Don’t just rebuild. Rather reimagine. That’s the best advice for leaders during this Covid crisis.
Too many people are desperately hoping that we can get back to normal as soon as possible. They’re hoping that we can power our way through whatever few weeks are left of this disruptive period, and then we can get back to our business plans, our targets, and to life as we knew it before Covid.
That isn’t going to happen. And I think most people are recognising this.
The bigger problem is that there are more disruptions coming. Even without Covid, the 2020s are going to be the most disruptive decade of all time, with artificial intelligence, automation, machine learning, cloud, robotics, sustainability, climate change, shifting geopolitics, and more. The list of deep, structural changes we are about to experience goes on and on. In fact, Covid might merely have accelerated some of these.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, for example, was re-elected in September 2020, with campaign promises based on green issues. She has since stated that she intends to make the Paris Olympics in 2024 plastic free. She specifically cited how quickly we were able to respond to Covid as her reasoning: if we recognise that something is a global crisis and emergency, we should respond quickly and be prepared to change the entire system if we need to.
This attitude about change is going to impact every part of our world, our workplaces and our lives. Disruptions are going to come thick and fast in the rest of the 2020s.
We therefore need to do two things during this Covid crisis. The first thing to do is survive the crisis – if you’re reading this, you’ve probably done that, one way or another. So, the second thing is to use the Covid crisis to develop your adaptive intelligence – to develop your ability to be adaptive, responsive to change, to be flexible and resilient, to increase the speed at which you can adapt, and to help your team develop both the competence and confidence to handle whatever might come your way in the next few years.
Use the Covid crisis to develop your adaptive intelligence – to develop your ability to be adaptive, responsive to change, to be flexible and resilient, to increase the speed at which you can adapt, and to help your team develop both the competence and confidence to handle whatever might come your way in the next few years.
What does adaptive intelligence require?
We’d need a whole book to answer that question adequately, but the top three things you need to do are:
First of all, you need to distribute decision making.
Traditional structures where information has to flow up to authority and the big bosses make decisions that the middle bosses tell the frontline people to implement are not adequate for times of disruption. We have to find ways to get authority to the frontline people where the actual action takes place.
I recently heard a story of a junior employee at Hootsuite coming up with an idea to surprise a client by sending them a custom printed t-shirt. The cost would have been around $25 including shipping. He asked his boss, who called a meeting that escalated the request to a bigger boss, who got legal and compliance involved, and required marketing sign-off. They all thought it was a great idea and the t-shirt was sent. The employee, however, calculated that the actual cost of the t-shirt was around $500, given the time invested by the business to approve the decision. Apparently, this employee has now been put in charge of reviewing internal processes and decision rights at Hootsuite. Good for them.
Secondly, we need to experiment more.
That doesn’t mean massive business projects that cost a lot and that can blow up and ruin your business if they go wrong. It just means developing a culture of experimentation where people say, “I wonder what happens if….”.
Most of the world’s leading innovative companies have this culture of experimentation embedded in their DNA. And they can very often trace really valuable business ideas back to something a relatively junior employee suggested. Secondly, we need to experiment more. That doesn’t mean massive business projects that cost a lot and can blow up and ruin your business if they go wrong. It just means developing a culture of experimentation where people say, “I wonder what happens if….”.
The third thing that we need to do is unlearn.
Unlearn old habits, old ways of doing things and unlearn the attitude which says I want to go back to the way things were.
We mustn't just be rebuilding, we need to reimagine.
A digital transformation is coming our way. After this Covid crisis is dealt with, you have to develop an organization that can not just survive that, but thrive.