As much as I don't really like the term 'the new normal' (because when was anything ever 'normal') - I'm going to suppress my urge to fling the sheet of paper that I recently boldly wrote these words on in the trash, and refer purposefully to it here rather with a straight face.
A lot of people are speculating as to what 'the new normal' will look like once the world emerges from this devastating global affliction that we are currently enduring.
As we all now know, emerging issues and changes that were on the distant horizon before the pandemic, have been significantly accelerated since; and now, we are all very comfortable with ordering our groceries online and working in our pyjamas in the lounge.
But what will 'the new normal' be like for businesses?
What does the future of operating and running a successful business look like this time next year?
What the pandemic has gifted business is a huge wake up call as to how doing business has changed.
As an example...
Every time I drive to the V&A Waterfront now - I drive past a brand new, multi-story office block that is in the process of being finished.
It's beautiful! It's a handsome design with an impressive glass frontage and probably views to die for.
It's also a bureaucratic relic of the past.
It screams old, stable, stuck, stodgy and dated. This is how business was done pre-pandemic - and those days are over.
'The new normal' is that we need to accept and adopt wholeheartedly into our thinking some indisputable facts – and I have 4 of them here:
'The new normal' for organisations is this - 4 facts to remember
- The future is uncertain - the future today will not look like it did yesterday so models and tools that take yesterday's data and project it forward are useless and dangerous in the face of an uncertain future. What is given is that the future is the realm of uncertainty and because of that fact, planning for an uncertain future all of a sudden requires a different mindset to when we all thought of the future as somehow predictable. Being really comfortable with 'not knowing' is a vital skill for the post-covid business operator.
- Disruption can come from anywhere - your existing competitors are fighting just as hard as you are to stay in business and grow. They're innovating, hiring talented people, thinking strategically, and now, they're not just the competitors that you know of who have an office down the road - they could be located anywhere in the world and be in any number of alternative industries to yours. Technology has ensured that everything and anything can be improved and offered cheaper by just about anyone. Disruption is a given - it's what you should be expecting and constantly working with.
- Only the agile will survive - there is no more of a competitive advantage to having a big fancy office, an expensive CEO, executives that fly business class around the world and an organisational structure that preserves hierarchy and bureaucracy; but there are a lot of advantages to being fast, nimble, global and future-fit. Companies with impressive offices in Sandton are being put out of business by garage-operations in India. Building a business that is structured to dance is 'the new normal'.
- A need for a commitment to constant renewal - Amazon's Jeff Bezos stresses to his staff that 'everyday is day 1'. What he means by that is that everyday at Amazon they need to be listening afresh to their customers, everyday they need to commit yet again to improving their decision-making skills, everyday they need to look at what is going in in the world with fresh eyes and make plans accordingly. Assuming that you have somehow 'made it' or that you have 'finally arrived' is how we would classify death in business terms now. Every business is on a constant, unfolding journey 'of becoming' - if you neglect that, you die.
'The new normal' is to think of a business like a pack of African Wild Dogs - one of the most successful predators on the African continent.
African Wild Dogs hunt collaboratively as a purpose-driven unit. They are constantly assessing the terrain and the conditions as to where their next kill is likely to be found. As small as they are, they're effective as a hunting unit because they communicate with each other and always make decisions based on what's best for the pack. They take their chances where they spot opportunity and know that each day is a new day out in the veld. Change is constant, but so is their learning and journey as a pack.
So how might business prepare for 'the new normal'?
Planning | Innovation | Structure | Culture
- Work with the uncertainty through better foresight & planning - Planning in most businesses is done very, very poorly. Strategy is see as a process of simply extrapolating the past into the future and having a linear view of how the future will unfold. This builds a business that is reactionary in the marketplace and opens it up for nasty surprises. Gathering intelligence and strategic planning is something that should be done constantly and systemically by a dedicated team of specialists - not just something that happens once a year at an off-site workshop. Foresight and proper planning is a mindset that needs to be fostered and nurtured until it is an entrenched part of a company's DNA. This doesn't come naturally for most - it needs to be a part of how you do business.
- Innovate through corporate entrepreneurship - Innovation of process, product, engagement and route-to-market is vital. Innovation can't just be a project, it needs to become a core organisational competency.
- Structure for speed - Organisational structure needs to enable the organisation to work at pace, barriers need to be dissolved, talent needs to be leveraged, conditions need to be created for agile operating to be a reality.
- Culture enables it all - The organisational culture needs to facilitate an actively 'thinking and doing' organisation that is curious, open, humble, collaborative and eager to learn.
'The new normal' is here. The pandemic has amplified the conditions under which it has now become the most sustainable way of operating a business.
If organisations are going to develop into what they 'should be' and ultimately into what they 'could be' - a new way of being is needed right now.