What does Christmas mean to you? For Stevie Wonder, it had something to do with carol singers and mistletoe. Perhaps yours more closely resembles a maelstrom of wrapping, relatives and bad jokes. Perhaps it’s something you don’t get involved in.
In any case, the holiday season (or, for retailers, the quieter period after the January sales) can present a rare opportunity for rest and reflection.
There’s plenty to reflect on, but I’d like to zero in on three issues, two contemporary, the other as old as time.
- AI ascendant
The last year brought the mainstreaming of generative AI, raising the possibility of new ways of working and possibly another step-change in automation.
But as with most major technological advances, it’s important to strip away the hype. Ask yourself this: Are AI and automation helping your employees do their jobs and helping customers have a better experience? If not, could they?
Too often, automation has been an excuse to cut costs, at the expense of drooping morale and irate customers. Think of supermarket self-service checkouts. They can help shoppers get on their way quickly and easily, if well-attended by helpful staff. If not… well there’s nothing so likely to erode festive cheer than being stranded in a busy store with a touchscreen that refuses to recognise your sprouts.
Similarly, Chat-GPT could act as a productivity-boosting enabler for many people, but if they see it as a looming replacement they’re less likely to look for ways to use it better. The bottom line: don’t let artificial intelligence overshadow human empathy.
- Conscious capitalism
Another year of weird weather doesn’t seem to have pushed many more businesses to rethink their attitude towards sustainability. Although about two thirds of the Fortune Global 500 have made a significant climate commitment, such as to net zero or a Science-Based Target aligned to the Paris agreement, this proportion didn’t increase in 2023.
However, the ones that did make a commitment by 2030 succeeded in cutting annual emissions by 7%, while the rest increased theirs by 3%, a reminder that what gets measured gets managed.
Not to put you off your traditional open-fire chestnut roasting, but are you doing enough? Not compared to what your competitors are doing, but compared to what’s actually necessary? If not, take a step back and consider what enough might actually look like, and what opportunities it might create to do things differently.
What’s the point of your business? For too many companies, their ‘why’ is little more than a glib corporate strap-line.
Leaders can perceive a false dichotomy between profit and purpose, as though you can either get out of bed to enable a better future, or make this month’s numbers. But it’s not an either / or.
Put aside the marketing collateral and look at your purpose from a different angle. What work do you do that makes you proud, that helps your customers and that they’re willing to pay for?
Providing seamless IT services so that clients can get on with business? Refreshing people after a hard week’s work? Helping them find a dream holiday they’ll remember for all the right reasons? Whatever it is, you won’t go far wrong if you reduce it to those simple criteria. And if your current ‘purpose’ doesn’t match them, then what are you going to do about it?
Whatever you choose to reflect on, there are a few key rules to bear in mind. Reflection isn’t the same as navel-gazing, so if you have an epiphany, try to come up with at least one thing you’ll do differently as a result. Similarly, don’t come back in the New Year with so many bright ideas and big changes that you overwhelm people.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t let the fact that your work matters to you get in the way of taking some much-needed time off (particularly if you’re a talker – your family won’t thank you for it, believe me). Have some fun. It is Christmas, after all.