As people respond to the challenges of COVID-19, remarkable progress has been made overcoming traditional barriers and resistance when it comes to change. Several clients have taken significant strides forward in their transformation agendas as they respond, evolve and adapt at a pace they would once have thought impossible. The question started to emerge around how do we hold on to the good aspects of uncovered in responding to the ‘common enemy’ as we being contemplating returning to ‘normal’? Do we really need to return to ‘normal’ or are we actually moving ‘forward’ with new mindsets, and bringing with us aspects of what we used to do in a deliberate manner?
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”—Sir Winston Churchill
One of the positives coming from the community responding to COVID-19 is people challenging how things are done in organisations and finding new and improved ways of delivering at incredible speed. Arguably we are seeing the best side of being human, as the medical and economic response unfolds. The challenges and opportunities ahead cannot be underestimated with protecting people’s health, livelihoods, and well-being.
Inefficient and broken processes and systems are being reimagined, cast aside, or fixed to operate in a fit-for-purpose manner for our context. The status quo has been challenged with nobody affording to retain the mindset of “This is how we always do things around here”. I must admit, that mindset has always initially frustrated me when I have encountered it and energises me when I can influence overcoming it. I am inspired by seeing it tackled at scale in various organisational systems in both business and government.
Constructively challenging people to own their processes and systems and at the same time think and act differently is key to adopting sustained improvement. I can’t tell you the number of times as a customer I have had to respond to artificial barriers by getting to a decision-maker and then challenging them by saying, “If we can put a man on the moon in 1969, we can do X in 2020!”. Sometimes it works, and we find a way forward, sometimes it doesn’t and in my view, it is often due to disengaged people who are not committed to living the espoused values of their organisation.
We are witnessing inspiring ingenuity and leadership with examples of practical shifts including:
- Engineering firms going from making car parts, to rapidly prototyping and producing ventilators, manufacturers pivoting to produce PPE for our frontline heroes and distilleries producing hand sanitiser
- Adoption of existing technology to engage and deliver essential services e.g. Video conferencing for medical consultations, education, and keeping connected to friends and family.
- Agility by tapping into capabilities of existing team members to innovate and reinvent processes, products and services e.g. restaurants making take-home meals, drive-thru flu vaccines, switching revenue streams from car parking to new offerings such as commercial sanitising.
- Upskilling, reskilling and employees taking a more proactive stance on ‘owning’ their career and development to support personal growth and economic security.
Let’s be real and acknowledge most of the change we are experiencing was not born because someone thought it would be a ‘good idea’, or an ‘improved’ way of delivering value. The reality is that the change was largely brought about by the massive shock factor of COVID-19 and our need to adapt, evolve or be left behind. Such wide-reaching and large-scale change presents a unique opportunity to drive thoughtful improvement and sustained better outcomes for people and organisations.
These ‘strange’ times provide a leadership platform for the sustained adoption of change. Leaders have been referred to throughout history as merchants of hope. Leaders provide structure and order to the chaos of the world in which we live so people can work together, to collectively deliver value which could not be possible on their own. Language is powerful and the use of ‘these uncertain times’ has crept into the psyche of many who are looking for leaders to create certainty and engage them in a meaningful way, to keep them connected and leverage and enlist their skills, experience and motivation to support creating resilient and capable organisations.
What changes will you take forward?
What will you be leaving behind?
When the battle against COVID-19 is won, will you destroy the old mindsets to avoid returning to the ‘old’ normal at the expense of prospering in the ‘new’ reality?