Kevin Johnson, CEO at learning and development consultancy OnTrack International, comments on self-focus and its impact.

In an era where the self-focus pandemic is increasingly prevalent in the workplace, businesses face the challenge of fostering a culture that aligns individual ambitions with collective goals.

But how can businesses in 2024 overcome the detrimental impact of self-focus to ensure growth and success, and what steps do they need to take to create the right culture?

The self-focus pandemic in business

The trend of self-focus among employees and leaders is not just a passing phase; it has become a pandemic. This phenomenon, where individuals pursue their personal goals over those of the business, erodes the fabric of company culture.

The consequences are significant ‚Äď reduced team cohesion, limited growth, and a decline in overall business success.

And while it may be tempting to view this as a European or North American trend, that would be a mistake. I am witnessing this phenomenon globally, from Asia to Western Europe and the Americas. Globally, employees and their leaders put themselves first and the company last.

The impact of self-focus on growth and success

Many causes have contributed to this self-focus, including the atomisation of society, the growth of celebrity culture and social media. During the Covid pandemic, communities came together and engaged with others. Now we have returned to more typical working practices, we have forgotten that in order to navigate the challenges that we faced, looking outwards was key.

However, rather than focus on the sociological causes, we must focus on the impact on companies and their people.

The self-focus pandemic hampers individual development and the collective progress of teams and the business.

When employees and leaders focus on their personal agendas, the synergy required for innovation and growth is lost.

This lack of alignment leads to fragmented efforts, reduced efficiency, and stagnation in achieving business objectives. When the business environment is challenging, this self-focus pandemic makes it even harder.

Creating the right culture

The key to overcoming this challenge lies in building a culture which transcends individual self-interest. In short, leaders must develop a culture where everyone matters, not where a particular individual matters.  

For leaders, this often comes down to making one of three choices. 

First, they can leave the organisation. But this solves nothing. 

Second, they can stay and continue to complain. But complaining makes the situation worse. 

Third, they stay and make a real difference.

Making a difference means cultivating an environment where the success of one is the success of all. But how can firms achieve this in a landscape dominated by self-focus?

There are four critical steps.

First, the foundation of a thriving organisational culture lies in its purpose. It is essential to define what is negotiable and non-negotiable within this framework. CEOs and senior leaders must work to align individual goals with organisational objectives.

Once the purpose is clearly defined, leaders must work to articulate it and ensure employees understand why and how that purpose impacts them. A compliance officer should be as clear on how they are helping achieve the business‚Äôs purpose as someone in sales, for instance. In addition, they need to realise the value that each bring to collective success of the organisation.

With this approach in place, it’s no longer just about what an individual needs, but what we need as a team and an organisation.

Second, developing strong leadership. Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping company culture. By demonstrating a commitment to collective goals and showing genuine concern for team needs, leaders can set a powerful example for their teams to follow. Often, to achieve this, leaders need time to stop and think. It is very hard to act as a leader if we do not think as a leader first.

Third, leaders must foster a high trust and compassionate environment where they and their managers and employees can have honest conversations about performance. If leaders show they care about their people, they will be better able to get them to focus on collective, rather than selfish, goals.

Fourth, creating space to grow. Humans want to grow. It’s part of our nature. A successful business must recognise this and enable people to try new things and stretch themselves. Such personal ambitions, however, must fit within the framework of what the company needs to grow and succeed. Aligning the two ensures a more collaborative focus.

Company success, individual achievement

The self-interest pandemic presents a significant challenge to business culture in 2024. However, by adopting strategies that enable individuals to grow and achieve their individual aspirations through the organisation’s goals, demonstrating leadership, building trust and creating space to grow, companies can overcome this hurdle.

For instance, we worked with an organisation in the Middle East to develop a more internal and external customer-centric culture. We helped deliver learning and development for its senior leaders to build the culture it needs to achieve these ends. This shift helped align their internal culture with their strategic business objectives and, crucially, gave their leaders the skills they needed to continue to implement these changes.

When growth is more challenging and the world is more uncertain, companies should seek to create a culture where success is not just an individual pursuit but a collective achievement.

In doing so, businesses can unlock their full potential, ensuring growth and success for individuals and the organisation.

Kevin Johnson is CEO of OnTrack International

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