” Shhh… we’ll just tell them it’s business as usual. They won’t notice that the company is restructuring, redundancies are happening and targets are getting exponentially tougher!!” Well, I exaggerate a little but in my Corporate career I have heard this kind of view emanating from many senior leaders.
As anyone who has worked with me knows, I physically cringe at the BAU catchcry! The phrase is used to communicate a sense of status quo, to reassure employees that there is ‘nothing to see here, just focus on your daily tasks’. Although this can be done with good intention, employees are not stupid and even if they don’t know the details of the changes, they will know something is happening.
Our brains are amazing predictive machines and we get a brain based reward (dopamine) when we successfully predict the future. It gives us a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure when we skilfully predict the outcome of a masterly ‘who dunnit’ movie, or when we skilfully predict someone’s behaviour. So when our leaders say it’s BAU but all the behaviours and other evidence point to change occurring then this lack of congruence can trigger a threat response, leading to higher levels of stress and more informal conversations where employees are trying to piece the puzzle together. So saying it is BAU when it clearly isn’t can cause more disruption and stress from employees than just being transparent!
Change is a constant, in fact the Futurist Bob Johansen goes further to describe our current business environment as having four major components- volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity or VUCA. So from Johansen’s point of view, change and uncertainty is indeed pervasive, however, it seems strange that we, in the Western world, are seeing this as a ‘new’ trend – Buddhists know it better as impermanence.
The answer isn’t to pretend that it is ‘business as usual’ but equip our employees to be able to develop mental and emotional resilience and agility.
Bob Johansen “Leaders Make the Future” Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2009)