Butterfly effect

I’m a qualified facilitator of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (based on the book by Stephen Covey). One of the main concepts in the programme is interesting to me, especially during these difficult times: that we are responsible for our actions and for their consequences.

I recall debating with the other people on the “train the trainer” course about how far the responsibility for our consequences extended and the degree to which our actions can be attributed, for example, if their impact couldn’t have been predicted.

Take the current financial crisis affecting many businesses: banks refuse to lend to customers of many years standing. Their businesses go under as a consequence. Are the banks responsible for job losses, personal debts and all the other consequences of a failed business? Are the largely faceless individuals running these banks responsible? Does their responsibility extend further to the social consequences that might arise from those individuals who are made redundant subsequently experiencing financial hardship?

And, this is where the debate got heated and convoluted, how far does this responsibility extend? If the child of someone who lost their job had to change schools and is beaten up on their first day for having previously been to a “posh” school, should the banker be held accountable? And if this child becomes so traumatised that he can no longer continue with his education and ends up spending the rest of his life underachieving, can Mr Faceless be charged with this, too?

Like many a good debate, no conclusion was reached. We did reach a consensus, however, that any consequence that could have been anticipated is the responsibility of the individual.

I don’t think it’s just the banks that are acting inappropriately. Nor do I believe it’s only extreme behaviours that produce extreme responses or consequences. Let me pose some questions for you to consider: if your supplier has reduced its prices by 50 per cent, will you accept a return to the old prices in due course?

If that supplier has reluctantly accepted payment stretching to 120 days, will they allow this to continue when their order books are full?

If an employee has been working extremely long hours, evenings and weekends, do you expect they will continue to do this, without reward, when things improve?

I believe that the way we behave now will have a significant impact on our businesses in the future. By taking some small actions and making the time to communicate effectively, we can do ourselves a world of good.

For example, letting employees know that their current efforts are appreciated and when they can expect a return to normal hours and pay is a whole lot better than the view I’ve heard some people express: “They’re lucky to have a job.”

Many of us have had to manage our cash flow very carefully but advising suppliers that they will get paid promptly is so much more likely to retain their support than: “Let them experience some of our pain.” Perhaps spelling out to clients that the discount they are receiving will be unsustainable in the long term is one of the most important things to do, otherwise this recession is going to last even longer than the most pessimistic forecaster will have us believe.

Step three of HEMP, The Highly Effective Marketing Plan, is to consider the consequences of achieving or not achieving your desired result before the marketing communications commence. It’s always been an important step but today it is the most significant. We need to ask ourselves very carefully: “What are the possible unintended consequences of doing this?” before taking any action.

Picture: source

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