2020 — An opportunity for change we can ill afford to waste
There are many ways to describe 2020 but the word ‘challenging’ comes to mind as probably the most commonly felt experience for the majority of people.
For millions, ‘challenging’ is a genuine reflection of what they’ve felt and endured. There’s been so much difficulty, pain and hardship. Sadly, for some, this will continue into 2021 and beyond.
However, in 2020, we also found inspiration and a connection to the important things too.
Whether that was with ourselves, our loved ones, nature, or a much-needed rebalance and respect for people who genuinely contribute to society, such as our health practitioners at the NHS. It was incredibly moving and inspiring, to see such deep pride and support reflected in the collective clapping for those on the front line.
We also witnessed a much-needed explosion and awakening of community spirit. A spirit that we haven’t seen so visibly in a long time. Neighbours, who were once distant, busy strangers, started looking out for vulnerable people on their own street. People took time to listen and to connect with others.
One thing is clear though, it turns out that we have incredible collective ability to be resilient and adapt at pace, demonstrated by entire workforces having to adapt to new ways of working, including working from home.
With crises come opportunities
2020 has shown how adaptive people and businesses can be when required.
Who would have predicted whole office buildings, indeed whole city centres could be shut down? And that businesses only needed a mere 24 hours to get everything back up and running, with barely an interruption in services.
It was incredible to witness. Furthermore, many organisations went on to transfer the physical to a virtual business world. Delivery organisations worked at incredible capacity levels to make sure there was provision of equipment to enable home working.
We had to deal with flexible working and support home-schooling. At the same time, we got to grips with on-line engagement of teams and with virtual Hiit/Yoga/Quizzes thrown in for good measure.
Businesses offered mental health and wellbeing support. There were parent support groups and virtual coffee connects etc. All have been part of how businesses have responded to help ‘keep going’.
It’s been very impressive to see how rapidly businesses have adapted.
But there’s also a reflection point that I wish to highlight to fellow business leaders, which is this…
Homeworking. A new balance
How many business leaders believed, stated even, that remote working wouldn’t work for ‘their organisation’?
I’d lay money on it being a significant number.
And yet the evidence has proved them wrong. Change was possible. But who was really resistant to that change? The leaders, or the organisations?
The test, post lockdown, when the ‘new normal’ finally returns, will be to see how “sticky” the changes are.
An example of this, for me, is closer to home.
As with many people having cut out a long commute, I’ve benefited hugely from having more time — with my family, to exercise, but also to work better, more productively. The thought of returning to my previous routine brings a deep sense of impending dread.
I’m already clear that isn’t what I am going to go back to. And I don’t think I am alone. Of course, I will return to the office, and I look forward to more human contact, but I won’t be going back in the same way.
I foresee, fewer days will be spent in the office. I for one will be organising my time differently, to ensure that ‘in office’ days are for collaboration, face-to-face connections and bigger team or group meetings. There is no doubt that meeting in person is beneficial for dealing with knotty issues, creative briefs, for building on each other’s ideas or supporting and developing early-career colleagues, which don’t work so well in the virtual world. But the other stuff?
The commute has been the one part of my life that I’ve felt unhappy about for years. I’ve proved to myself that I can change. But it has taken Covid to instil a change that we must now take into the future and make into a “sticky” change.
The winners will be those that learn and change
There’s been a lot of talk about future ways of working that reflect a similar scenario to my own. Less time in offices, more time working from home, balancing the work-life agenda.
In many cases, leaders are acknowledging and accepting that this will be the case. Ensuring that people feel part of something bigger, creating positive, connected cultures, giving people opportunities to develop and learn from each other are all important factors that will benefit from people coming back together physically, and are high on most business leaders’ agendas.
The leaders that will ‘win’ from the 2020 crisis, will be those that find a new balance and take the learnings of what has inspired people/organisations to make the changes and apply those to the things they need to change going forward…
Diversity and Inclusion
One such area is the Inclusion and Diversity agenda. In Daniel Snell’s recent articles, he’s highlighted the archaic nature of the old boys’ network, the uniformity on many boards and leadership teams, as well as the changing demands of Generation Z to fulfil their goals of a more balanced and purposeful life. The #BLM movement has undoubtedly created a wave of high-profile corporate statements, committing to making a change for the positive.
However, there were similar — albeit on a smaller scale — commitments made in the aftermath of the London riots of 2011, again, something that Daniel was deeply connected to through his #notinourname movement which he created at the time. Not much changed after those. So, what’s the difference now? Will the commitments be met, and will they be sustainable?
The speed with which messages, and actions, become visible through social media, bring a level of accountability not experienced in previous decades. Change needs to be Leader-led. Now that leaders have had their eyes opened to the ‘art of the possible’, other traditions, cultures and norms can be reviewed and changed with a different pace and vigour. Not only is it morally right for businesses to champion diversity, but diversity of talent also adds commercial value, (the ‘Diversity Dividend’). It’s a strong and compelling argument, but one that too many businesses still pay lip service too
A New Perspective
My own experience of partnering with Arrival in a development programme opened my eyes and my understanding of issues I’d never been exposed to. The first meeting between managers/leaders and the students had a huge impact.
Our introduction to our student partner involved a 10 minutes sharing of our life experiences to date. I recall sitting in stunned silence as I heard a 16-year-old share a set of life experiences most people won’t have in their lifetime. It really brought home to me how sheltered, privileged and consistent my own life and experiences had been.
It was also clear from the start the resilience and adaptability that shone through from nearly all the students present on the day. When one steps back and considers the strengths we seek in future leaders, that group of students we met that day could already demonstrate those 2 key spikes (resilience and adaptability) that take many a career to hone, and many struggle to achieve at all.
The experience resulted in a 2-way coaching partnership. The opportunity to hear about the response to challenging life experiences, the coping mechanisms, the cultural traits that impacted behavioural perceptions have all been vital to shaping the way I think and act in support of my team and colleagues. The links into someone with such a different background and experiences compared to me was really valuable in helping to understand more about what businesses can and should be doing to develop their L&D agendas. I know it’s helped me.
A way forward
Watching the progress of the Arrival programme recently completed with the Tesco leadership team has been truly inspiring. It has been clear that the team has embraced the facts. They need to do something different to create a more diverse team beyond the operational cohort. The immersion of the team in the life of those they were partnered with, visiting their home community and experiencing the culture and environment in which they have grown up, looks to have had a profound impact on their leadership team and the whole organisation.
The stretching of comfort zones, listening to uncomfortable truths and getting feedback from a different perspective must all have taken courage. The diverse team working with the Tesco Leadership now have the opportunity to hold them to account by continuing to engage with them to hear what progress they are making and what their plans are for the future. A brilliant model!
2020 — We must not waste the opportunities
Although 2020 will go down as a seminal year in the history books, it will also be a year that many people will just want to forget.
Those of us in leadership positions, who have the influence and ability to create change, must not waste the opportunities we have to do things better and differently. If we can take the positive learnings from this year, challenge our assumptions and beliefs, tune into new ideas and different approaches in every area of our work, then not only will our businesses emerge stronger and fitter, but we will be able to say that although challenging and hard, 2020 was the moment that forced the radical change that perhaps we needed.
Burning platforms and crises are incredibly powerful things that often lead to huge innovation and change. Those leaders who embrace the changes and adapt to the new environment, and continue to do so beyond the crisis, will be the ones whose businesses emerge fitter and stronger.