What New Normal Will You Return To?
Published on April 1, 2020

Doug Macnamara CMC, CHRL

Many of us are now well into our 2nd or 3rd cycle of “14-day self-isolation”; while others are just now, some begrudgingly so, starting their first stay-at-home or shelter-in-place period. The brave, the “invincible” and the elite are proving to be just as susceptible and vulnerable to Covid-19 as the common person. Science has a whole new level of appreciation and interest. Hopefully we have become more attuned to how our personal actions can impact others.

As we learn to live with less income, focus back on our health and exercise, spend more quality time with our close family; we are re-prioritizing what we value, and appreciating the fantastic benefits of personal hygiene, walking/exercise, wilderness, meditation, mindfulness. The Do it Yourself (DIY) mentality has skyrocketed for cooking meals, fixing-up around home, relying less on others. We are adapting to and maybe appreciating the value of, a slower pace of life.

In our businesses and organizations, the last few weeks have been a frenzy of rethinking our service/product delivery models. We’ve been forced to reassess our workforces, cut back hours or lay people off; technology-assisted distributed-workforces have replaced the “office” or location-based work cultures; and we are celebrating a whole new cadre of front-line heroes, critical workers – even paying them more for their newly realized significance to our customers/clients. We are re-thinking supply-networks to ensure we have local sustainability of our key needs of food, cleaning supplies and medicines. We are understanding what our clients really value the most from us.

With less industrial output, less flights and almost no commuting, we are witnessing such things as:

  • The pollution dome over China disappearing & improved air quality worldwide,
  • The rivers and ocean waters in and around Venice are crystal clear, dolphins and other water creatures are now returning and exploring the canals,
  • Beaches and wilderness areas are now teaming with wildlife that are returning from the fringes we had pushed them into…

At this Critical Point – Save the situation AND Look for favourable Opportunity
If all we do after this crisis is return to “business as usual” we will have wasted an important learning opportunity. We will also have failed to realize that there have been some real value-shifts with our customers, our workers and in our communities.

For boards, executives and senior leaders, it has always been a struggle to lift your head up and be strategic amid a fast-paced and demanding day-to-day work environment. And, today is clearly more hectic and unpredictable than ever. But it is also absolutely critical for our Senior Leaders to soon take the time to be very strategic and to think differently about the “return to normal”.
In a crisis, Senior Leaders DO need to be seen, calming fears, intelligently “taking charge” and being both compassionate and genuine in their presence with employees, shareholders, and stakeholders. But as the immediate & BIG adaptive decisions get made, and some “crisis-regularity” takes hold, the Leader now needs to:

  • Delegate well, and pull back from directing everything yourself,
  • Monitor and assess newly Evolving Patterns,
  • Pay Attention to the network of interactions, inter-dependencies, supplier/ influencer relationships,
  • Re-imagine a new Path Forward,
  • Look for Bold, Different investments of capital and/or focus,
  • Re-think your existing Strategic Plan – move things around, re-sequence priorities, shelve some initiatives and replace with ones more attuned to the post-Virus reality.

Recently here in Alberta, our Premier announced (amid all the crisis-dealing elements), the commitment of new capital and focus to building pipelines to the USA and the Canadian West Coast. Say what you will about these decisions, but the Premiere is taking bold advantage of the opportunity with an enhanced push towards our major customers, creating good jobs (in a period of high unemployment) in building new infrastructure and re-wiring the future for some of our key industries. (Construction work can actually be fairly easily done in a self-isolating manner!)

What Will Your New Normal Be?
Consumers, customers, clients, community, collaborators… will likely all return with some different thinking towards use of products, programs, services and technology. Think about what these should/could be for your organization & the community you serve. Some thoughts to get you started:

  • There was a clear trend in the past 5-10 years towards people seeking out “experiences” over “stuff”. I can imagine this will be even more pronounced AC (After Covid/ After Crisis).
    • In-restaurant Dining experiences better be ammmaaazzzzing – now that we have discovered we can cook ourselves or order take-out/delivery!
    • Wilderness/Outdoor exploration must be more pristine, more safe, more accessible, more satisfying….
    • Mass-participation, spectator events and sports and in-person cultural experiences must be safe to attend (maybe not as closely seated), integrated with our technology, and accessible at home, and very special!
  • Products just have to work properly. Reliability will be everything.
  • DIY will be a significant growth opportunity, AC.
  • Today’s front-line Heroes will be worth just as much (or more) AC, as they were during the crisis – so re-think your pay and benefits – perhaps at the expense of a few % points of profitability.
  • Some staff positions will clearly be not so necessary – what re-training is necessary?
  • Locally sourced household staples, medicines, and critical care technology will have renewed value.
  • Almost everyone will keep a 2-3-month supply of toilet paper and hand sanitizer – what else will they hoard/store in reserve? What product features could you create to support this?

Finally, surround yourself with some other senior leaders, supplier/collaborators, key influencers and truly think different

  • What key infrastructure could you invest in now, to re-position your value for the medium-/ long-term?
  • How might you re-connect and re-engage with customers/clients using new technology, friendly apps, incentive programs to improve the connectivity experience?
  • How might we keep the air clean, the waters clear, and the wilderness more pristine?
  • What might we do to re-build “community” – of citizens, of customers, wiki-like knowledge sharing, compassion, caring?

In a crisis, Leaders can always find ways to be center-stage and busy. It’s easy to put off considerations of tomorrow when faced with the demands of today. But Governance & Leadership IS about Future, about Change, about Vision. As you turn the corner on crisis response, next-up for leaders to re-imagine the future under very different assumptions. Thank you; Next!

I really don’t think we will go back to the way it was; and why should we anyway?

Leaders must Lead.

What New Normal will You Pursue?