If I had a time machine: 10 things that should never have changed in business…

By Chris Sheppardson, CEO at EP Innovates (www.epinnovates.co.uk)

Times have changed.  Of course, change is a good thing and it is to be expected in business.  On the same token, some things have changed for the better, while others have simply been a huge step backwards for business prosperity and workplace culture today.  Often we think of past eras as outdated or archaic, in some cases this is true but something that business did get right many years ago was its approach to people. One can argue about the rights and wrongs but the evidence is staring us in the face.

Workplace culture continues to diminish, mental health continues to rise, people are being pushed to the limits and getting little in return.  If we only had a time machine, imagine if we could go back 30 years, what would we do differently, what would we change and what would we hang onto?

Here are 10 things that should never have changed in business…


  1. Talent investment

In 1988, twice as much money, relative to today, was invested into talent development.  Whether that was training, team support and team building, social events and more – business was about people.  As a result most employees felt that they were truly invested in, valued and trained. This was evident in the wave of strong workforces, teams and cultures back then.

  1. Life span of the CEO

Employees were given more opportunities to take risks, to grow in their roles, to make mistakes and to learn from them.  This meant that people climbed up the career ladder into senior roles far quicker than they are likely to today.  In 1988, research has indicated that the average lifespan of a CEO was around five years. Today it is between 28-32 months (lack of emerging leadership today could be the cause of this change) and many companies are doing away with the role of CEO altogether.  The result is that the focus is only on the bottom line profit rather than building a good, successful and robust business with a strong leader at the helm.

  1. Culture was king

Culture was important to leadership teams back in the day.  This isn’t all nostalgia either, there was a greater understanding that teams that were happy, connected and inspired, drove better results. Today it is all about transactions, processes and models. Where are the teams?

  1. Loyalty

Around 30 years ago, one often still had the lifelong loyal employee working within just one company. Loyalty was hugely important. People in the UK are traditionally tribal and loyal to their tribe, they want to belong to something bigger, to be part of a community – but only if that community is worth belonging to.  Today, there is far less loyalty and this is no great surprise given the value businesses have placed on their people over recent years.

  1. Champions of your own destiny

Many believe that the Thatcher era was the era of the entrepreneur. When entrepreneurs were freed up to become the champions of their own destiny. Many great entrepreneurs emerged at this time encouraged by the Government. I think it is fair to say that few entrepreneurs would feel so encouraged by the Government today.

  1. Social good

The social characters of the late 80s were vital, this was the era of the Yuppie, the Sloane Ranger, people were more social at work and in life and fashion was a leading priority. People felt more freedom to be who they are at work. The phrase work hard play hard comes from this time, where the workplace thrived, people treasured friendship, a life outside of the office but one that enriched the culture of workforces. Today, people rarely even take a proper lunch break

  1. Fighting the red tape

Thatcherism fought red tape and big government. Both have grown since and arguably, business today has been almost strangled by rules and regulations. Can you imagine Thatcher’s government supporting GDPR – which will see many companies lose up to 60% of their contacts and databases? Business is being held down and the result will not be pretty.  Where is the fight for what is right today?

  1. Del Boys’

Procurement and process have become too dominant in business today. Research notes that employees around 40% of their time in meetings and following processes today.  In the 80s, there were many more “Del boys” out there but it was the era of the ‘trader’.

  1. Relationships

In the 1980s, some sales executives would lose their jobs if their expenses were not high enough as this clearly meant they could not have been courting clients enough. Today, the Bribery act is known by all.  In the 1980s, the ‘all afternoon’ lunch was common – the question is, was this a bad thing? Today the average business lunch is 1.5 hours long.  Relationships are not as strong as they used to be. There is a cold and transactional feel to doing business today, yet one needs strong relationships in business and in life.

  1. Offline

In 1988, there was no web, no email, few mobile phones, no social media. Life was slower-paced and there was more time to reflect and think. There were less reports of mental illness. Less cases of burn out, anxiety and stress amongst the workforce.  Perhaps we were doing something right?


About EPinnovates (www.epinnovates.com)

A shop window for entrepreneurial innovation, EPinnovates has been created to showcase exciting innovations, new products, services, concepts and businesses forlarger companies to discover and explore.  Designed to recognise and support the innovation that entrepreneurs and smaller businesses bring to the future economy, EPinnovates tells stories about entrepreneurs; each has a different tale, adventure and overcomes diverse obstacles, but all are looking to improve business and create value.  Accessing these ideas and innovations can be difficult forbusinesses to truly discover so EPinnovates acts to bridge that gap and help to engineer the future for the better byintroducinglarger companies to entrepreneurs through the principles of trust, community and relationships.

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