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Raising the Bar in Lockdown with Jamil Qureshi

In the before times I went to a lot of events.

Sometimes I had two or three in one day.

The only thing that’s changed in lockdown has been the significantly reduced travel time.

The other day I was booked into four different webinars in one evening.

I know that a key part of strategy is what you say ‘no’ to and that’s the part I need to work on.

Sometimes during a webinar I’ll find myself thinking ‘what’s with your imposter syndrome? You already knew everything they’re talking about’ or ‘I wish they’d turned this into a PDF.’

That wasn’t the case last Thursday.

Years ago my old boss Naren Patel spoke highly of a coach he’d had the pleasure of working with, Jamil Qureshi. When I saw on LinkedIn that Naren had shared a webinar Qureshi was doing (hosted by a company called Raise the Bar) I jumped at the chance to join it.

Man, was that an hour well-spent.

There are times – like on the Marketing Week Mini MBA I’m currently doing – where you can’t scribble fast enough because the speaker is so good. Almost everything that Mark Ritson shares – particularly through the exclusive access we get in his weekly Q&A – is gold. And Qureshi is cut from the same cloth.

Towards the end of his talk Jamil Qureshi described himself in lockdown as “the most de-motivated motivational speaker you’ll ever meet.” Even if that’s true, it certainly didn’t diminish the level of insight he brought to his audience last week.

What I learned from Jamil Qureshi

I love it when there’s a combination of actionable work and food for thought, and that’s exactly what Qureshi shared last week. Below is my condensed version of the wisdom he offered the audience – if you’re particularly impressed with any of it then it’s likely to be from him, so please don’t let me give you the false idea that it’s an original thought on my part.

Who’s thriving right now

Those who have maintained motivation and thrived are those who have let their routine develop itself, as the world has moved from bricks-and-mortar to clicks-and-mortar.

They’ve thrown things in the air and sat back and watched where they landed.

They’ve focused on energy management, rather than time management.

Qureshi talks about how the people thriving right now are capable of ‘Janusian thinking’: holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously. For example:

  • Infinite patience, immediate results
  • Give up control to gain control.

Relaxing into the unknown and adapting to – rather than fighting against – change is key.

This next tip is the one I immediately put into action in Todoist and it’s helping me create clarity of thought and greater purpose behind my actions.

Qureshi shared that most of us focus on the aforementioned ‘to-do’ list, but not the ‘to-be’ list.

At the start of the day we plan the things we want to achieve but give little thought to how we want to behave.

So, next time you’re grouping your tasks together in your to-do list, put them in a box and add a personality to each one: ‘optimistically’ submit that article, ‘inclusively’ lead your team meeting, ‘efficiently’ submit your expenses. Assigning a personality trait helps you perform the tasks in the best way you can.

Further, it allows you to repurpose and realign to who you want to work with.

Other tips he has for individuals include:

  • Be agile, what holds us in place is habitual thinking
  • Be critical in your thinking
  • Curiosity is worth more than creativity right now
  • Be optimistic – we’re lucky to be alive at this time
  • Take personal responsibility, no matter how big or small
  • Be motivated.

No doubt some of those are easier said than done, but where you can find space in your day to focus on those ways of working – perhaps by attaching them to your to-do list – you’ll hopefully find value in his tips.

What is succeeding right now

We’re seeing communities outperform hierarchies and bureaucracies at deploying human potential.

One example of this is the 400,000 NHS volunteers who rose to the occasion in just one day.

There’s power in this horizontal structure, rather than the vertical structure that has dominated our world for the past 40 years post-Marshall Plan.

Not to focus on just one sector, but as an example, financial services companies are institutional, and right now the more successful ones are trying to become community focused internally to find customer value.

So, while competition was the name of the game in the past, right now it’s the power of collaboration that has the potential to help organisations and the human race succeed.

How to unite teams in this moment

In a crisis, particularly in the geographically disparate crisis we now find ourselves in, most individuals hunker down, work hard to get stuff done and complete only their own personal to-do list. They’re assuring their own value and security but operating in silos that stop companies from making the most of collective potential.

Move your teams away from that personal to-do list and instead focus on what consumers and colleagues value, and what they value right now is changing. To bring them together you need to:

  • Create a sense of purpose
  • Create clarity for execution

What will succeed in the future

Qureshi posits that people will choose to vote with their feet as we emerge from the coronavirus crisis. This crisis and the coming recession will humble organisations that only know how to thrive through competition.

The most competitive organisations used to succeed. Now is the time for the most collaborative organisations.

The challenge is to establish how you can deliver real, sustainable value to the world, particularly as the climate crisis looms. How can organisations make decisions that reimagine and reinvent the future?

Success in the 20th century is failure in the 21st century.

What made them successful previously won’t make them successful in the future, and only brave organisations will choose to break with that formula before it’s broken.

You can’t trust a future built upon the past.

Brave or dead: those are the only two companies of the future.

So, how to succeed when there are so many uncertainties? Focus on what matters.

Right now that’s a people strategy not a business strategy.

Be agile, open-minded and partnership-focused. Tap into the power of collaboration. Start asking better questions of your shareholders.

The new now, not the new normal.

If you wait for the dust to settle you’ll already be too late.

So, number one: work backwards.

[That’s a point that really stood out to me given the similar advice that Mark Ritson offers on the Mini MBA.]

What does working backwards mean?

It means learning to understand your customers in the same way that an immigrant sees things the citizen misses.

Take a fresh approach, ask plenty of questions and keep your eyes open for clues that you might have missed previously.

People’s needs don’t change – how they want to satisfy them does.

Repurpose your business to help satisfy those needs.

While you’re repurposing ensure that there’s a constant feedback loop.

Part of becoming more collaborative is recognising that not only do consumers (still) not want to be sold to, they’re also part of our central network and listening to them will lead to mutually beneficially relationships, even before they become customers.

The ticking time bomb

This part resonates with me particularly after reading a post written by my colleague Emily Harry [side note: you should absolutely connect with her on LinkedIn – she’s one of the most impressive people I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with my fair share]. Harry has written from the heart about what it’s like to return to work post-furlough and offered some helpful advice on how companies can welcome teammates back to the virtual office.

As Qureshi says, for many organisations COVID-19 will prove to be a cultural time bomb.

Freed from the commute and a lack of autonomy in the office, people will be sat at home questioning their choices. Sat in their improvised home offices thinking very carefully about why they work.

There will be people made redundant and those who were furloughed.

What will life be like for team mates post-furlough?

And what about life for those people who had to take a pay cut and do two people’s worth of work?

Companies need to look to the future and not focus on what used to work. They need to look at the best of life before COVID-19, incorporate that and ditch the rest.

Qureshi talks about how quick companies are to try and train employees, rather than thinking about changing the environment.

In that respect there’s plenty that employers can learn from their people – simply by listening to them.

How have your team mates coached themselves in this time? How have they motivated themselves and found meaning in their work?

Rather than going top down, go bottom up – with solid qualitative data. Develop a business model that listens to these insights.

It’s not change but the pace of change that catches organisations out.

There are two things that will lead to success in the new now:

  • Number one: a sense of community (which outperforms bureaucracy and hierarchy) as we’re a social species; and
  • Number two: flexibility in process.

Give your people autonomy, allow them to work on what’s important to them.

Give me ‘I will’ over ‘IQ’.

The more you experiment, the more you’ll win. As long as you build in the feedback loop that Qureshi described earlier, you’ll be armed for success.

Because bureaucracies and hierarchies are the enemies of success Qureshi notes it’s likely that the idea that will improve your business has already been had. But your team is faced with situations where they think:

  • I don’t want to make a mistake – we’re punished for that here
  • I know my idea will work – I just don’t want to be the one making it happen.

Remove obstacles and allow people to do the work that matters to them. Create an environment where making mistakes doesn’t make you a mistake

Uncover and reveal skill sets through self-learning.

Think about peer coaching environments where people can share openly, make them aware of the skills they’ve already got.  

Do away with what’s successful to allow you to become successful.

The talk in full

I hope my write-up has done Qureshi’s talk justice, but for those interested in hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth (so to speak), I’d recommend checking out the full recording here: