With so many organizations fundamentally reinventing themselves in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, you now hear more and more about their plans to “return to normal”: plans for going back to the office, plans for reverting back to pre-COVID operations, plans for going back to the way things were.
That could represent a huge lost opportunity.
First, there is no clear picture of what we will be facing when we emerge from this pandemic; indeed, the situation continues to shift and evolve every day. Second, many organizations have made changes to their business and operating models that could prove to be sources of competitive advantage. Those changes should be seen as a source of further innovation in what is likely to be a turbulent and disruptive environment for the foreseeable future.
As alluring as a “return to normal” may seem, I argue that’s not where organizations should be focusing. Why? The seismic shift that so many organizations have undertaken has also given them the momentum – a proof of concept if you will – to achieve transformations that would have been unimaginable just six months ago. Those “moon shots” that were forced upon so many organizations need more fuel to take off, not for us to cut off the fuel supply at the point of liftoff.
In a 2009 Harvard Business Review article titled “Moon Shots for Management”, Gary Hamel argued that the pace of innovation in management has decelerated in recent years and has slowed to a crawl. Everything that we have learned during this pandemic gives us a rare opportunity to reverse that trend. The questions posed in that article are as relevant today, as they were a decade ago:
So what should we be asking ourselves today? What organizations of all stripes have accomplished since the onset of COVID-19 has been nothing short of astounding. Countless long-held beliefs have been shattered and we have achieved a “new normal” in shockingly little time. How do we continue that transformation and engender durable change?
Here are a few questions for you to explore as you think about your own moonshot:
What new ways of working can become your platform for growth?
Look at those initiatives that, prior to March, would have taken months or years to complete, but which were accomplished in a matter of weeks. Now imagine what you can accomplish if you sustain that energy and innovative spirit. Take what you’ve built during this time of crisis and make it your platform for ongoing innovation.
How have you reinvented your customer service model? How can you build upon that?
Contactless curbside pickup, a fully remote customer service organization, fully virtual customer engagement - these are all new and fundamentally different ways of serving customers that were not in widespread use before the pandemic. What have you learned from these experiences? What’s really “clicked” with your customers, and what hasn’t? Ask yourself how you can continue to reinvent your customer service model. Keep your foot on the gas.
How have your management practices and philosophy changed as you adapted to the challenges of Covid19?
Most of our existing management practices are “industrial-era” practices that were instrumental in building scale and increasing efficiency and productivity. They rely on a high degree of centralized decision making and strict adherence to standardized process. They are most effective in operating environments with low variability and low uncertainty.
Today, we live in an environment of high variability and uncertainty. Those “tried-and-true” management practices can actually inhibit an organization’s ability to respond and adapt. Ask yourself how you can push decision-making closer to those working with your key stakeholders.
Focusing on the “what” and leaving the “how” to the teams that are closest to the action balances a focus on a common objective with the flexibility needed to adapt to changing circumstances.
How can your organization tap into its newfound energy and creativity born out of this crisis?
The sudden disruptions to organizations and the lives of their employees have created no shortage of stress and anxiety. Yet, we’ve also seen a level of energy and determination born out of a commitment to adapt to changing circumstances. Look around your organization and ask yourself how you can use these stories as a source of inspiration and energy, and as a springboard to further success. As a client recently told me, “I’ve had the chance to be more creative in the last three months than in the last three years. I feel like the handcuffs have been taken off.” Give yourself permission to take your handcuffs off and make your boldest ideas a reality.
When we look back at what good came out of the COVID-19 pandemic (and there is always good that surfaces during times of great upheaval), what will we identify as the true, lasting game-changers? What will be those transformative shifts that fundamentally alter how we do business? How have you changed as a leader? We have seen a dramatic change in how many leaders are engaging with their teams and communities. This experience has highlighted the critical need to bring a human-centered approach to helping people adapt and succeed, especially in times of crisis. Empathy has proven to be just as important as decisiveness.
Massive disruption breeds massive change. Our goal should be to make the most of the change that has been forced upon us and boldly build the future we want to see, moving toward what’s possible, not what was.
Bob Biglin is CEO of The Center for Advanced Emotional Intelligence, an executive coaching and organizational consulting firm that works with senior leaders to enhance their leadership capability and build thriving, sustainable organizations.
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