“Change is the only constant” is a well-worn phrase. We have all faced the biggest interruption to our version of normal many of us can remember in our lifetimes. Is it appropriate then to expect to pick up where we left off pre-Covid-19 or to just wait for a new normal to emerge?
In previous blogs, I have written about the impact of this crisis on an organisation's approach to digital transformation. Transitioning to working from home has accelerated technology transformation, for example the use of Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Cisco WebEx, and fewer wet-ink signatures required on documents. But will it have achieved true organisational transformation?
Covid-19 is causing a massive interruption to the economy, society and individuals. Ignoring the impact on your plans is likely impossible but it may also be a mistake to believe you’ve made good digital transformation progress or that you can "return to NEXT" without deliberate consideration.
Return to NEXT is about looking at what you had before, what you have uncovered through this period, and then consciously putting in plans for the future.
We’re putting four things at the heart of this stage:
- Needs of Now
- Experience for insight
- Xipe – learning from an Aztec god
- Transitional thinking to target transformation
The last few weeks can be treated as a sneak preview of the future. An opportunity to see what happens when many of the barriers to change are forcefully removed. A chance to gain insight from a massive experiential experiment. The winners will be those who reflect and learn, rather than acting as a ship buffeted by the waves of disruption.
I find with most things you can create a group of three – and this will be true for your returning workforce. One group will be people who have loved being able to work from home, especially after being told for so long that it “just wasn’t practical”. At the other extreme, there will be those who are so fed up with not being in the office that it will take several weeks (or at least until the next traffic jam or train cancellation) for them to see any positives in the remote-working approach.
The middle group may be indifferent, or see the value of both being in the office or working from home. Though it may be harder to get them to articulate good and bad sentiments, I believe that if you can unlock this group’s insight, it will be the richest source of ideas for creating your workforce of the future.
Needs of now
However you have responded to Covid-19 working, one thing will be true: It was a sudden shock. Just like when we slam the brakes on in the car, it stays with us for the rest of the drive – and so this experience will shape people.
Return to NEXT is people-centric thinking that starts now, with what is needed immediately. Just as it is sensible to check the tyres and brakes on your bicycle before heading off for your daily exercise, so we need to check in with our people. Regardless of how well they appear to be performing, nearly everyone will have experienced strains that won’t be forgotten quickly. From my own experience, I can be confident that many struggles won’t emerge until life appears to be returning to normal.
Bringing employees back requires that you now adopt a similar mindset to when a new person joins your team. This may seem like a level of handholding that isn’t necessary but for me, it is essential. It is a vital opportunity to make positive changes stick and become part of the new normal. The habits and rhythms of life during lockdown will have formed and they will take time to change.
Accelerate moving on by starting now. Get insight from people who have returned from maternity/paternity leave or returned to work after redundancy. People-centric leaders are preparing now, knowing they’ll need to give it time to get back up to speed.
Now is also the time to think about the questions you may be asked by your team:
- Can I work from home regularly?
- Should we scrap the dress code since we’ve been relaxed on video calls for so long?
- Can we think about how we avoid travel in rush-hour?
If you’ve found something beneficial during this period, then start deciding now what is needed to secure the benefit of that change in the future.
Now is your time to reflect and be intentional about what you want to happen next. Perhaps surprisingly, responding to disruption will not have transformed your organisation or your workforce as much as you might think it has, but the sneak preview of the future could be a catalyst for change which you can build on. It is a choice – not something which will simply happen automatically.
The Needs of Now will be the obvious things that matter to people. They’ll either tell you about them, or expect you to anticipate them. The real insight and opportunity will come from deliberate reflection on experiences.
This period in our history has given everyone a different perspective. You should capture, evaluate and consider the variety of experiences our people have encountered. Reflection time will help. You will develop an understanding of the workforce of the future, how your business model could change, what your customers' behaviour may become. This is an alternative horizon to the one you have seen before so what does it mean for your people, customer and business operation?
There will be an expectation, even a desire, to look back on a range of experiences to learn lessons.
My own experience tells me that when we do so after the event, we apply a retrospection bias. We take the benefit of hindsight and rationalise decisions that were made. Return to NEXT needs you to embrace an alternative approach: allow people to tell the story of their experience, without the need to justify anything, or come to any conclusions. Ideally, capture that story NOW as it is taking place.
Listen carefully to their stories and let others reflect on the observations. Through that process, the common things will start to emerge. Take a closer look at these to begin seeing what the future could hold.
I’ll admit it’s taken a bit of hunting to find a relevant word which starts with an X! But, the Aztec god of sowing or planting, Xipe, is a great word to weave in.
My only contribution to the garden during this Covid-19 period has been to create a well-trodden path into the grass as I’ve made up for the lack of freedom to exercise regularly. But even without green fingers, I know that while there are lots of things you can do to nurture a new life in a garden, creating the right conditions is one of the most important.
The same is true for businesses right now. As a leader, you need to be like Xipe – creating the conditions now for others to succeed in due time. A bit more research on this Aztec god led me to this page – have a read. While the content is a little gruesome, the principle of giving of yourself to allow others to thrive is an important one.
There will be lots of people in your organisation who have had space and time to think about the future. There will be ideas about how to bounce back, new market opportunities, new ways to achieve your vision. Your job is to allow these ideas to come forward. To grow in a way that wasn’t possible in the past.
Return to NEXT focuses on creating a fertile environment that enables ideas to flourish as a bold step to doing more than just surviving as a business – but also pioneering the recovery.
Transitional thinking, target transformation
You may wonder why the focus here isn’t just on transformation – since that is the desired end state. I am deliberate in starting with transitional thinking. There are too many transformation projects that have become stuck and haven’t delivered their benefits to suggest aiming here straightaway is always a good thing.
The slogan “we can’t return to normal, because normal is what caused the problem” has started to pop up in various places. It has a ring of truth to it. We should acknowledge that we’re going to need to become something different in the future. We learn from experience so let that happen.
It is certainly the case that transformation is the destination and should ultimately be the focus of our minds, but it is transitional thinking that is needed today to get us there.
Thinking about transition isn’t about making small changes. It is the mindset shift required from running the business as usual with a looming transformation in the future, to becoming an organisation with a craving for agility; one which has an attitude of “the thing we’ve got today is only temporary and it will be replaced”.
Start with acknowledging that the status quo and “the way we currently do things around here” needs to be put to one side, and instead, embrace a mindset of “always being in a state of flux”, which can bring resilience.
After a period of lockdown uncertainty, the suggestion of embracing a state of flux may seem like the last thing you would like to do! But maybe taking the current crisis and building on the resilience that has been generated as a result presents an opportunity like never before? Now is the time to Return to NEXT.
At QA, before Covid-19, we were #PoweringPotential and have continued to do that over the last few months with a wholesale switch to virtual classrooms and online training.
As you Return to NEXT, QA is already partnering with our clients to support the mindset shift and equip people with the skills for the future.
Our Leadership and Personal Effectiveness portfolio enables people to develop their own toolkits for leading change, through Cloud Academy everyone can develop their cloud-ready technical skills, and finally we’re providing fresh perspectives with our Digital Consulting and Apprentice programmes).
Like you, QA has had to undergo significant change in recent months and we’re on our own Return to NEXT journey. You can find out more about how we’re supporting our customers today for home-working.
Get in touch
Speak to your sales contact or email firstname.lastname@example.org to see how QA can help your business plug that cyber skills gap right now. We have solutions ranging from individual and team training and bespoke training solutions to re-training your workforce through digital apprenticeships and seconding our tech specialists to your business – all virtually, of course.
get in touch with your sales contact or email email@example.com today and talk more about including us in your transitional thinking.
Luke Radford works with our largest enterprise and Government customers as a strategic advisor on digital transformation and developing talent solutions for the digital age. He brings his experience of developing digital business strategy and leading transformation in the public and private sector.
A creative strategic advisor operating at the intersection between people and technology, Luke is passionate about working in collaboration to reimagine the future. He is trusted by senior leaders to stimulate conversation, bring fresh insight and deliver thought leadership. Leaders choose to work with Luke as a “sense maker”, someone who can quickly get to the heart of problems and establish options. Luke brings a system thinking approach to conversations, surfacing the bigger picture and articulating the opportunities that this perspective creates.
A naturally curious person, Luke has adopted an “eternal newbie” mindset. He is known as someone who will be thinking about the future differently, bringing ideas from different industries together to surface and stimulate interesting conversations. As a creative strategic thinker keen to challenge convention, Luke loves to explore the boundaries of possibility and to reimagine and deliver process change or open up transformational conversations. Technology should be used to exceed customer expectations, reduce complexity and create growth through innovation.
Areas of expertise:
Disruptive technologies and future business models; developing strategy; CxO advisory; business/digital transformation; digital leadership; innovation including the future of learning; workplace and workforce transformation.
More articles by Luke
Why digital capability assessments matter
4 ways to cope in times of change
5 ways to improve team communication while working from home
4 tips for productive home-working