Noble: The Bottom Line—employees aren’t disposable elements or puppets on a string

Reading is dangerous; it can lead you to challenge things around you in unexpected but exciting ways. Or it can lead to a severe state of the blahs! 

One expects those anointed by the mass media to use their time and space to provide insights, moving their readers to actions that improve their lives. 

Image: A satirical take on the media.

Sadly, last week’s news and its analyses were downers. The struggle with Covid-19 has been a wake-up call to all in that the unexpected and the unlikely happened in tangible ways we did not anticipate. 

Our commentators and reporters appear to be morose in their attempt to make sense of the swirling events. Their tales were stories of unremitting darkness. 

In Sunday’s lead story, a restauranteur laid off his staff, pleading a lack of cash. By Monday, we had stories about the S&P rating (a challengeable perspective) and a tale of everything wrong in our country. The follow-up of those analyses was a basic retelling of price increases with barely a grasp of the global situation. 

There was no sense of opportunity for executives and people to manage the complexity and drive our competitiveness. Our nation was doomed. 

Dark thoughts dampen our capacity to recover. We need to see the reality, but we must look to success. What people are thinking is more important than what is happening at the moment in time. We cannot take the day-to-day fussing in the media as though it was gospel. 

Photo: Peter George Jr is owner of the Trent Restaurants Group, which includes Trotters.

For many, however, what happened in the last 24 hours is paramount and our history. While the initial natural reaction is to batten the hatches, we must understand that these events will not last. This scenario is not about Covid-19 but how we may engage the future. To focus on the former is to lose perspective.

Our elites of every stripe do not see themselves as leaders nor as part of the wider community. Not because something is the present case does it mean that it ought to be so. Not because current circumstances give us pause does it mean that the outcome is unavoidable. 

The fog of uncertainties leads to many irrational actions, but we need to focus on what must be done to make something better happen. This sense-making is the job of courageous leaders. 

Businesses do not exist in a vacuum; they are part of a larger, complex, interconnected reality. Being in business requires thinking about the bottom line, but we have lost the plot when all that we think about is the bottom line.  

The whole community is watching and will remember how our business leaders acted and treated them in these difficult moments. If we wish to preserve and build long-term value and strong brands, we must think deeply about our relationships. 

Image: The lighter side of corporate jargon.

What is the role that ordinary human beings play in our businesses? This argument is not about letting emotions cloud our grasp of the realities we all face. But we must be careful to not bend and twist our fellow humans into unrecognisable debris in the pursuit of our business goals. 

Money should not be the value system that rules. We cannot decide to pursue it as the highest goal, laying waste of all other values. The issue of how far to keep employees on our payroll without the income to support is undeniably a complicated question. 

But there is no healthy economy without a healthy population. Other considerations must be weighed. The voice of business is not the only one in the room. We all have to be willing to shoulder some burden in the collective struggle to survive. 

We should not treat our employees, our single mothers with children to sustain, as disposable elements or impediments to our profit objectives. Why mess around with them as though they are puppets on a string? 

Photo: An employee serves a martini at the Trotters Restaurant on Maraval Road.
The Trotters Restaurant Group suspended its operations on 2 August 2021.
(via Trotters)

There are lessons to learn from the 1918 pandemic. Pandemics are disruptive, and anything that can mitigate their impact is helpful. Transformation is inevitable. Some businesses will die, but we will learn to thrive in new ways. Suffering will not last forever. People are resilient.

The pent-up desire for socialising will be unleashed. Remember the Roaring 20s? That charged forward, changing social norms and igniting business and social transformations. 

Seesawing is part of recovery. Sears (established 1893) rose to be a powerhouse in retailing by exploiting the census data. We will do well not to be allergic to data and discern where society is heading. 

We ought not to yearn for the old days. The prize is for those who can imagine a bright, bold future. 

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About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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