There is nothing like a satisfying ending.
The film ends, credits roll, and you sit back in your seat, stretch, and savor the residual good feeling from the story that’s just been told. The bell rings on the last day of school, and it’s suddenly summer. You finish up your last bit of work before vacation, go home, take a deep breath, and look ahead to a few weeks off. Nice clean endings demarcate the in-experience from the post-experience. There’s closure.
Don’t expect a nice clean ending to the pandemic. It will be gradual, it will be bumpy, it will feel over before it is, and then it will stop feeling over and we’ll be right back in it. It will end sooner for some than for others. The fear of COVID-19 will continue, social distancing will permanently change habits, work won’t ever be the same, and neither will travel. There will be a during, and an after, but no clear line between them. Instead, there will be a murky period that could last months. That murky period will be a defining time for your organization, and you must start thinking about how you will lead through it.
WHY LEADERSHIP THROUGH THE MURKY PERIOD IS KEY
1. Those who navigate the murk most effectively will have a tremendous advantage
As businesses reopen and restrictions on gatherings and travel gradually ease, expect a lot of caution, hesitation, and confusion within and around your organization. You won’t have clear enough information to know for sure how to re-engage with your people and your customers most effectively, how to restart key initiatives that were stalled, how to seize new opportunities that have emerged, or how to recover from the damage done to supply chain, revenue, reputation, and whatever else. But you can’t afford to let the murk slow you down, because you’re in it with your customers, partners, and competitors, and they’re not going to wait patiently for you to figure it out.
The right way to proceed under any sort of complexity is to try things, pay close attention to what happens, double-down on what works, and shut down what doesn’t. That holds true especially now. Don’t get caught flat-footed and ponderous. Instead, embrace experimentation, take risks, and adapt quickly. Seek input from everyone in your organization about what they see and think. Empower them to make bets and take risks that will: win back customers quickly and grab new ones; reinvent and reinvigorate your partnerships or forge new ones; and reestablish confidence and belief in your company and your brand. Show the world that you’re plunging forward rather than standing still. The traction you gain with decisiveness and a strong sense of purpose will far outshine any mistakes you make.
2. The changes you make while in the murk are not temporary - they will be part of Operations 2.0
Operationally, you will have to make changes to get people back to work safely, adapt policies and procedures, restart projects, rethink workspace, and so on. The mistake is to think that the changes you make to transition back to ‘normal’ are temporary; that they are different from the changes you have to make for the long-term. The murky period is the beginning of the long-term. Almost every decision you make now about your operations will apply and matter in the new world we’re entering.
So don’t approach this as operational planning for a temporary transition period. This is about Operations 2.0, and you have to start on it now.
If you’re doing workforce planning, for example, and anchoring your planning in a question, don’t just ask:
“What must we change to get people back to work safely and to re-establish business-as-usual?”
“What must we change to reimagine how and where we work so that we optimize the value we deliver now and in the future?”
3. Despite the murk, you can start to reimagine the future
There’s a ton of change ahead. As we speak to our clients and to experts, they talk about the need to:
That’s a lot of figuring out to do, and there won’t be a clear starter’s pistol that signals the time to get going on it. Instead, as soon as you’re sufficiently clear of day-to-day fire-fighting (which will vary by industry, geography, and circumstance), it’s time to start reimagining the future.
WHY NOW, WHILE THINGS ARE STILL MURKY?
Why now? Because the best way to both re-imagine and accelerate the future is to co-create it with a requisite variety of people from in and around your organization. And those are the same people who need to be re-engaged and re-energized right now. As they begin to shape the future, they will figure out what needs to change today and act as a critical mass of distributed leaders to get everyone else excited and moving.
As Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square and author of The Innovation Stack said to us recently: “No one ever chooses to drive when it’s foggy, but sometimes you have to. You can see 20 feet ahead and that’s not enough to drive safely. But if you don’t move at all, you’ll never see past that next 20 feet.”
The murky period ahead will be a defining time. Don’t use that time to stand still and wait. Instead, use it to adapt your operations and reimagine your future so you can hit the ground running.
Original article posted on Forbes on May 7, 2020
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