It's No Substitute for 'Walking in Another Person's Shoes'
As we navigate the new norm that we live in, one thing that struck me recently is the need for better empathy in both our personal and work lives. The Covid-19 pandemic has put us all under added strain and we need to be aware of what hardships our decisions may be causing.
I have been writing a series of articles that try to relate the training or experiences I had in the US Navy with the business climate today.
I remembered a time in the hot Nevada desert, training prior to a 6-month deployment, when we practised low-level flying in preparation to support ground troops that might be under attack. Called 'close air support' in the business, our job was to fly low and fast towards the front of a battle and then attack the enemy on the other side of the front line.
Now I am not going to lie, this is a fun flight, IN PEACETIME! You are basically given carte blanch to race into the simulated battle and then pop out. Thankfully I never had to do this in anger!
The memory I recalled was a day when we were not flying, a few of us were driven out to the area where we had been flying over the last few days. Upon arriving at the site, we were handed an unarmed shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missile launcher. After about a 5 min brief on how to use the weapon, we were 'ready to go'! Next came one of our squadron mates tearing through the desert just as I had done all week. Not giving much away, it was incredibly easy to track the plane despite the pilot doing all kinds of manoeuvres.
It was a quiet ride back to the base for the debrief. Needless to say that 1-hour exercise opened our eyes to just how dangerous this mission really was if people were out to get you, and no amount of warnings would have prepared us for how easy these weapons were to use.
From a business side, it makes me think how important it is to ensure that people are really seeing the situation from the other side. Customer surveys, research documents and gleaned insight are all fantastic but you need to 'see' the situation for yourself from a customer, employee or supplier perspective.
This is obviously a bit trickier in today's housebound world but we need to try to get primary research to augment reports. I remember a meeting at HP years ago when I was working in a product line finance team. We were tasked with producing all kinds of reports each month for the group. We decided to have a face-to-face meeting where everyone brought all the reports they produced or received. We went through them one at a time to see if they were even relevant. Amazingly we ended up killing off about 20% of the reports we produced in a 2-hour face-to-face meeting! We never would have achieved this time savings by sending emails or reading PowerPoint decks.
With today's business being run almost exclusively remotely, the challenge to get first-hand info is even harder. But the consequences of making poor decisions are now more devastating, and we need to strive to see the real picture from our customer's perspective!
Just as we all need to show more empathy for people being affected by Covid-19, we need to develop an acute sense of business empathy by ‘walking in another person's shoes’.