Every year, Merriam-Webster announces its annual Word of the Year, the term dictionary users search most frequently.
It’s easy to imagine 2020’s Word of the Year being coronavirus, pandemic, COVID, distancing or maybe a four-way tie. But what about the word recovery? Where will that rank and when will we start pushing it up the list with our searches and look-ups?
RECOVERY DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN AFTER
Merriam-Webster defines recovery as:
1: the act or process of becoming healthy after an illness or injury
2: the act or process of returning to a normal state after a period of difficulty
3: the return of something that has been lost, stolen, etc.
There will come a time when we turn our attention from “coronavirus” to “recovery.” While it’s too early to start sending non-essential workers back to offices, it would be wise to start thinking about how your company will recover from this crisis. With a strict reading of the definition, you might conclude that recovery comes after - after illness, after a period of difficulty, after something has been lost or stolen. But if you wait until after this pandemic is over to start thinking about your company’s recovery, it may be too late.
AFTER WILL BE TOO LATE
When we’re sick or injured, we do our best to cope and fight through it, and then we start to become healthy again, to begin our recovery. As individuals, we have the advantage of relying on a single system - our body - to do the fighting, the coping, and the recovering. That works because our body is an integrated system of interdependent parts that are connected and communicating at every moment. Our body knows when it’s time to switch from the period of difficulty to the period of recovery, it knows when it’s time to recover what’s been lost or stolen from us, and it knows what needs to be recovered and how to direct the recovery. That’s all part of the package.
Recovery is something we anticipate, look forward to, and even pray for while we’re sick, but it’s not a process that we have to explicitly trigger or consciously consider. We don’t have to think about the what and the how and the when of our own recovery, any more than we have to think about exhaling after inhaling.
Alas, systems made up of many human beings (companies, communities, etc.) don’t work the same way. There is no single, integrated system at work, no unified collection of interdependent parts that are connected and communicating at every moment, no intrinsic signal that it’s time to start recovering, and no innate knowledge of what needs to be recovered and how to direct the recovery. There can’t be.
So organizational leaders can’t wait for a recovery start bell, or expect that some unseen force will serve up a timely list of what’s been lost or damaged and a recovery blueprint. Instead, leaders have to trigger the process and finesse the timing. We suggest you start planning for that now.
WHAT MUST YOU DO STARTING NOW?
1. ALERT PEOPLE THAT YOU’RE NOT WAITING UNTIL AFTER TO START ON RECOVERY
This is a vital message for people to hear from leadership. People need to see that you are active, planning ahead, moving forward, and not passively waiting for something beyond your control. Take control of the situation with action now, and let your people hear, see and believe that you are.
2. ENGAGE PEOPLE IN THE ‘WHAT’ AND ‘HOW’ OF RECOVERY
Don’t wait until after to survey the damage caused by the coronavirus. Solicit input from the entire organization now. Get everybody acting as “sensors” and cataloging what they see and hear: impacts on customer relationships, staff, partners, and the market; insights into deficiencies and opportunities related to products and services, technology infrastructure, and supply chain; ideas about improving value, taking out cost, or seizing new markets.
Assign someone or a team to keep on top of all of this rich data by sorting it, classifying it, analyzing it and refining it into information and knowledge in real-time.
This will have the dual benefit of
3. BUILD AND START EXECUTING A LIVING RECOVERY PLAN
Appoint a non-traditional recovery team - a group of people with requisite variety - that is tasked with taking the data, information, and knowledge gleaned from your organization-wide sensors, understanding it and co-creating the right response plan. Most importantly, have them start now. Some of the action items in that plan will be assumptive and premature - possibly important to execute, possibly not depending on what else happens and how long the crisis continues, but other action items will be important no matter what and may be able to commence right away. Get people working on the latter immediately.
The important takeaway is that your organization isn’t an integrated system. Unlike the human body, it won’t automatically know what to do and when it’s the right time to do it when it comes to recovering from the coronavirus. As a leader, it is your job to compensate for its fragmented and disconnected nature, and to get it up and on its feet, starting to recover, as early as you can.
Recovery will soon be the most important word in everybody’s lexicon. You need to start using it right now.
Original article published on Forbes on April 27, 2020
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