Be uncomfortable, be bold and evolve… This is the new normal.
You would be hard pressed to find a business unaffected by the disruptive conditions of the past few months. Even if sales have been good, the chances are you have had to rethink distribution, sure-up supply chain or manage working conditions for staff.
In our business, we decided that connection was the most valuable commodity we could offer our clients. We feel closer to our clients than ever, having communicated much more than usual. We have been connecting with literally hundreds of company leaders offering support and advice, connection to peers and sharing insights and ideas.
The constant theme in our current conversations is loud and clear – “What comes next?”. What follows is range of observations that have emerged, but we would love to hear your thoughts too.
Confidence has returned, but its fragile.
You can feel the fresh excitement and enthusiasm all around us. Cafés and restaurants are open, exercise regimes are being readopted and the footy is back on TV. We can expect this to fuel more and more positivity as restriction ease further. Even the stock market was over 6,000 last week. But there is something else sitting just below the surface… the fragility of uncertainty.
I have watched my teenage children stop and prop up like meerkats, listening intently to anything that sounds official on the News or The Project. Usually they couldn’t care less, but everyone is “hyper-aware” right now, trying to figure out what’s happening. We can expect some overreaction to good and bad news for a while now… even to a small change.
Returning to work is in itself a disruption. We have all found rhythms in lockdown and as much as we all crave “normality”, easing of restrictions will require yet another adjustment. The best leaders are paying close attention to both their own emotional needs and those of their teams.
Hold some discomfort – it will help embed learnings.
With “normal” in sight, the temptation will be to reconstruct old habits. Doing so however, risks losing all the learning of the current disruption. Nearly every leader with whom we talk has examples of great ingenuity relating to their people and business. One leader told us “we have achieved progress in 6-weeks, that would have taken 6-months in normal circumstances”. Let’s not give this up.
A great way to start the learning process is to ask the team three simple questions;
1. What did we assume that turned out to be false?
2. What did we think was impossible, but somehow found a way?
3. What did we not expect at all?
Of course, the objective is to turn what we have learned into either our greater organisational resilience or a plan for our future. We shouldn’t get too comfortable until we have.
Preserve your options
We have seen lots of key dependencies revealed in recent months. It could have taken a key-supplier, key-customer, key-person or a myriad of other forms. Most companies have come to understand the value of “options”… even if they cost a little more. Let’s keep that in mind as we make our choices now.
One current example relates to office space. Many companies anticipate lower needs – some question whether they need an office at all. In this and other choices, options will be valuable. “Yes” we have proven that we can run our businesses remotely, but can we do it indefinitely? “Yes” we can drive activity remotely, but can we build culture and connection in all its forms?
The answer to these and other questions will be different for different companies of course. What we know for sure is workforce flexibility and agility is valuable. We can also conclude that the option to choose office, remote or flexible working will also remain valuable.
Uncertain times can make small steps or gradual adjustment very tempting. Yet you may have noticed how often in their memoirs great leaders say the same thing – “I wish I had made my changes earlier” and/or “If only I had acted with more conviction”. As Marcus Tillius Cicero said “More is lost by indecision than the wrong decision”.
It’s rare we will have perfect knowledge before we need to act. If the last few months has taught us anything, sometimes the learning is in the doing. When it comes to setting a new strategy, resetting an existing strategy, pivoting, upgrading executive capability… think big, be brave!
Clearly, we do not encourage recklessness. We do suggest that executives trust their intuition more when making decisions. Being close to the team, amplifying feedback and bravely encouraging “straight talk” will be the best way to control the risks. Remember to reflect learn and adapt in fast cycles, just as we have during the COVID Pandemic.
What comes next? How will you lead?
With 30-years of executive and consulting experience, Tim Chilvers is a Director at Alex Kaar, leading the Executive Services business. The focus is providing executive transition and revitalisation programs, all aimed at reinvention and future success.