There seems to be a crisis epidemic.
I know that’s how I, and many of my clients feel. I love them. I love nothing more than creating something positive out of something dire.

Rham’s Rule

The first thought that comes to mind when dealing with a crisis is, “what would Chicago Mayor and former White House Chief of Staff to President Obama, Rham Emanuel do if he was me?”

Emanuel developed the philosophy now referred to as Rham’s Rule;

“You never let a serious crisis to go to waste,” he said. Why? Because “it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.”

The Corona Virus is a crisis. It’s impossible to believe otherwise. The negative news is multiplying almost as fast as the virus itself. But there are opportunities. Many of which I shared with a client today. It is a very progressive independent school.

During the Fees Must Fall Crisis, UCT sent students home. I know, one was sitting in my house. Lectures were conducted via podcasts and social media. Online chat-rooms served as tutorial groups. Students could download the material at their convenience and as many times as they wished. Exams were written online. Marks were posted – online. Out of this difficult period came many positive opportunities. Universities have had to cope with regular student protest by providing content online. But it is not limited to universities.

One of the pioneers of UCTs online learning program Get Smarter was Robert Paddock who recently established an online school called the Valenture Institute. More and more people I speak to are schooling their children at home using online platforms. Sport and extra-murals are done through clubs and societies.

Education is being disrupted. This is not new; Clayton Christensen wrote a book Disrupting Class in 2008 (updated in 2017) much of what he predicted is currently happening. The notion that schools or universities are a cluster of buildings, a set of pupils and teachers for a fixed period is over. Done. Dusted. Gone. And Corona is facilitating this change at a frightening speed. Corona is closing down academic institutions. This provides the opportunity to modernise and democratise education.

Imagine online learning by not just any teacher of varying ability but the very best teacher in the world on a given subject on your child’s tablet in your house. Think about this; learning is a hit and miss affair, imagine your child is taught maths by a teacher who has never studied maths? Yes, it does and is happening. Yet technology makes it possible for every child to receive the best possible tuition.

Is Corona the opportunity we need to shift a system suited to perpetuate the status quo?

Another opportunity technology provides us with is the ability to “learn for life”. The year after my daughter completed her accounting articles, an online accounting program Xero shifted the needle in the industry a full 360 degrees. The credit crunch and state capture heightened the need for an ethics course – something previously thought of as an anathema to accountants. She estimates that within 18 months much of the curriculum was obsolete. If you do not continue to learn throughout your life you too will become obsolete.

Google “online courses” and you will find every reputable global university offering courses presented by the leading names in their field. Just think of it, you can graduate from Oxford sipping cortado in your local coffee shop.

And the workplace? From the first client, a school, to the second – a manufacturing and retail company. An HR Department clinging to the Victorian “time and attendance” mentality. They measure staff on the hours they spend at work. Little do they know their staff are on social media and taking private calls most of the time. They don’t understand that being there is not the same as being effective. “If I can see you, I can manage you”. Really, in 2020? There is NO USE measuring the wrong things. Their attendance is awful, as the pile of leave forms and sick leave forms on the HR Managers test indicates.

The HR Manager asked me to, “help us draft some guidelines to manage corona”. “You don’t need a list, you need common-sense, it’s really very simple”, I replied, “manage everyone as if they’re one of your sales reps.”

Agile Work Force

Over twenty years ago I introduced a concept called the “Agile Work Force”.

The first step was for the board to have a clear detailed strategic plan that is known to everybody, has clear metrics, and is used to direct all the company’s attention, energy and effort. I use John Doerrs OKRs. In all the companies I consult to, the two-day Stratplan session is the most important day on the calendar. Get this right and you win. Trust me. Polony, Day Zero, Corona or not.

Next manage your staff based on outcomes. Measure them on what they need to deliver, not how are they delivering it. Oh yes, get rid of those awkward performance review systems, no one likes them and no one understands them. Gone, we’re adults now.

A sales rep is measured on their sales against budget. There is no place to hide. You hit target or you don’t. Period. And there are agreed upon consequences set out in the incentive scheme. To a good manager, it shouldn’t matter an iota whether the rep achieves budget by making calls while watching cage fighting or while nursing a sick child. You should be managing the outcome. The End. Personally, I don’t care if Tiger Woods hits the ball out of bounds more than any other golfer, as long as he wins tournaments. That’s how we should treat staff. Instead we measure them on the amount of balls they lose. I know of an auditing firm that has appearance as a key metric – one-page dress code for male and eleven for female. Gumf. Who does this?

A young engineer told me he commutes for an hour to work and an hour back to sit in an office and design a bridge across the Red Sea. If he were to work at home, he would add 10 hours of productivity to his week and deliver the project a month earlier. But guess what? He’s measured on his time and attendance… honestly. Ten hours a week is forty hours a month or 480 a year. If he worked remote, his employer would get an extra 54 days a year productivity. Are you measuring the right metrics?

If you are an executive or business owner, draft up a list of positions that can work flexible hours or even agile. Then get their manager to draft a contract with them of the times they need contact, meetings, presentation etc. some can be done by Zoom others require people present – when you work out the amount of time this is, I’d be surprised if it is 10%.

We allowed most of the workforce to work agile and guess what? Productivity soared, profit soared and we attracted the most incredible talent way above what an enterprise like ours deserved or could pay for – a manufacturing part in the industrial wasteland of Stikland – between the graveyard and the used car lot. Why did we attract such talent? People want flexibility. People want a say in how they live their lives. People are adults. These people are your staff. Think about them – they are like you. They want to avoid time consuming commutes. You might have noticed the roads are gridlocked, the trains unreliable, while the buses under siege from taxi operators. Your staff, like you, want to drop children at school. Have coffee with their spouse and occasionally exercise. Yet you cling fast to your clock-card system, biometric system whatever, whatever developed in the industrial revolution. It’s dead. Yes. Sorry to break it to you.

What to do?  Apply Rham’s Rule and don’t let this serious crisis go to waste, because it just might be that opportunity to do things you could not do before.

If you need advice from someone who went to the edge, took the plunge and flew, contact Saige Business Consulting for advice on implementing talent management programs, retention programs, flexitime, agile and remote work. Contact us at