Leaders, prepare for the future. It is still coming

It’s the beginning of June 2020 and the impact of the pandemic is forcing us all to dramatically rethink how we lead and reorient our businesses. For many, it’s hard to imagine an optimistic future, but the future is coming and it will be, most likely, dramatically different from anything we were imagining. Surviving and thriving will demand innovation, agility, creativity and dramatic transformation. And yet, there are leaders out there, even whole governments, who hope that they will bridge the pandemic gap into the future with just cosmetic changes, or by waiting it out.

Are you a dinosaur or a crouching tiger? 

As a leader, are you waiting it out, hoping to return to ‘business as usual’? Or are you using this moment of opportunity to change as many things as possible to future-proof your business? In words of Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s most impactful executive coaches, “What got you here won’t get you there” and when your business (fully) reopens, it will be in a changed world. How will the post-pandemic version of your work/business look like?
As an employer, you might find that many of your people will insist on working from home. After all, this was one of the most desired “bonuses” in the pre-pandemic world, especially by women, and now it is a business norm. Will you allow them to keep this flexibility, or will you hold on to the idea of office presence?  If yes, will it be because they really work better with you looking over their shoulder and telling them how to do their job, or because you simply don’t trust them, and because you feel that you need to “manage them” to justify your own existence as a manager? 

Gary Hamel, a business thought leader and author of “What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation” said that “management, like a combustion engine, is a mature technology that must now be reinvented for the new age.” The new age is here. It’s time to reinvent our ways of working and our ways of managing and leading people. 

Leader, this is your trial by fire 

Perhaps the most profound and most scrutinized aspect of doing business will be how you lead today and in the post-pandemic world. 

People know whether you are genuine as a leader or whether you just enjoy being the boss. They know when you listen to their needs, and when you feed your ego first. They know when your words are genuine, and when they are just a lot of corporate-speak. Instead of “command-and-control leadership” style they want more autonomy, trust, respect, and a sense of purpose and ownership. If you don’t deliver, they might not stay working for you. They might have in pre-pandemic world, but right now they want authentic leadership and a genuine business purpose to give their work meaning. People are in shock and they are in pain. The pandemic has brought it home to them that we only have one life, and that they don’t want to waste it anymore on things that don’t bring happiness and fulfillment. Simply: Life is short, there are many companies around, and it’s easy to start own business. What do you think your people will do if you don’t listen to them?

Leaders, listen. 

Pre-pandemic, 80% of workers globally did not feel engaged and motivated in their work. 

These statistics are made of your people, too.

What are you doing about this?

 Are you asking them what you can do to help them succeed and be passionate and engaged at work? And are you ready to offer them what they are asking for? 

Do you know what your people value and what they expect of you?

People are tired of and drained by the outdated ways of working which originated 200 years ago to accommodate the needs of the First Industrial Revolution. Today, we live in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and people crave New Work: A fulfilling career, life-work blending and life-work balance, development opportunities, ability to bring their authentic selves into work, flexibility, healthy work culture.

The shock of the pandemic has given people the time to re-think their life and work purpose. The result? Many of them are now shopping around for a better fit for their aspirations, skills and talents. They have a lot to offer and it’s becoming clear to them that they won’t be able to bring it all to the table in the old-fashioned organizations of the pre-pandemic world where all that is required from them is keeping their nose to the grindstone and keeping quiet.  Will you change how you run your organization to accommodate them, or will you leave them no choice but to look for a more progressive employer? 

I know that right now it’s difficult to find work, but this will change. In the meantime, people are being creative.

In just the last two months several clients came to me asking for help with leaving their current job and starting their own business. Their stories are similar. Some of them can’t get far in their careers because of the “motherhood penalty”. Others can’t stand the constant surveillance and micro-managing of their boss who constantly looks over their shoulder. All of them are impatient to work for better leaders. All of them are tired of the boring routine and the dysfunctional and archaic ways of working. And they don’t want to go back to doing business “as usual” anymore. They want change, or they want out. 

The future of customer service

As if serving your people wasn’t enough to keep your adrenaline high, your customers are also waking up to the fact that their wants and needs have changed.  They might want more personalized services, or they might insist on business-to-individual solutions. Are you ready? 

How are you innovating? (…preparing to accommodate them?)

How will you deliver more value to them?

What’s your unique way of serving your clients that your competition can’t touch? 

Here, like with your people, the skill of listening can help you do the right thing. Talk to your customers, ask where their problems are and really, really listen. They might not know about your business, but they will definitely know what they want from you, and in what way. Businesses who listen will be the ones who will accelerate in the post-pandemic world. And this will require forgetting about what they know and delighting their customers instead. 

What will your future hold?

To quote Gary Hamel again: “Today, no leader can afford to be indifferent to the challenge of engaging employees in the work of creating the future. Engagement may have been optional in the past, but it’s pretty much the whole game today.” There can be no successful business, and successful leader, without engaged, motivated, passionate employees. In my experience, people will bring their best efforts forward only if they work in culture of psychological safety, and when they have a meaningful purpose for their work. It is the leaders’ job to provide both. I hope what is keeping you up at night in this time of change is not the “if”, but  the “how”. Your people, and subsequently your customers are watching you, and they will build their post-pandemic futures accordingly.

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