|Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still by John Martin, 1816 (public domain - Wikimedia Commons)|
"I wasted time and now time doth waste me;
For now hath time made me his numbering clock:
My thoughts are minutes."
– William Shakespeare, c. 1595
Time. It's a concept that surrounds us all, yet we pay it either no need or put too much effort into thinking about it.
It's part of our lexicon: time travel, time zones, time enough at last, time warp, etc. But it's also part of the industrial world: time clock, overtime, time-and-a-half, downtime, time off.
Is it any wonder? As long ago as 1784, Ben Franklin gave us to understand that time is money in a letter to I. In it, he calculated how much money Parisians could save if they got up early (like he mistakenly did one morning) and worked by daylight instead of candlelight.
In a series of calculations, he determined that about 96 million livres tournois could be saved in six months.
Time is central to how we conduct ourselves in polite (or even impolite) society. Think about the time stresses that Amazon warehouse workers are under every hour. So much so that they're sustaining serious injuries.
Our worth seems to be tied to the speed by which we can do, share, or post things:
"Tardiness is next to wickedness in a society relentless in its consumption of time as both a good and a service—as tweet and Instagram, film clip and sound bite, as sporting event, investment opportunity, Tinder hookup, and interest rate—its value measured not by its texture or its substance but by the speed of its delivery." ("Captain Clock," Lapham's Quarterly)
And while we like to chalk this up to digital life — as that fictitious "attention span of a goldfish" line you constantly hear — this is something humans have been grappling with for decades.
In 49 B.C., Seneca wrote admiringly of the philosophers who "not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but [they] annex every age to theirs."
He understood how putting things from the past in perspective could train the mind to anticipate what's coming (something I do with my clients and in this newsletter).
"Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future...For they dash from one pleasure to another and cannot stay steady in one desire."
Does that sound familiar?
Like executives who suffer from shiny object syndrome, or GMOOT ("Get me one of those!").
You can't expect your team to accomplish anything along a trajectory if you're constantly interrupting with what you just read on Twitter, saw your granddaughter using, or heard from some high-energy but inexperienced motivational speaker.
There are plenty of reasons to have faith in relevant corporate experience and history.
Why is history important when it comes to business? Simple: learning from the failures and successes of others who have come before you.
The failures will save you time and resources. The successes will give you a path toward what is possible. But your job is to synthesize, adapt, and update them for strategies and tactics that work for your team.
And occasionally you'll fail, despite so much careful preparation. No matter. We all have regrets — about leadership, love, family, professional performance.
We can't undo the past, so we shouldn't dwell on them. Any good leader (or spouse, or friend, etc.) needs to focus on a path forward.
"We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
Culture Change Takes Time
Every leader's job is to create culture.
And whether you're doing it by deliberate implementation or by neglect, culture gets traced back to leadership.
Culture change in a large organization can take five years or more, according to Forrester Research, based on dozens of companies they studied. They know that digital transformation requires culture change first:
"Culture change requires individual behavior change, on a mass scale, for all organization members."
Individual behavior change on a mass scale.
That's a tall order.
But it's one that comes from observing how leadership conducts itself.
By watching what leaders do, employees learn how to behave.
If you see how a leader listens to customers, vendors, and employees, that in turn will teach you what's important to that leader.
When so many leaders are flogging their teams for "customer centricity," yet have policies in place or take actions that are decidedly non-customer-centric, those actions speak volumes.
And when the CMO is under pressure to show results of a new customer-centric strategy in mere quarters, they're being judged along the wrong timelines.
With CMO tenure now at an all-time low, there's not enough time allotted to make proper assessments. And when chief marketing officers hold a variety of functions from customer experience to advertising, from revenue generation to brand building and chief customer officers and chief communications officers, it's no wonder they're getting the focus.
"I do not object to people looking at their watches when I am speaking. But I strongly object when they start shaking them to make certain they are still going."
— Norman Birkett, 1960
A high-functioning executive team will put together realistic timelines to determine how the ship is turning, particularly with respect to things like morale, culture, and strategy. These are not measured with quarterly KPIs.
History may not supply us with all of the answers. But the evolution of how we think about time should also inform how we think about the humans that experience it — whether they're customers, leaders, employees or vendors.
If we're creating experiences that are focused on the right things and designed to make things easier, create value, and move in the same direction, then we eliminate the need for them to check their watches (or calendars).
They'll get lost in time.
"Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity."
— Jean de La Bruyère, 1688
This originally appeared in the Timeless & Timely newsletter for January 29, 2020. To see the newsletter in its entirety, please click here.