Leaders should be asking themselves and their organization, “what new normal should we create?”
Morela Hernandez, Associate Professor at the Darden School of Business, asks – “What new normal should we create?” Hernandez points to our current environment as one ripe for radical change: “We currently exist within a world that is unfrozen from the constraints of routine, habits, and norms. By leveraging this moment to explore, experiment, and learn, organizations and their community stakeholders have a unique opportunity to redefine the scope of their priorities and collective actions.”
E-commerce has experienced 10 years’ growth in 90 days. Some companies have announced that their employees will not be going back into the office until June 2021, while others have announced that their employees will never have to return to the office. At the same time, many schools, including colleges and universities, are shifting to remote learning.
Leaders should be thinking about how they can transform their organization so that it can excel in this new environment – one that is changing at breakneck speed and is replete with disruption. As part of this exploration, leaders should be asking themselves and their organization, “what new normal should we create?”
Engaging and energizing the organization in this exploration is critical. Gathering insight and ideas from employees across the organization and from stakeholders will help to identify opportunities and weaknesses and will help transform the organization.
Several years ago, I conducted an evaluation of a program that showed films to refugees in a large refugee camp in Kenya. The program’s objectives were to increase knowledge and improve behavior with respect to HIV transmission, reduction of violence and conflict, and promotion of human rights (particularly the rights of women). I employed a unique methodology that drew on input from the beneficiaries’ perspectives and looked beyond pre-defined objectives.
The results of the evaluation suggested that the original objectives of the program were being met. If a traditional evaluation practice had been used, this would have been the main message from the evaluation. However, by drawing on input from the refugees living in the camp, the evaluation identified additional and unexpected ways that the program was valued and ways that the program could be strengthened. The evaluation also identified unexpected negative impacts, including increased violence, theft, and sexual assault. These unexpected impacts were alarming, and were directly at odds with the program’s objectives of the program
The organization was surprised by the results of the evaluation. Having never gone beyond asking questions about the program’s objectives and never seeking unfiltered input and perspective from the refugees, they were unaware of the negative impacts of their program. They were equally unaware of the additional ways that the program was valued.
The organization took steps to transform the program to mitigate the negative impacts and build on the program’s strengths.
Another example of the importance of engaging stakeholders is one Bob Weiler shares in his book, The Core 4.
In the book, Bob describes driving with the COO of one of the major phone companies after the telecom split-up and seeing phone trucks lined up outside a coffee shop. The COO questioned why the trucks were there. Bob responded – “Why don’t you just ask them?” They stopped the car and went inside the coffee shop.
In the coffee shop, they found the linemen leaning over a table stacked with papers. When the COO asked what they were doing, the linemen said that they were organizing their routes for the day to make them more efficient. The COO was shocked they were doing this and not the system planners.
The COO engaged these linemen to solve this problem and many others. Further, by asking for their opinion, the COO generated new ideas, suggestions, and energy that improved workflow and saved money.
As leaders position their organization to excel in our current environment and in the future, they must look to their employees and their stakeholders for ideas, insight, and perspectives. Bob encourages leaders to ask – “If you were me, what is the first decision you would make?” He also advises leaders to ask, “What’s working?” and “What’s not?” and “What can I do better?”
I have found “tell me about” to be an invaluable way to solicit input and ideas without bias. For example, “tell me about working from home.” The conversation that ensues can bring with it the expected and unexpected and generate ideas to help redesign and transform the organization.
Of course, the overarching and energizing questions is – “what new normal should we create?”
Now is the opportunity for change. As Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”