How do we remember something that has yet to happen? One way is to project backward from an imagined time when we know the outcome and see where it leads us – like death.
Kevin Kelly recently sat down with Shane Parrish on the Knowledge Project podcast and spoke about life lessons. Kelly’s recently published a book on lessons from his life, and one of them is tied to his experience at funerals. His lesson: no one speaks to your accomplishments at your funeral; they speak to your character.
He’s right. I don’t recall a funeral where people spent much time talking about everything a person achieved, only who they were like while they were achieving them. More so, we hear from those about to die that they wish they’d invested more in character-building (humour, time with friends and family, child-raising, being kind, etc.) than work.
If we take this post-death perspective and apply to our workplaces, it starts to reveal some uncomfortable truths.
Will someone remember your organization for the efficient ways it worked? Will your ability to achieve sales or service targets be noted as a career highlight? Will you be known for your five-point plan to make a difference?
Will you be remembered at all?
Organizations are not people but have a culture that reflects the people within them.
Strategic Reflections from the Grave
We have the imaginative capacity to think backward from an event that has yet to happen. This is at the core of foresight. Great strategic foresight and futures thinking allow us to project forward and back from an imagined end. In this case, consider what might happen if we projected past the death of your organization. (You can do this with your life, career, project or anything with a “life”).
What will people say about you and what your organization does (and how it did it)? Were you kind to yourself, your colleagues, and clients? Did you live your values out loud, and did they matter? Did your means and ends work together in harmony in a way you’re proud of? Did you act with integrity and make difficult choices with kindness?
These aren’t questions left for a coffee-time chat or casual contemplation in the hallways of your office. These kinds of questions reflect who we are and what we stand for. At its most crass, it’s about being true to your brand. It’s also the ultimate statement of value. No one remembers (or cares much for) those targets reached and accomplishments if the means to get there weren’t caring or humane. And is that what you want to be remembered by? And worse: what if you could have done things differently? Like with It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol, it’s not too late to change.
Design this into your organization. You can be effective, impactful and kind at the same time. Yet, the drift comes from market pressures and other perceived threats that often push good people to do bad things. Things like pressing employees too hard (and for employees to pull away or disengage), not listening, cutting corners, and doing work that’s insignificant when we can do much more. Quality is more than a value-add, it’s what value is.
Take some time and ask yourself as an individual, board, or team member what people will say about you when you’re dead. Do you like what you hear?
If not, let’s talk. Designing your organization for performance, well-being, and impact in ways that will be celebrated is possible. Many leaders don’t want to admit things about their organization so all conversations are held in confidence.