Principles for Purpose in a Pandemic




Context is Queen: Culture Clarity through Pandemic Principles

We have a saying at Talentism about human behavior: “context is queen.” By this we mean that how we make sense of the world and the actions we take are inextricably tied to the cues we get from our environment. As a hyper-social species, the most important of those cues come from culture, which we define as “the expectations people have about what behaviors will be rewarded, punished and accepted.”

The reason I’m starting this week’s Sensemaker talking about the importance of context is that right now, for most people and businesses, those cultural cues are totally scrambled. I recently read a tweet about quarantine meaning “airport rules,” which apparently has something to do with sweatpants and day drinking. Others working from home are dealing with the opposite confusion: wondering when, if ever, they can turn away from their email, or navigating the dance of being fulltime amateur teachers while being on Zoom twelve hours a day. Frontline workers in warehouses and deliveries, meanwhile, are casting a skeptical eye toward CEOs speaking to the value of their service while issues pertaining to safety equipment and hazard pay go unresolved.

What is permitted in this new context that was never even considered before? What is being implicitly rewarded? What are the emerging taboos? Looking at the big picture, this contextual confusion is a recipe for either rapid learning — leading to intentional action — or rapid collapse. And as we’ve seen, the way to turn confusion into learning is through clarity. Just as cash-rich firms tend to break out as winners in recessions, in the current confusion-storm, clarity-rich firms will see outsized returns.

While our recent Sensemaker lays out the broad strokes for how leaders and managers can create clarity right now, we wanted to offer a concrete example of how we at Talentism are creating cultural clarity for ourselves through this period. In the link below, Jeff, Talentism’s Founder and CEO, lays out his “Principles for Purpose in a Pandemic” — an inside glimpse at how a leader is helping his team make sense of their new context.


Talentism’s Principles for Purpose in a Pandemic

  • Are you clear on the key behaviors you expect of yourself and others to succeed at your firm?
  • How are those expectations the same or different in the context of COVID-19?
  • Is there any particular behavior or standard you hold as especially important during this time?
  • How have you made that clear to them?

  • Write down three actions or behaviors that others have taken during this crisis that have impressed you most
  • Write down three actions or behaviors that others have taken during the crisis that have distressed you most
  • Look at each list, and for each action see if you can distill it into a general principle for behavior.
    • E.g. I was impressed by a client who gave away their point-of-sale ordering tech to school districts to help kids get meals while schools are closed. General principle: Be on the lookout for ways to proactively help those in need with your key skills / assets. 
  • If you haven’t done something similar already, share the lists with your team, both with the example behavior and generalized principle. Ask them to be on the lookout for how they can apply those principles in their own work through this crisis.


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