Before corona (BC) and after corona (AC)

Fiona Johnston

  • CEO, UM Australia
Fiona was appointed as CEO for UM Australia in October 2017 to lead, support and build the best present and future for UM, its clients and its partners. Fiona has international experience in both the media and marketing space, previously taking the position of Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at MediaCom, helping the agency drive its growth and annual business planning taking the company from sub 10 to number one position in APAC and Australia. Prior to moving to Australia, Fiona was a company board director and senior client ambassador for PepsiCo EMEA at international creative agency Havas/Euro RSCG. There she helped lead and reorganise PepsiCo’s international marketing development for the UK, USA and EMEA. In the past, Fiona has been an Executive Consultant working with a portfolio of clients such as Coca-Cola Asia, eBay and the AFL helping C-suite executives in strategic leadership and corporate development initiatives. Outside of work, Fiona is proud to be a qualified yoga teacher, must be in nature at least once a week and loves F1 and aviation - (often competing priorities)!

As the world takes on a whole new format and mindset, I have often heard these words.  

We will never be the same…

We will care more about our time…

We will care more about each other.  

And so on.                                                                                                   

And I hope that is true. I wish it for my family, my friends, my amazing team and of course for myself.  

But… really?  

Our corporate structures are long hardwired into our psyche and state of mind. Are years and years of engrained behaviour versus a few weeks of ‘new’ really going to make that much impact?  

Our need ‘to prove’, to our team or boss, our drive to meet the never-ending deadline, and indeed to keep our jobs, in some ways has never been more prevalent than now. With this halo of uncertainty surrounding our security, and our generational engrained working practices, I’m not sure I buy it.  

Well into the industrial age, when Henry Ford created the 9-5 working day as we know it, we have been at pains to ensure we have a role and purpose in the corporate structure. This may be less so now than ever with the sense of liberty a shared economy and startups everywhere give us, but it still exists. And so, as we wait for the ‘After COVID’ to arrive, I can’t help but think of what real meaning we can take from our ‘During COVID’ time. BCV versus ACV.  

Wholesale change and just ‘expecting’ it to be ‘better’ (whatever ‘better’ means to you) is good old-fashioned human optimism. I love it. But human behaviour also shows intent doesn’t always equate to action. Look at every gym membership unused, Dry Julys ignored and screen time limited. It just doesn’t happen.  

So engrained is this structure of ‘fitting in’, of being in a corporate routine, I would not put it past ourselves within a week or two just to revert to type, being the lovely, well intentioned, but at times, naïve humans we are. 

As a previous consultant and qualified yoga teacher, I am as keen as anyone to take these ‘life learnings’ into ACV, for my team and their wellbeing as much as anything else. It’s my job and my responsibility.  

So, what can we do?  

One thing is for sure, we need to keep it simple or we risk making it another part of the to-do list. It needs to be a ritual, not a task, and an intent, not a goal.  

With the aim to add small nuances to create real change, which in turn, creates rituals.  

1. Consciousness – real choice  

As marketers, professionals and humans, we need to be way better at defining what we don’t do. In a corporate age where we have become so good at doing it all/ having it all (1980s/1990s) we have in fact ended up just adding it all on. Combine that with the fourth industrial revolution in tech, and we have the perfect load.  

Whether it be for good or just sheer focus, we need to get far better at deciphering the things only we can do as a human or a brand, and stick to those. That doesn’t mean a smaller bit of everything else, it means nothing else. Until we make better conscious choices, we will always stack up our workload, drive consumers noise versus engagement and succumb to the never-ending deadline.  

Just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should. It’s about making choices in service of ourselves and in where and when we define the value of communication. This means saying no.  

There is never nothing to do, and our obsession with deadlines must change. There will always be more, so what more do you resist? What serves you or others well?  

2. Adaptability – a new structural symphony  

If nothing else, this period has forced us into lowering the barriers of who we are as human professionals. Whether it be babies crawling into focus, cats sitting on laptops, or noisy workmen in the house, we have never been closer to the ‘real us’. Through this crisis, being adaptable has been key.  

I would love to see us bring this ability to truly see others into our corporate environment more. Real flexi-working, as a rule not expectation, real appreciation for mum, dad or carer dealing with small humans and working too and a real sense of empathy for those alone too.  

We see more through the eyes of the others in this world, and from this we can surely judge very little, aside from how remarkably different and yet similar we all are. We all have demands, we all have challenges, and we all wish for happiness, the nirvana.  

It’s about real flexi working as a rule not expectation, real appreciation for mum, dad or carer dealing with small humans and trying to work too, and a real sense of empathy for those alone.  

So, be it through varying team schedules to give back true work life balance; changing our style of delivery; or reducing floor space to manage the commercial reality we all face, there are many great lessons to learn and tools we can use now. (How much cost do we think it tied up in corporate rent right now anyway?)  

Being adaptable, Darwin always said, was the key to successful survival, and we have shown we can do that. It would serve us well to continue.  

3. Acceptance – human wisdom and knowing  

“It’s the same as adaptability,” I hear you say. Ah, no. Where adaptability may be the structure, acceptance is the permission.  

We have long had this false image of control in our corporate world, and as a considered CEO, I am as guilty as anyone of this. If we can only get this done, that right or keep them happy, it will all be fine. How often is this just not the case?  

Accepting there will just be things outside our control allows us to lower stress and anxiety of attaching to what could be in replacement for accepting where we are. For now.  

Does this mean not caring, planning or strategising? Not at all. We need scenario planning more than ever before. What it does mean, however, is giving ourselves and each other a break. Not slacking off, or accepting poor performance, but just knowing that sometimes with all the best will in the world, it may not work out.  

This situation has shown us many powerful things and we are only just bringing them to the fore. One of these is showing us both the power and lack of control we have over the physical self.  

Of all the human intelligence areas*, EQ – emotional intelligence, SQ – spiritual intelligence and IQ – the power to learn, PQ – the physical intelligence, it is the latter that’s most latent and powerful. It is also the last indicator doctors observe after administering medicine or removing blockages to see ‘how the body will respond’. We can only control that so much.  

Be it through values or routines, or making space for just letting go at times, is a real human practice I want to bring into our corporate world. For our total wellbeing, it’s knowing when to fight, knowing when to let go and the wisdom to choose between the two.  

Future forward  

What it has shown up is that in the BCV world, we were just a little dull, a little asleep, a little rushed. We weren’t sure where we were going but running at a million miles an hour nonetheless to meet a deadline that never ends and workload that will never be complete. We sort of knew this, but we didn’t really do anything about it.  

Whatever one thinks of the guru, Osho (Wild Country, Netflix) he is a great master on these topics and one of his mantras I use well: ‘Never give up and keep letting go’.  

It’s knowing when to move on, conserving your energy for things that serve you well, and knowing when to retract from those which don’t. Keep going, keep trying, but on the right path.  

So… slow down.





Even just for a few seconds of glorious breath, that invaluable commodity we have taken for granted for so long, and yet so dear to us now. That’s what I will hope to take into an ACV world.    

Sources: Henry Ford’s working week; Daniel Goleman – Emotional Intelligence – why it matters more than IQ; Osho – Sutras; Yoga Coach – Mark Breadner

Tags: business leadership, leadership, CMO role

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