A personal statement by OrgVitality CEO, Jeffrey Saltzman
There’s a joke that circulated on the internet in the waning days of 2021; it’s a meme that features the character Moira from Schitt’s Creek, and suggests that we are starting off another doom and gloom year since 2022 is pronounced “2020, too.”
The only year worse than 2020 recently was 2021. But as we just turned the page to 2022, what do we have to deal with in 2022? A climate disaster is knocking on our door, a virus has killed more than 825,000 Americans and more than 5,440,000 globally, democracy is under attack, and there is an ongoing attempt to overthrow the US government implicating certain members of Congress and the previous administration. Voting rights and women’s rights are threatened across much of America, we are divided as a nation by a chasm of a deepness we have not seen since the civil war, and our foreign adversaries both economically and militarily are doing their best to challenge us. These adversaries are rejoicing at the challenges we face, and some of the challenges are helped along by their efforts. No wonder that in spite of a booming economy and strong stock market, significant increases in employment, major advances in medicine, science, and technology yielding astonishing breakthroughs and new capabilities, we can still say we look towards the new year with trepidation. Most alarming to me personally is that some don’t see the challenges as significant and many seem to be hoping to a return to the way things were; many think that our challenges will just go away by themselves. They won’t, and I believe that in 2022 ongoing complacency is one of the largest dangers that we will face.
The American promise to do good in this world is exceptional. I also believe that globalization has the potential to do good. After WWII when America rose to become an unrivaled superpower, our strength ushered in an age of prosperity and scientific advances never before seen in human history. Alarmingly for the USA, The Economist Intelligence Unit for 2020 lists both Germany and Japan – countries which owe much of their success to our efforts after the war – as full democracies, while the USA is now listed as a flawed democracy. We are at risk of further decline, which is a staggering notion. While both the USA and globalization are imperfect, the push towards a global economy ushered in an era of advances for many workers, helping them rise out of poverty and improving working conditions. But globalization also caused many well-paying jobs in the USA to be lost to low wage overseas workers. That needs to be addressed, for as Benjamin Franklin knew, a well-educated vibrant middle class is key to a robust democracy. There is certainly a long way to go; many hundreds of millions of workers around the world are ruthlessly exploited with little to no protections. Unfortunately, there are many who now see the outcome of globalization as a win/lose concept, or a zero-sum game rather than an opportunity to advance all of humanity in a win/win scenario. The USA has lost some of its footing, but should we regain our balance, we are the only country in the world whose leadership can make that win/win a reality.
The Economist in its December 11, 2021 issue asks the question “What would America fight for?” It asked this same question in 2014.
The article describes how an Admiral in the Japanese navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor said that he feared that all Japan had accomplished was to awaken a sleeping giant. It was a prescient statement. But in the defeat of Japan, the article continued, America created the conditions that allowed Japan to thrive and prosper by creating a world order in which America itself acted not as a conqueror, but as a partner by adhering to the same set of rules as required of other countries. Critically, the article questions America’s resolve to continue in its leadership role, hence the question “What would America fight for?” That challenge as I see it: Humans are the guardians of the Earth. If we are to retain a planet on which we can live, a planet on which humans can prosper, a world order that allows people to live with dignity and respect, it is time for America to once again awaken. We have no choice. But I am optimistic, for America when challenged produces miracles. The year 2022 can be the rebirth of our awakening and beginning of a new miracle.
That goal will require both a top-down and bottom-up effort. No one, and no organization, gets a free pass.
The generation that came before us saved the world and created economic prosperity; it is the turn of current generations to carry on that work. From a top-down perspective we must get our house in order. Our democracy must be preserved and strengthened. Those who challenged our democracy must never be allowed to attempt to overthrow our government again. Our institutions at both a national level and local level are tarnished and must be repaired. Our Congress must once again become functional allowing us to accomplish the advances in infrastructure and in social structure that will allow us to resume our global leadership role. Legitimacy must be restored to our Judiciary as well as to other law enforcement agencies. If we want to pass on a world that allows our children and grandchildren to thrive, that allows humanity a long-term picture of prosperity, abdication of leadership is simply not an option. At the same time as a nation, we must heal. There are various paths that may allow us to achieve that healing, and while there are those at the fringes that I would not waste our time or resources upon, there are other great swaths of Americans that must be brought back into the fold.
For generations immigrants have strengthened America. Our image as a land of freedom and opportunity has continuously drawn motivated people fleeing oppression, economic hardship, and now unlivable conditions generated by climate change. And what these immigrants have been able to accomplish here is truly amazing. Many of our scientific, medical, and business advances are immigrant driven. If not by the immigrants themselves then by their children; immigrants come and work hard to create a better life for their children. Why do you think you never hear of people fleeing to repressive places like Russia, North Korea or China? Cuba, Venezuela, and other strong man dictatorships do not have an immigration challenge. America is the land which inspires dreams. The opportunities that America represents and Lady Liberty in the NY Harbor are beacons that have shined for generations and those lights simply can’t be allowed to be extinguished or diminished.
From a bottom-up perspective, it will take the dedication of all types of organizations across this great land to have the impact that we are going to need to have over the coming decades.
Normally I tell organizations to avoid a heroism culture as it means that they are operating non-sustainably with exceptions and with the constant threat of burnout. Yet today I think we are entering a new age that will require corporations, non-profits, academic institutions and others to embrace a new age of heroism – organizational heroism. Each organization must embark and embrace the notion of People, Planet and Prosperity. Conditions which allow People to live with respect and dignity, and with a sense of future. The Planet must be safeguarded, much more so than we ever have, as there is no alternative. And Prosperity, for if organizations are to accomplish all this, both they and their workers must be able to thrive financially. They must each do their part if we are to succeed not as tribes or nations, individually looking out only for their own interests, but globally as a species. And to do that we are going to need many heroic actions to occur.
A rather simplistic model can help an organization think this through. It is based on the notion of Message, Performance and Future. Message is defining what the organization is about, its vision and its goals. Communication is the first step and leadership must ensure that the Message gets out to the staff. On an employee survey, this translates into the items that have to do with how the organization is describing itself to the employees and their role in it. These items deal with clarity regarding what the organization is about, how it will operate and how each person contributes to delivering on those goals. During times of change it should be clear how the organization is changing, what the expected benefits of the change will be and each person’s role in the change effort. Performance is assuring that people are getting what they need to be able to deliver on that Message – to get the job done. Performance should be thought of in the broadest sense, including personal development, resources, processes and procedures. Future is assuring that people feel like they have a future for themselves, a sense of both belonging and feeling valued. It is a major reason why they will give exceptional effort for the organization to succeed.
In 2022 America is facing challenges both internally and externally. Some of them are of our own making. Some of them are from our adversaries challenging us. But in 2022, I would not bet against America for we can rise once again and change the world to be a better place. The promise we hold, after all, is exceptional.