How To Lead Your Organization Out Of The Time Machine And Into The Future

September 8, 2020

By Adam Chapman, EyeForPharma on Mar 21, 2019
time machine
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Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been forced to slow down many aspects of our lives while simultaneously being thrust forward into the future. Like time travelers, stepping out of a capsule into a new tomorrow, we’ve observed what seems like years of change despite only a few months passing.  Many of the leaders we’ve spoken to about their personal experiences during the pandemic reflect this theme:

  • Chris Kane, the BBC’s Former Head Of Corporate Real Estate, told us that “The pandemic has accelerated the shift from a fixed to a fluid use of workspace.”
  • Jonathan Goodman, Monitor Deloitte's Global Managing Partner described Covid-19 as “a time machine to the future of work and to the future of customer experience.”
  • Sharon Callahan, CEO of CDM Agencies, said: “This crisis is creating a whole new future and that’s been challenging and scary for me because I’m used to having a clear picture of what’s ahead, and now I don’t.”

And two weeks before the world changed, on March 2nd, Jon Lindekugel, former SVP of Operations at 3M told us how “a pandemic, a strike at a key shipping port, tighter pollution controls in China, geopolitical events like a trade war - any one of those will wreak havoc with supply chains. All these factors put a massive premium on seeing around the next corner and acting on what you see in real-time, not six months later.”

In the first few weeks of the pandemic, everything seemed to be happening at once, and years of change suddenly became condensed into a few weeks.

As we begin to emerge from the proverbial time machine, here’s what leaders find:

  1. The critical initiatives that had to be paused are still critical, but now part of a bigger pile of critical initiatives that must be sorted out.
  2. You are facing high-stakes decisions you thought you had years to ponder, but you no longer have the luxury of being ponderous.
  3. With the present and future suddenly compressed, every decision needs to carefully take both into account.

Having sped up the tape so suddenly, what now? What happens when you’re instantly thrust around the next corner, and what’s around the corner after that is anybody’s guess?

How To Make High-Stakes Decisions When The Future Is So Uncertain

1. Re-establish priorities

In the first few weeks of the pandemic, we wrote about How to Prioritize When The Coronavirus Turns Everything Into Chaos. Ask the right questions, think differently about who to engage and involve in answering those questions, empower them to surface and discuss what matters most, and give them the means to co-create the answers they believe in. Use their recommendations to help inform the organization’s priorities and the important decisions you have to make.

2. Make the high-stakes decisions fast

We have already written a book and a lot of articles about how to accelerate decision making, so we’ll stay out of the weeds here. What’s new, though, is:

  • The pandemic has made many high-stakes decisions even higher-stakes and far more immediate.
  • Speed is critical. You can’t afford to ‘go slow to go fast’ in making good decisions because you’re already playing catch-up.
  • It’s looking like we’re all going to have to make key decisions via virtual meetings for some time to come.

Thus, it’s now even more important for leaders to learn how to navigate complex challenges quickly. The practices coming out of complexity science have always emphasized speed, exponentiality, and agility because multi-faceted, dynamically changing, interconnected challenges don’t wait around for traditional, linear strategic planning. Make it a personal priority to learn these practices, to ensure your organization develops or acquires the necessary capabilities, and to be ready to apply them whether people can get into the room together to do so, or not.

3. Make decisions in a way that accounts for both the present and the future

High-stakes decisions always require a line-of-sight to both today and tomorrow. But there’s a natural inclination to be short-sighted during a crisis, so your organization’s decision-making process is especially vulnerable right now. Unless you root out your bias for the present, many of the big decisions you’re about to make could easily require a “redo” over the next year or two as a very new future comes more sharply into focus. Given how prohibitively costly it will be to correct mistakes, you have to land these decisions in a way that accounts for both the present and the no-longer distant future.  

We’ve curated a list of enormous business decisions from our recent conversations with leaders and organized them into a handful of thematic areas. While it’s impossible to know what is around the next corner, questions like these will require you to take your best guess:

  • Real estate and office space. When the year began, who could have guessed that so many companies would be forced to seriously reconsider their assumptions, plans, and decisions regarding corporate real estate and office space? Now you have to be asking, can we get out of long-term leases? Should we proceed with our planned construction and/or move? Do we need to reconfigure the space we’re in and how we use it?
  • Corporate policies and practices. When it comes to HR, health and safety, travel, work-from-home, overtime, lieu time, etc., what are we - and aren’t we - allowing? Should we require everyone to be together for at least a part of every day? How do we get people back to the office safely and then ensure their safety on an ongoing basis? How do we accommodate individuals’ needs? Are we adequately protecting our people’s health and well-being?
  • Talent. What do we need to change to remain (or become) attractive to the new, younger workforce? What skills and capabilities should we look for in new hires? How can we seize the opportunity to be more geographically flexible in our recruiting? How do we ensure a smooth transition of knowledge and experience as our senior-most people work remotely or leave sooner than we expected?  
  • Products and services. Do our offerings continue to meet the new needs of our customers? How will our customers access our products and services going forward? What must we digitize? Are we still competitive? What do we invest in and what do we pull out of?
  • Go to market. How do we sell given that we can’t sell face-to-face? How do we evolve our brands and image for these new times? How can we seize new opportunities without coming across as opportunistic? What new competitive forces have appeared, and what are our traditional competitors doing?
  • Technology. What does our technology road map look like now? How much remote work must our infrastructure support? What video conferencing, remote collaboration, and document sharing platforms do we get behind? Is our security up to snuff?
  • Business Processes. What key processes have proven too cumbersome or completely unnecessary, and what should we do with them? Which processes did we streamline and can we continue to operate them that way? What new processes do we need to put in place given the changes inside and outside our organization?
  • Partnerships. How did our supply chain hold up, and do we expect it to be able to withstand another crisis? How did our other partners fare, what have they changed in their policies and practices, and do they continue to be the right partners for us? What new partnerships should we pursue?

With potentially millions or hundreds of millions of dollars and the future of the organization at stake, you can’t afford to go slow or be strictly near-sighted in making decisions like these. Make sure your decision-making is informed by the right people and the right amount of “looking around the next corner”, and make sure it is fast and effective even while operating at a distance.  

We didn’t ask to be fast-forwarded into the future, but here we are. Amidst all this uncertainty, what is certain is that you need to start tackling the big questions now, rather than waiting for things to come into focus or for people to be able to gather.

Now is the time to bravely crack the seal on the time machine and lead the way into the future.

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