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How leaders can prepare for the new normal

Today, we’re acclimating to a new normal.

We’re spending time differently from the moment we get up in the morning to the time we go to bed. We’re working differently, educating our kids differently, celebrating birthdays and holidays online, even having virtual cocktail hours. In short, the way things were at the beginning of March is very different from how things are today. But I know things won’t stay this way forever. Which leads to this question:

"What can leaders do now to prepare for when things change again and return to a new normal?"

The time to prepare for tomorrow’s success is today. Here are four steps to take.

1. Take a gut check on your organizational purpose

This crisis -- or any test -- is a good time to ask, “Does our purpose still matter? Do we still believe in our mission as much as we did before?”

If yes, then you can craft a strategy that continues this mission while addressing the new realities for your people and customers. If your mission doesn’t hold up, it’s time to make an organizational shift. But don’t change your purpose just because it seems like you should or because doing something new feels easier.

The resilience required to survive and thrive in a crisis is fueled by the energy that emanates from knowing why what you do matters and recommitting to it under pressure. If your purpose is still applicable tomorrow, then staying strong in that pursuit matters more than ever. Reminding your people why you exist and what you’re all working for is critical to inspiring and motivating a potentially beleaguered organization.

No. 2: Be prepared to “call an audible”

In football, quarterbacks can change the play at the last second based on how the defense lines up. He’ll call out a new play after his teammates are lined up, and they'll make changes to their assignments in real time. This behavior is applicable to the business world, too.

Leaders must be ready to call an audible, especially in times when things are changing by the minute. Yes, prepared strategies are critical, but strategies need to change as the environment changes. Take the restaurant industry during COVID-19. With dining rooms shuttered, a growing number of restaurants are offering a to-go burger with toilet paper, too, or spaghetti and meatballs with a bag of flour on the side. Consumers can buy groceries without venturing into a crowded store and get their family’s favorite dinner at the same time. The foodservice industry is pivoting while keeping its core mission intact.

As leaders plan for the future, they need to plan for several scenarios. Their purpose should remain constant, but the tactics will change to account for the unknowns. Leaders must be ready to call an audible when necessary. And, most importantly, these leads must give people the why, what and how behind the change to ensure everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing to support the shift.

No. 3: Engage your people by empowering them to be "Opportunity Scouts"

Don’t shut people out during this crisis. Let them play a role in the response and recovery plan by taking on the role of "Opportunity Scouts." Leaders must equip people with knowledge of the challenges and threats and allow them to come up with solutions. The front line’s ideas for weathering the storm on the cost and revenue sides of the business are often better and more innovative than what most leaders could script.

It’s like playing fantasy sports, where you plan and forecast for the unexpected. For example, a player could get injured or traded at the last minute, requiring in-the-moment adjustments. People are certainly skilled in this -- just consider the $9 billion in lost wages from employees changing fantasy team lineups at work. Use this skill to your (and their) advantage. Empower people to look for ways to improve roles, functions and the overall business. This could be an untapped wealth of knowledge.

No. 4: Embrace a new starting line

With a crisis of this magnitude, there is no returning to normal. New starting lines must be created. Leaders must focus on building from where they are now, crafting what could be instead of mourning what was. People need to be encouraged to be innovative as to what’s possible in this environment.

Yes, the anxiety and frustration of what was lost can be overpowering, but when a leader sets the tone and shows people that the strategy of today is different, and that different is OK, the people of the organization will start to embrace this new mindset, too.

Many of us remember airports without extensive security checks, when we brought any food or drink in our carry-on bags. We live in a different world today. And things will look even more different tomorrow, as the COVID-19 crisis is making an irreversible impact on us all. Leaders need to look for insights as they navigate this time -- showing their people that embracing the changes, regardless of how unplanned or undesirable they may be, is the only way to focus on the future.

Leaders, it’s up to you to inspire, motivate and engage your people by leading by example.

 

Jim Haudan is the co-founder and chairman of Root Inc. He is a leadership expert, speaker, author of "The Art of Engagement: Bridging the Gap Between People and Possibilities" and co-author of "What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back." Root is a consulting company that helps the world’s most influential organizations master disruption, activate change, and realize positive results. Root has helped more than 70% of the Fortune 50 and 30% of the Fortune 500 improve communication and engagement. 

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