Lessons on Business Strategy From A Christmas Carol


It wouldn’t be Christmas without giving Dickens’ Yuletide classic, A Christmas Carol, a mention. First published in 1843, the cautionary tale with its vibrant characters is still as popular as ever and seems to be able to deliver messages that are as relevant as the day it was written - even in the unlikely realm of business strategy.
In the 19th century, Mr Dickens was not likely to have been thinking of the merits of home working, and yet A Christmas Carol’s protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, appears to have been an ardent advocate of office-based employment. Then again, he didn’t have the benefit of the internet at his disposal.  

Is your team still chained to the desk?

“I wear the chain I forged in life […] I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Thus, said the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s erstwhile business partner. Many of us may be able to relate, given that work mantra that’s been clanging in our ears through the ‘80s and ‘90s. It has heralded that we must be seen to be at our desks at all hours of the day and night, wearing our badges of burnout as if it is something to be proud of.
As the noughties have evolved, and digitisation has emerged, this culture has continued to prevail, especially in certain industries. However, it’s not had quite the same gusto as it once did. Underneath its surface, there’s been a dawning realisation that perhaps working ourselves into an early grave isn’t quite the way to do things. As employers, it has even become apparent that a stressed and overworked team does not necessarily make for a productive or loyal one. Given the vast cost of recruitment, staff retention and our ability to attract talent have become as important as any other area of the business. After all, without talent, there’s not much of a business at all.

A generation of game-changers 

In many ways, it’s millennials who have led the charge when it comes to driving change in the way we organise the workplace. Employers have become aware that this digital-savvy generation, armed with an increased sense of entrepreneurialism and opportunity, is as ambitious as ever, but in more ways than one. For many, it’s absolutely a question of achieving in their careers, but it no longer means a linear path to the top of a company they have worked in for 40 years. Employee mentality has changed as a result of the socio-economic changes - talent demands a work/life balance and a higher sense of purpose. 
For example, a few years ago, PwC recruiters noticed a change in their incoming graduates. Millennial employees, who by 2013 represented two-thirds of the company’s workforce and had once accepted signing their lives away for a job offer, were no longer so willing to shelve their personal lives indefinitely for the possibility of a lucrative partnership years down the road. 
Meanwhile, tech leaders like Google and Facebook have become widely known for the number of wellbeing benefits they have put in place over the years to support employee health and productivity. From gourmet-level on-site canteens to access to fertility treatment, gyms and games rooms, great thought, cost and consideration have been put towards wellbeing. Of course, the net result is that happy employees make for an even happier company bottom line. Research by Warwick University concluded that:

“Companies like Google have invested more in employee support, and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%; they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.” 

Enforced change has shown us what’s possible

As we all know, events this year have forced a change that was already underway in our working culture - remote working. Where it goes from here remains to be seen; it’s unlikely that we will all work from home all of the time because that would raise issues of its own. However, it has shown many companies that there are a variety of benefits to embracing different ways of operating, including remote working, as a more meaningful and intentional part of business strategy and structure. 
In line with the wellbeing and happiness of talent, enforced remote working has shown (shockingly), that many employees really do feel happier when four hours of each working day isn’t spent in someone else’s armpit on the London Underground. That in itself doesn’t mean that they will be more productive - as with everything, what matters is how remote working is done, and not merely the fact that it’s implemented. Like all things, it needs a strategy. However, done well and for the right roles, it can be extremely effective. According to one study, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year. 

The strategic use of fractional talent 

What many companies have also learned by force this year, is that not all roles benefit from being full time and/or permanent. In fact, thanks to the proliferation of self-employed talent in recent years, there is a vast ocean of skills that can be brought into a company as and when they’re needed, on a fractional basis, courtesy of the gig economy.  Since the 2008 recession, the Office of National Statistics said that self-employment has been one of “the defining characteristics of the UK’s [post-recession] economic recovery.” Meaning businesses should have been rethinking their business strategies to incorporate a different way of working in select roles, for quite some time. 
It’s understandable that many may have been hesitant to do so, but having realised it’s possible now, is there capacity within your company to work differently? Perhaps more strategically, more cost-effectively, and with improved productivity, by marrying traditional full-time roles with strategically placed interim, part-time and fractional roles.

CEOs can make companies as well as individuals healthier

This year has been a truly horrible year in so many ways, but it has highlighted what we are capable of as individuals and businesses, as well as what we’re vulnerable to. With any luck, we all have a greater appreciation for our jobs, our offices, our employees and our teams. We also have a renewed thanks for the health and wellbeing of ourselves and loved ones, and the importance of being able to enjoy that now, rather than anticipating time in a decade or two, after we have worked ourselves to the bone. 
Knowing this and knowing the effectiveness of the tools we have at our disposal to work more flexibly, CEOs have an opportunity to have their cake and eat it. They can support employees, make businesses both agile and resilient, and maybe even to enjoy greater freedom with their own work/life balance as well - all thanks to making the way we recruit talent into a purposeful part of business strategy.
In the words Marley: “No space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused” - let’s not waste the opportunity! 

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