One of my less admirable habits is that I resolutely try to beat my children at games. Even when they were young. Even on their birthdays … the shame. My youngest daughter beats me at Monopoly, every single time we play. I always hang back and wait for the prize locations (because they’re where I want to be), while she acquires everything she lands on, and her houses and hotels send me to the cleaners. My losses don’t deter me, I still want to play, and I try to beat her every time. (I might have to lift my game though, as she said she was worried that as an adult, I was so inept at a universally played family game and that I shouldn’t be involved in any family property acquisitions.) I even try my darnedest to beat my eldest daughter, notwithstanding her having a chronic illness. There’s a point when she’s well enough to sit at the dining table, but not well enough to do anything mentally meaningful when I think I might be in with a chance to beat her at Sequence, my favourite game of strategy (ages 7+). She still invariably wins. On the occasions when I do win, there are euphoric victory laps. No recognition of pyrrhic victory here, just embarrassing elation. The family indulges me, but it’s a running joke how desperately opportunistic I am when it comes to games.
It goes without saying that blatant opportunism is not an attractive quality in any person or business. Clearly, the exploiting of circumstances can create opportunities for advancement, progress and profit, but opportunistic seeking of immediate advantage without considering the long term, and expediency over principles are well documented in their out-dated limitations. What begins as a sterling idea of cost efficiency and gold in the pot – think automated customer care, offshore call centres, franchising, and contentiously, hot-desking can end up costing more in reversals. I’ve witnessed the latter in various workplaces where I consult. While cost-effective for the company, no doubt, my experience is that the lack of personal touches like photographs, or a sense of place and belonging, nullifies the upside for the company. Groups ultimately claim a space anyway, leaving those who are truly utilising the system’s intent, feeling alienated and isolated, not knowing or having a clear connection with that day’s new neighbours. I dare say it’s a disaster for introverts and neurodiverse colleagues, and for creative types like me, the sparse and sterile desk area thwarts any inkling of creative thinking.
During the week, I heard about a bright young lawyer who was thrilled to be seconded to one of their firm’s biggest clients. The commute to this self-proclaimed business hub takes an hour and a half and four public transport changes each way. While the destination is wonderful, and they make a real commitment to sustainability and their culture, I doubt this person would ever choose to work there when there are abundant options in more amenable and desirable locations. Now that teams will be choosing to adopt a hybrid model of working between home and the office, the temptation for businesses to reduce their cost bases by moving all or part of their operations out of expensive central locations may well result in own goals. The cost savings (behind the camouflage of productivity and sustainability) become a pyrrhic victory when staff morale, culture, satisfaction and productivity diminish.
Take Atlassian’s headquarters being built in inner Sydney’s new tech precinct at Central Station. Not only will there be a magnetic dynamism in the immediate area, but importantly to Atlassian’s stakeholders, it will be the world’s tallest timber hybrid building (until it’s not). Co-Founder, Scott Farquhar says that “even with a highly distributed workforce, we’ll need a place to come together. Now we can design this space, especially for these new ways of working.” How can other businesses attract and retain key talent if they’re downgrading the work environment when more exciting and enticing entities are creating an extraordinary place to work in a place where people want to be?
When so many of our companies are under pressure, there is undoubtedly and unequivocally a necessity to reduce costs. We should avoid pyrrhic victories, though, in our quest to improve the balance sheet. John O’Burdett says that companies that sustain, don’t have a culture – they are the culture. Everyone is finally in agreement that the customer or client should be at the heart of every business decision. So too, should our team members, whose efforts, commitment, loyalty and capabilities sustain our businesses. We need to create amazing workplaces (virtual and physical) in order to maintain amazing teams.
O’Burdett also says that it’s a mistake to assume the winners standing on the podium today are equipped for the race of tomorrow. Businesses need to consider this, as they reframe for the future. My children should also take note. I comin’ to get’em. Like mutton to the slaughter…