We’re told that change is constant, but 2020 reminded us that change actually arrives in waves. History marks these periods of accelerated change through events (world wars, the space race, 9/11) and inventions (printing press, electricity, railroads). Significant events will drive invention, and new inventions will create unexpected events.
As business and community leaders, our primary challenge is to effectively interpret the changes at hand and translate them in ways that increase the health of our organizations. Each change has some effect, and in some situations, creates significant chain reactions. Nimble organizations will see the opportunity for new markets and efficiencies thanks to the change—while refusal to recognize the new world will leave others struggling to compete.
With the thought that leaders must recognize change and lead their organizations to adapt, I see five transformations occurring that will affect how we do work...
#1: Outcome Focus
Many organizational cultures have relied on “being present” or “staying busy” as a proxy for productivity. When forced to figure out how to get things done remotely, the most adaptable organizations quickly recognized that their best employees are adults and can be trusted to deliver value without being prodded or spied on.
Organizations that thrive demonstrate they believe in hiring people who deliver value and entrust them to do so. Those who continue to measure based on time, perceived busyness, or presence “in office” will lose their top producers.
#2: Purposeful Gathering
Meetings, conferences and other gatherings often happened because “that’s what we’ve always done.” Our in-person pause has opened us to new ways of getting work done, meeting people and sharing information. Here and forward, employees will expect leaders to focus on the best approach to the outcome rather than just defaulting to scheduling a meeting. This will challenge organizations to increase their focus on effective processes for getting work done.
Meetings will continue to be important, but will be for things like gathering a launch team in-person, improving project clarity, or hosting events intentionally designed for networking and relationship building.
#3: Borderless Business
More than ever, we’re seeing new ways to access markets and talent outside our immediate geography. We may have figured out how to serve a customer in Seattle, or we now may have an assistant based in the Philippines. This will be disruptive to jobs that can be easily done digitally abroad (at a lower cost)—and means our customers may also now have access to many new alternatives to us.
This will require clear thinking by leadership on strengthening the customer relationship and the value we deliver. In addition, a proactive approach to looking for new markets we can serve and how we can access new talent to better serve our customers.
“I’ll be in next Tuesday so we can work on it as a group.” Our default may be to think that problems only get solved when we’re together. But with new digital tools and by reimagining how we coordinate, the companies that master non-concurrent work or “asynchronicity” will be able to move more quickly and efficiently than those that insist on traditional group problem-solving.
Rather than getting the whole team together for an hour to explain a problem with a client project, the leader might send a five-minute video explaining the issue, a survey to gather additional questions and ideas, and then have a 15-minute video call to discuss, choose a plan of action, and divide up responsibilities. Not only are people better able to fit it into their workflow—they also contribute a higher level of thinking toward the problem.
Organizations exist to solve problems, not to have meetings. Leaders who focus on how to solve problems better and more efficiently will advance in the market.
#5: Quality of Day
Large, established and deep-pocketed companies have long been able to attract and keep top talent. But more and more, the best employees are valuing different things. Can I live a thousand miles away from my job? Do I have flexibility with when and how I do my work? Am I challenged with new assignments to develop my skills? Is my work making the world a better place? Does my manager respect me as a person?
These questions mean that over time, the companies that focus on performance and people will win. Free lunches, dry cleaning services and ping-pong tables don’t make up for a toxic work environment or the expectation of 60-hour workweeks. Winning leaders will insist on creating environments that challenge for growth, value autonomy, and account for flexibility.
Rethinking the What, Why and How
When a wave of change comes, we often retreat to the familiar—and this will be tempting as we return to working together. But for organizations willing to lead their cultures forward, there is an opportunity to improve the impact on our customers’ and employees’ lives by rethinking the What, Why and How of our work.
Through exposure to new ideas, engagement of our teams, and experimentation with different approaches, leaders have the opportunity to accelerate amid the uncertainty. I’m reminded of the power of our perspective by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” PM