Plans are great, but as 2020 has reminded us, “Oops” moments in life are inevitable. In fact, it’s precisely when things don’t go according to plan that the real litmus tests for leadership and business strategy come to light. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until I hit them in the face.”
Leading during and through a crisis is one thing, but what happens in the aftermath? Let me be clear, the pandemic is not over yet, and none of us know when it will be. What we do know is that COVID-19 has contributed to systemic shifts that will likely be enduring. It has changed how we look at business, and this is a good thing. Here are three focus points that will help you lean in to what’s next, and how you can set up your business and those you lead for success in a post-pandemic world.
01 Reality Check
As tragic as COVID has been on both a human and macro-economic level, in some respects, it did a favor for smart businesses: It served as Tyson’s proverbial punch in the face. Fact: Fueled by the optimism of riding the wave of the strongest economy in modern history, virtually every business carried unnecessary bloat into 2020. Businesses were people, processes, facilities, and debt heavy. They were also cash, talent, and innovation light. The good news is that for businesses agile and resilient enough to course-correct and make the necessary pivots, the future has been amplified and accelerated. The fastest path to the future is rooted in being brutally honest about present state dominant logic, institutional thinking, organizational faults, cultural disconnects, and talent deficits.
02 Going Back to Work: Wrong Goal
The best leaders are not thinking about going back, but instead are thinking about going forward. Leaders looking to restore the past instead of ushering in the future are trying to live in a world that’s already passed them by. Innovation is no longer a nice to have, but a need to have. If you are not innovating in real-time, increasing velocity around the rate of change, and amplifying new business model design, you are ceding opportunity to those who are. There has never been a greater opportunity to reframe, reimagine, and reinvent. The question is, will you cling to the past or embrace the future?
03 It’s the Talent, Stupid
I’ve never been impressed with leaders who cite the size of their workforce as a success metric. Bigger isn’t better – better is better. Here’s the thing: Low switching costs and the evisceration of other barriers to talent movement have changed workforce dynamics forever, and in my opinion, for the better. Companies that are blind to what intrigues and engages the best talent won’t be able to attract or retain them. Legacy-based operating models will always provide a safe harbor for mediocrity. Still, if you want to beat your competition to the future, it will only happen by engaging next-level talent. Up-skilling is table stakes – it’s code used by legacy-based companies for playing catch-up. The goal should never be to level the playing field but to tilt it to your advantage. Future skilling is the game-changer.
The buzz phrase “war for talent” has been redefined in real-time. It’s not whether the talent exists – it does, and it’s abundant. The question is whether you recognize real talent and can successfully compete for it. The organizations with the smartest, most creative, and most diverse talent wins. Everything else is noise. When companies stop trying to put people in boxes and realize the goal is to free them from the boxes, they will take quantum leaps forward. The first step to better leadership is to stop playing big-brother. Stop checking-on people to make sure they’re working, and care enough to check-in on people to better support them. Organizations that don’t understand how to create self-led teams will die a slow, painful death. n