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"Next Normal" Approaching: Advice From Three Business Leaders on Navigating the Road Ahead

"Next Normal" Approaching: Advice From Three Business Leaders on Navigating the Road Ahead

I’m optimistic about the future. While the last year has been anything but ordinary, the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel appears to be illuminating a marquee that reads "Next Normal."

Every week brings the nearing destination into sharper view, and those in the driver’s seat are seeing the widening expanse of roads jutting out ahead in various directions. Understandably, for business leaders, there is a keen sense of urgency to select and proactively position one’s organization for the optimal exit route. It is a maneuver best executed with a focus on the destination, but also a discerning eye on the rear-view mirror and the journey traveled in the last year.

I wonder if this last year accelerated the current path of organizational evolution, or rather instigated a new lane that will forever change the way companies operate? Might these reactive experiments in distributed workforce and remote collaboration spur a movement to be built upon, an isolated moment to be reflected upon, or a mandate to embrace change in order to thrive on the other side?

I recently spoke with three brilliant colleagues that advise companies on organizational behavior and operating models. We discussed the twists and turns of the last year, and their guidance for leaders barreling toward the next normal.

[Related: Three Ways to Future-Proof Yourself in the Next Normal]

Engage in deep listening and explore what is now possible.

Bree Groff, a Partner at SYPartners, helps companies become more skillful at transformation. When reflecting on the step-change ushered in by the pandemic, Groff explains:

The ‘business of business’ has been stripped away and with it the legacy narratives we tell ourselves about how a successful company works. New truths have formed to replace those stories.

Groff shares that these new truths have taught companies that trusting their gut, relinquishing the perceived necessity of process for the sake of process, and leaning into some informalities can support organizations in accomplishing more in less time.

The last year has vividly demonstrated that ‘necessity is truly the mother of invention.’

The question remains how many of these new behaviors will be woven into the next normal on the horizon. While companies have reacted quickly to navigate the pandemic, will they be equally proactive in articulating fresh ways of working when there are more paths to be explored?

For companies thinking through the inherent change required to transition to the other side of this pandemic, Groff says:

It’s okay to have an emerging strategy; this is not like turning on a light-switch. There will be phases, certainly various levels of comfort, and it’s okay to not have all the answers.

Groff also advises leaders to engage in deep listening as it relates to staff. If positioned in the right way, defining what’s next can be what she describes as a joyful exploration.

Ask your teams ‘What is possible now that wasn’t before? What is reasonable now that wasn’t before?’

Deploy a two-pronged talent strategy to accelerate growth.

With some analysts predicting a "turnover tsunami" on the horizon, talent strategy has taken on a new sense of urgency. Lindsey Slaby, Founding Principal of marketing strategy consultancy Sunday Dinner, focuses on building stronger marketing organizations. She shares:

Organizations are accelerating growth by attracting new talent muscle and re-skilling their existing teams. A rigorous approach to talent has never been as important as it is right now.

The relationship between employer and employee has undergone significant recalibration the last year with the long-term impact of the nation’s largest work-from-home experiment yet to come into clear view. But much like the Before Times, perhaps the greatest indicator of how an organization will fare on the talent front comes down to how it invests in its people and specifically their future potential.

Slaby believes there is a core ingredient to any winning talent strategy:

Successful organizations prioritize learning and development. Training to anticipate the pace of change is essential. It is imperative that marketers practice ‘strategy by doing’ and understand the underlying technology that fuels their go-to-market approach.

From internal bespoke platforms to off-the-shelf programs, there are several approaches to constructing a curriculum that fits a company’s learning and development needs. Slaby suggests:

There is power and impact in training as group. Explore learning as a team and sharing as a team.

[Related: Create Beauty Even During Tough Times]

Embracing an adaptive mindset is essential to future success.

Marc Maltz works around the world coaching executives and boards how to navigate transformative company growth. A Founding Principal of Hoola Hoop, Maltz has been immersed in organizational development for over 40 years.

Reflecting on the disruption of the last year, Maltz’s advice is both profound and surprisingly consistent with his pre-COVID corporate prescriptions:

Organizations need to be adaptive. It is the essential life skill for any company. There were major disruptors before the pandemic that stressed operating models and transformed organizational behavior. How organizations respond when presented with change ultimately correlates to their level of success.

Amidst the seemingly seismic discussions around distributed workforce, remote collaboration, and commercial real estate, many organizations find themselves conflicted about the ideal recipe for change that will spur their post-pandemic growth plans. Future gazing can start to feel like a competitive sport with the bevy of macro and micro trends in flux.

For those uncertain of the path forward, Maltz shares:

There is no right answer. The right answer is what is right for your organization. Leaders should consider their specific culture and business model. Don’t overthink it. Do what’s practical for your business with a sharp view of what you hope to accomplish in the next 18 months.

For organizations traditionally hesitant to embrace new things, he adds:

This moment in time represents potential for lasting change for those that have yet to build the muscle memory for proactive adaptation.

Opportunity ahead.

Change is hard, especially the proactive and constant variety. While much of 2021 will be focused on arriving at the next immediate spot, the approach to the journey might ultimately decide whether the destination proves worthwhile. Bon voyage.

[Related: Building the Mindset to Thrive in the New Normal]

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Melissa Lentz is the Founding Principal of M. Hatter Consulting, a firm that helps marketers and agencies re-imagine the potential of their people, processes, and products. She is also the Global CEO of MAGNET Global Network, a leading international network for independent agencies.


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