  • who keep commitment to the collective with a vibrant emotional space where we come to recharge rather than be depleted.

I’ll be interested in your stories as the year unfolds.  Here’s to a fun, happy and unexpectedly prosperous 2009!

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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Published in Economy & International Relations


  1. wazz wazz

    Obama is not an Xer. As many nationally influential voices have repeatedly noted, he is part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X. Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and that many top commentators from many top publications and networks (New York Times, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) are specifically referring to Obama, born in 1961, as part of Generation Jones.

  2. Jo Jo

    Hey Wazz, good to have you stop by.

    I take it that the ‘changing of the guard’ signals to you to that big changes are in the air.

    How does 2009 look to you?

  3. Jo Jo

    Great to hear from you Fritz! Your blog is looking good. All the best for 2009 and to Marion too.

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